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A Story of Flight

What comes to mind when you think of aviation? For most,the foremost thoughts are of chaotic airports,last minute check-ins,cold meals that are passed off as gourmet fare...

Written by Shashank Shekhar |
July 27, 2009 5:56:05 am

This 61-year-old historian is unearthing the history of aviation in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency

What comes to mind when you think of aviation? For most,the foremost thoughts are of chaotic airports,last minute check-ins,cold meals that are passed off as gourmet fare… But for this 61-year-old photographer and historian,aviation is all about the men and women who made it possible for people to reach destinations miles away in a span of a few hours. That’s why,people who don’t give aviation its due respect sadden P Anuradha Reddy,a photographer who documents monuments and an avid aviation historian.

Reddy is a Hyderabadi married into a family with close links to the introduction of commercial aviation in India — her father-in-law,Babar Mirza,was the the first and last managing director of Deccan Airways,founded in 1945 and India’s second domestic airline of which the Nizam of Hyderabad owned a 71 per cent stake and the Tatas another 11 per cent. The airline,with eight others,later got nationalised under what we now know as the erstwhile Indian Airlines.

“Aviation has played a vital role in our lives be it the wars or rescue operations. In times of natural calamities,planes get to ground zero first and in normal times they help us connect in a much faster way than others. Still there is hardly any documentation on the history of aviation in our country,” says Reddy. Reddy has been camping in Mumbai for a week for a project through which she intends to unearth and document the history of commercial and military aviation in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency region that encompassed the present day areas of Gujarat,northwestern Karnataka as well as the Sindh region of Pakistan and the territory of Aden in present day Yemen.

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“Our earlier aviators served the country risking their lives as then we did not have high-end technology to support our planes. There was no advanced navigation system and still their services were not recognised,” says Reddy. “And as far as archival material is concerned,almost nothing is readily available.”

Reddy has spent countless days sifting through old libraries. “I even got asthma after I spent a week at this very old library where all books were covered in dust.” But the efforts have borne results. Her priceless collection on aviation history in the Bombay Presidency region includes rare materials like JRD Tata’s aviation licence — believed to be the first issued to an Indian pilot. Photographs of early hobby fliers that include those of royals and also women hobby pilots who used to then fly in their saris are in her collection too.

Reddy has earlier authored another book on the history of aviation in the erstwhile state of Hyderabad. The best part of her job,she says,is meeting old pilots who are in their 90s and brimming with war-time stories. “They’re surprised and very excited to talk about the rickety old DC -3 (American fixed wing airplanes),” she says.

“Eventually they were the pioneers and when I enter today’s modern aircraft I can’t help but imagine how it must have been flying in the old days when you had to fly all the way back to the airbase even for a small spare part to fix aircraft that would be abandoned in the middle of nowhere till somebody would come for them,” she adds.

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