Having Got Her Pilot Licence At 16, Ayesha Aziz Opens Up About Turbulent Trolls And Moral Police

If you think the sky is the limit, think again.

“The first time I flew an aircraft with my parents on board, the greatest feeling I had was of independence, a sense of liberation,” says Ayesha Aziz, a young pilot who got her license at the age of 16. Since then she has been dealing with love, hate, controversy and a lot of drama all the time. Amidst all this, she believes that women are not bound by any limitations. “There are 11.3% women pilots in India against just 3% globally. But there is a lot of scope for women to join this challenging profession,” says Aziz.
Following her dreams has taken her up to 40,000 feet above. She has also been to NASA for her astronaut training and met her all time inspirations, Sunita Williams and Jon A McBride. After weeks of waiting to get some of her time, I finally land Ayesha into a candid chat.

You dream to fly the MiG-29 fighter plane. What is so attractive about this beast machine?

When it comes to flying a commercial jet, you are responsible for the hundreds of passengers behind you. You have the standard operating procedure to keep in mind. Here you cannot cross certain limitations. A private jet goes to 80,000 feet whereas commercial jets go only up to 40,000. That aircraft is wild. You can go to the edge, and you can perform crazy maneuvers. I am really looking forward to being in it.

What is stopping you then?

Currently, my priority is to procure a seat in the airline. Once I am independent, and on my feet, that would be my next step.

Tell us about the first time you had been flying.

I associate it with freedom. That is what I felt when I flew first in January 2012. It happened two months after my 16th birthday. I think that was the most amazing flight of my life. I could sense freedom in so many ways.

Clouds are indeed fascinating!

For a layman, they are just clouds, but for a pilot, clouds have several forms, and there are clouds which are hazardous as well. There are low-level clouds wherein it’s fun to fly. You feel like you are amidst cotton candy. Some other time it feels like a flat sheet of ice.

Did Nasa have ordinary days? Tell us what did your days look like.

A normal day would be having breakfast at 6 am, lunch at 11 am, and dinner at 4 pm. For someone who has breakfast at 9 am, lunch at 2 pm and dinner at 9 pm, having such drastic changes wasn’t surely ordinary. We had to perform several activities. We spend a lot of time underwater to adjust to the climate of space. In a nutshell, one day would be the dummy ISS or performing experiments and another day would be external activities. No day in NASA passed as an ordinary day indeed.

You had also met Rabia Futehally recently.

Conversation with her was extremely friendly. We had just a few minutes to interact. She seems to be a very down to earth person. She was a pioneer in the aviation industry, and she had flown in a saree, doing something in an era that nobody thought of. Yet she is one of the most humble people I have ever met. That is what I learned from her, however big your achievements what takes you a long way is your humble attitude.

Had she given you any career advice?

I told her in brief about me, she was delighted and told me not to be stopped by external factors.

And, what external factors seem to be challenging to you?

When media put me in limelight, many people criticized me for being a Muslim, saying Muslim women shouldn’t take up a profession that is so male-dominated. I think what matters is not the religion but the heart of people. There will always be those who will keep bringing you down, and one shouldn’t get affected. For me, my greatest supporters were my parents, family, and friends. Had my parents not pushed me, I would be deeply affected by the negativity on social media. Now I have changed drastically and become numb to any kind of negative comments.

Does the sky belong to patriarchy, too?

No. India happens to be one of the countries where we do have women in aviation. I was also looked upon as someone who executed her dream at a very early age and went on her way without thinking twice.

#Humanitarian, you use this hashtag almost in every post in your every Insta-post.

It’s one of my deepest desires to do something for the ones who are less privileged. Most of the people think that pilots are arrogant, and they behave egoistically. I may not be able to explain this well, but whoever we meet irrespective of gender, race, etc., the first human act should be of kindness. More than anything, it’s your tongue that matters. Whatever you have achieved in your life, if you fail to be a good human, to be kind to others, it does not matter what you have done in life. That’s my main aim behind using that hashtag so often, and in the coming years, I do wish to serve the society.

You recently wore an Abaya for the first time and posted the picture with a hashtag #halalpolice. Have you encountered moral police?

Yeah, I do. Whenever I post something online, people do pass their judgments on clothing, place, behavior, everything. Lately, Irfan Pathan’s wife was criticised for her nail paint, labeling it un-Islamic. The moral police made so much noise for such a little thing. I am a very spiritual person, maybe I do not practice it that religiously but that does not make me any less devotee. So when once in a while I wear an Abaya, people even comment saying it is just a show-off because I will eventually go back to wearing western clothes. I even once posted a photo in a swimming attire but the comments I got made me delete the picture.

What does hijab mean to you?

When I wear a hijab, I feel protected, it gives me a sense of security. Having my maternal roots in Kashmir, I have seen every second woman wearing the hijab, and I personally like it. I feel proud to say we have taken our religion forward.

Do you love traveling? Are you a gypsy soul?

I have traveled to America and European countries. I also have been to many cities in India and naming them would take a long time. I grew up in Kashmir, so I don’t see that as a tourist destination, so the natural beauty of Kerela is enchanting to me. Outside India, I love New York. Actually, I love traveling so call me a gypsy soul.

We saw yummy spreads on your social media! You are quite a foodie, do you cook too?

Yeah, I do. Just food for survival, not something very fancy. I cook more of pizza and some dishes of the Italian cuisine. I love the Kashmiri cuisine as well. I love Wazwan, it is a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine that is usually cooked by chefs during weddings. That is something I can’t cook at all. I can make Chinese and pasta and all that.

We found this six-word story on your Instagram: “Eliminate what doesn’t help you evolve.” What did you have to eliminate from your life to reach the sky?

Negativity and being affected by whatever people say. I have learned this over the years and especially after being in the limelight, something that I had never expected, that many would criticize me. Back in 2011 when I was tagged as the youngest pilot, people complained saying that’s not possible because you get a driving license at 18 and that I had used the power of money to get a flying license at 16. If you see, 16 is the minimum age to procure a license along with so many examinations. Even now people try to put me down, but I believe one needs to learn to grow out of it, and criticism always goes hand in hand.

While we are waiting to empower women on the land, Ayesha Aziz is flying high and making space for us up in the sky. Her hardwork could be summed up in an insta post she put up saying, “Countless exams, sleepless nights, innumerable hurdles and what not! But it all seems of so much worth now. What once was just a dream is a reality now.”
Source-Indian Women Blog

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