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How Anny Divya became India's youngest woman to captain a Boeing 777

July 14, 2017 13:05 IST

While working with Air India, she has also earned a degree in BSc Aviation, done a course in classical key-board, learnt various forms of modern dance and become a lawyer.
Anjuli Bhargava profiles the super-achiever.

Pilot Anny Divya

IMAGE: Anny Divya says her pilot training days were some of the toughest times of her life -- not because of the training, which she loved, but because of the culture shock she experienced. She came from a rural, non-English speaking background and was ragged about it. But she didn't cave in. Photograph: Courtesy Anny Divya/Twitter.


When Anny Divya's mother was expecting her, the family was posted at the army base close to the airbase in Pathankot. Her father, a school drop-out, had to leave his studies at a young age since his family couldn't afford to educate him. After a few sundry jobs, he joined the army as a soldier.

After 19 years of service, he took voluntary retirement and settled down in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh.

Educated at the Kendriya Vidyalaya in Vijayawada, Divya -- the middle child of the couple -- spoke Telugu and Hindi, and while she could read and write English, she couldn't speak the language since no one around her really spoke it.

Divya's mother was keen that her daughter, who was born in the vicinity of the airbase, become a pilot -- then an unimaginable dream that everyone laughed off since the family did not have the wherewithal to fulfill it or know how to go about it.

Not discouraged by these hurdles, her mother spoke of her dream to Divya and, at some level, influenced the young mind.

When Divya was in Class IX, one of her teachers asked her to list all that she wanted to achieve in life. Topping that list of 10 things was her desire to become a pilot.

She submitted the list, which included learning Sanskrit, doing law, learning music and dance, hesitantly -- aware that her ambitions often invited sniggers.

With a background as modest as hers, no one really thought she stood a chance. Moreover, most children in Vijayawada aspired to become engineers (join the Indian Institute of Technology) or doctors; no other profession was considered worth pursuing.

When she was in Class XI, someone told her she needed to score 90 per cent to become a pilot (not at all true as she later discovered). As a result, in Class XI, Divya managed to get 100 per cent in all subjects, except English (92 on 100) and Sanskrit (98). She also performed exceptionally well in the Class XII board exams and was by then tutoring other children.

At this stage, her parents suggested she appear for the engineering entrance examination, like everyone else around her. Although her heart was not in it, she cleared the entrance exam and got a seat in the Koneru Lakshmaiah College of Engineering. She even started attending classes, but kept telling her parents -- and anyone who cared to listen -- that she wanted to become a pilot.

One day, an ascetic came to their house, and Divya asked him whether she would become a pilot and he said she would. When he went back, he sent her an advertisement of the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRAU), a pilot training institute at Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh.

Divya decided to appear for its entrance exam, but her father maintained he couldn't afford to pay for it. Her mother and sister, however, backed her, and Divya finally came to Delhi to take the exam. She travelled with her mother by train -- unreserved, so more or less standing for two days. They could not afford a flight ticket to Delhi.

In fact, the first time Divya would finally fly would be when she would pilot an aircraft.

It was an all-India exam with only 30 seats. And though Divya was selected, coming from a conservative society, a lot of people dissuaded her parents from letting her join the institute. Many also said there were few jobs available for co-pilots, so then why would her parents pay so much money for her training when there was no job surety.

But Divya had her heart set on it and her parents finally relented, which meant that her father had to somehow raise Rs 15 lakh for the course. He took a loan, partly from a bank and partly from relatives.

What followed, she says, was one of the toughest times of her life -- not because of the training, which she loved, but because of the culture shock she experienced. She came from a rural, non-English speaking background.

She was ragged from Day One -- often for her pronunciation and lack of facility with English.

But she didn't cave in.

She worked even harder since she knew there was no one to push for her, and that it wasn't easy for her parents to support her through the course. Her efforts won her a scholarship towards the end of the training.

That was the beginning of a new chapter in Divya's life and there has been no looking back since.

Anny Divya family

IMAGE: As a pilot Anny Divya (right) has been able to finance her brother's studies in Australia, supported her elder sister's education in the US, buy a house for her parents and invest in a house of her own. Photograph: Courtesy Anny Divya/Facebook.


She finished her training at 19, and landed a job in Air India in 2006 on merit.

She was then sent for training to Spain -- her first time overseas -- on the Boeing 737 as first officer.

Now, at 30, she is among the youngest women commanders of the Boeing 777 in the world and certainly in India. She flies regularly to New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

The aircraft she commands -- the B777 -- is the longest range aircraft and the largest twin-engine jet in the world.

A senior Air India commander, who was one of her instructors during her command training, says Divya is both "skilled and diligent" and willing to put in the hard work required. She remained "above standard" through her training, he says.

Financially, her working as a pilot has meant a change in her family's fortunes.

She has financed her brother's studies in Australia, has financially supported her elder sister to study in the United States, has bought a house for her parents in Vijayawada and has invested in a house in Hyderabad.

Besides achieving her financial goals, she has also pursued the many things she had put down on that list she had presented to her teacher as a child.

While working with Air India, she has earned a degree in BSc Aviation, done a course in classical key-board, learnt various forms of modern dance and is also a lawyer -- something her mother wanted to be herself.

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