“I started working since I was 7 years old. I would walk 6 kilometres to get to school in the morning and from there go straight to work on a piece of farmland in my village, Manekpore. I always wanted to make something of myself, so even after such a tiring day I would study all night under an oil lamp– the only form of electricity we had back then.
One day, I was working in the field where I saw an aeroplane above me and that’s when I decided that I wanted to become a pilot…ofcourse I didn’t know what it was called back then, but I just knew with all my heart that I would get there. At the time, my father was working in Bombay as a peon so I decided to leave my village and get to the city to fulfil my dreams. Life in Bombay was difficult — we lived in a small slum and money was tight again so I would study and work simultaneously. I was desperate to learn more about aviation, but almost every book was written in English, which I didn’t understand. To learn english I would watch movies at 90paise per show, save money to buy second hand books and became a member of every other library. From oil lamps, I began to study under street lights — I’ve lost count of the number of aviation books I read in those days.
Finally, I was selected in the Bombay Flying Club for my practical flight training but I was refused admission because my father was a peon. Instead of being heartbroken, I put in all my effort to pay the fees of 2lacs for a commercial pilot license. I have knocked on every door for financial assistance, persistently approached every government body and charitable trust for help and wrote thousands of letters explaining my situation. Finally, the Chief Minister of Gujarat during that time helped me out and within a few months I was in the US– studying at an Aviation Training Inc Hayward, California, working part time and building my dream — I couldn’t believe how everything had fallen into place! I still remember that day in 1989 when I became a pilot instructor– me, the boy from a small village in Gujarat! I decided to return to India almost immediately after, to give back to my country.
I knew that I didn’t want others to struggle the way I had to fulfil my dreams, so I set up my own Aviation School, The Skyline Aviation Club. It started with one small classroom setup where I conducted training workshops…and today it’s a full blown academy — we’ve trained over 4000 commercial pilots in the country.
As for me, my love for flying continues to grow. Infact, my wife is a student pilot as well! We often fly over my village, where I can still see the plot of land where I used to work for 25paise! Recently, I was able to purchase that piece of land — I wanted it because it reminds me of my roots…where I come from. It also helps me live my motto everyday– ‘keep your eyes on the stars, but your feet firmly to the ground.”