March 8th, 2015
First Published on Hindustan Times
“People initially think I’m Christian and then gawk when I tell them my full name,” laughs Saarah Hameed Ahmed (25) the Bengaluru girl who is the only known Muslim among the 600-odd women pilots employed in the Indian aviation sector.
“I just love the look on people’s faces when they discover I am Muslim.”
Many want to know how a girl can handle a machine that’s many times her size, she says as she cracks up again. “Poor things; they don’t know that my fingers are all I need to fly,” she says twiddling her thumbs.
However, Saarah’s first battles were fought at home and within the community. She says that she still faces taunts from people who believe a girl’s only job is to get married and produce children.
“Initially none of us encouraged her. In our community girls don’t usually take up professions where they have to stay away from home and live in hotels without an escort,” confesses her father Hameed Hussain Ahmed, a professional photographer. When Saarah showed no signs of relenting, he spoke to his friend Atif Fareed, who is a senior pilot in the US.
“Fareed told me that I should consider myself lucky because most Muslim girls don’t even dream of flying. If he hadn’t convinced me, I might have made the blunder of killing Saarah’s dreams,” he says.
In 2007, when she was just 18, Saarah enrolled with a flying school in the US. “Those days most Muslim students were being denied US Visas. When she got the Visa without any trouble I saw it as a final message from God,” says the deeply religious Ahmed.
Her inspirational message for Women’s Day, “Don’t fret over what the community thinks of you. And don’t let them kill your dreams.”