Pushpanjali Potsangbam is one of the youngest commercial pilot from Manipur. She originally hails from Haobam Marak in Imphal but being a defence child she grew up shifting homes and schools throughout her life.
Traveling the length and breadth of the country as a kid has been her truly enriching experience and in many ways, intrigued her to learn more about cultures and places around the world. She loved every activities related to travelling!.
Nothing made her feel happier than to read about and experience being at different places and meeting new people. She have reached 9 years of service in Air India today!. She talks about her first flight and the struggle she faces!.
Q. How would you describe yourself?
Pushpanjali: I try and keep myself and my life simple and happy. Being this way has helped me keep my focus on the priorities of my life and at the same time keeps me motivated to work hard and sincerely towards my goals.
Q. How did your journey as a pilot begin?
Pushpanjali: My father who is a pilot and my mother who is and has been a working doctor, have been my inspiration and strength. I have grown up listening to my father and his colleagues talk about flying and the different kinds of hurdles and emergencies they sometimes face as pilots. I was always drawn towards machines and travel, and so from a very young age I was pretty sure about what I wanted to do with my life.
Q. Where did you get trained?
Pushpanjali: I originally wanted to become an Air Force pilot as, like many youngsters, I wasn’t aware of commercial flying or how to go about it. But then, in 11th standard, I got glasses that made me look for other options than the Air Force. That’s when we learned about IGRUA (Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan Akademi) in Rae Bareli. The selection process was tough and they selected only a handful for the course but it was where I needed to be and with God’s grace, that’s where I ended up.
Q. Share your first flight experience!
Pushpanjali: After getting a thorough ground training for 6 months, I have to admit, I was more pleased and happy and excited for my first flight. I remember that I couldn’t wait to see all those instruments in action, to feel that engine roaring as I flew the aircraft, and to finally see the horizon from the front seat. Everything that we had learnt on ground and imagined was to be observed and absorbed in real. And although my first flight happened more than a decade ago, what I learnt then has always stayed with me.
Q. What kind of challenges do you face as a commercial pilot?
Pushpanjali: Haha.. so here is where the tricky part of being a pilot lies. We generally have a totally messed up sleep cycle. Especially as a long haul international pilot, jet lag is something I really have to struggle with. To ensure that I am well rested before every flight is easier said than done and sometimes that means I have to sacrifice my social commitments. I cannot assure being home for birthdays, festivals and anniversaries. Being healthy, self committed and disciplined are very important. I am blessed that I have such a strong support system as my family behind me who let me go and do my job with confidence and pride. They make all these struggles and sacrifices seem easy.
Q. Often women are discriminated upon certain professions and pilot is one among them! Did you ever encounter such incidents were you are belittled just because you’re a woman? If it happens how do you handle it?
Pushpanjali: With India having the maximum number of women pilots in the world, it will be wrong to presume that discrimination on the basis of gender happens here. I personally haven’t had any experience like that. In any profession, its more about becoming the best version of yourself. I was blessed with some excellent trainers who truly believed that the machine responds to you as a person- not as a woman or man. So you are assessed as per your capabilities, performance and decisions. In fact, fellow captains and cabin crew have always had a very positive response to seeing me as a part of their crew by saying things like, “It’s a pleasure to fly with a girl.” Or “Oh good, we fly with you today!”
Yes, I do meet people who come across as being a little apprehensive when they see a woman being a pilot. But I look that being there because of their lack of exposure to how rapidly the world has changed to have women in active professions. With more women taking up significant positions, workplaces have become more gender sensitive regarding the genuine biological challenges we face as women. The point is to extend this movement slowly into every sphere of our lives and the society. Our professions nowadays are not an option, they are an extension of who we are. And I firmly believe that if we as women can believe and teach our young girls and boys that, gender discrimination will not be a topic of discussion in the coming generations.
Q. How do you feel about taking responsibility of 200 people in flight?
Pushpanjali: Humbled and blessed! That’s the greatest responsibility anybody can entrust you with. It just makes me realise how this job is a big deal and keeps me on track to give the best of what I have to offer.
Q. How do you handle stress when any uncertainties happen during the flight?
Pushpanjali: We as pilots undergo regular checks every year that check our proficiency with handling all sorts of emergencies. Every flight is different and is helping me build my experience. As a pilot, it is very important to be strong with our knowledge but at the same time to accept anything that makes us better. Talking to our colleagues about their experiences, regularly reading up about our systems and anything related to aviation helps build our knowledge on how to handle different situations.
Q. What would you say is the best part of being what you are and who you are?
Pushpanjali: The best part about being a pilot definitely has to be flying these beautiful and powerful machines AND getting to travel to all these amazing destinations in the bargain. They keep my life and my instagram feed happy and interesting.
Q. If you have to mention one not so good point about being a commercial pilot, what would that be?
Pushpanjali: Not just for being a commercial pilot, but for flying itself, I would like to quote Leonardo da Vinci to answer your question. “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” Flying becomes an addiction. No experience can ever match up to how delightful, lovely and enthralling flying is. It is a fact and for good or for bad, flyers are spoilt for life.
Q. A word of advice to all the aspiring youth who wants to follow your path!
Pushpanjali: Believe in yourself and work sincerely towards whatever you choose. Remember to count your blessings and learn from your hardships. And I will tell you what I used to tell myself when people told me that as a girl, being a pilot wasn’t a good choice as a profession as nobody else did it – “I don’t have to fit the norm. I will make a new path.”