Being a Muslim from a small village in Odisha, where many Muslim girls were not allowed to study once they stepped into adolescence, I was very privileged that my parents were broad-minded, unlike others.
Although I was born and raised in a middle-class family, my wishes were always granted as my paternal grandparents and mother were very supportive. My father was supportive too but wanted me to become a Doctor or an Engineer but I aimed for something else and this was a challenge. Even though our dreams didn't match, he has always been an inspiration for me to work hard and be strongly determined.
Since my childhood, I have dreamt of flying an airplane as a pilot. As I grew up, I realized that it takes more than dreams to achieve it. I didn't want to burden my parents financially so I looked for alternatives - Flight Attendant being the best. Luckily, one of the training institutes had come to my college for promotion. I took that as a sign that this is my first step towards aviation and took my first baby step towards my dream, by taking a brochure from them.
Right after my exams, I called them up and I was delighted to know about their scholarship. I thought to myself that this was a good enough reason to convince my parents. It would have turned out as planned if the society didn't poison my dad's mind that it's a demeaning job. Even though he worked abroad for many years, he was very traditional. He was always worried about what society would say. Trying not to go against him, I applied for degree courses, and at the same time, I was hoping not to get an invite from one and I didn't. It felt like it was destined to happen.
Since there was no reply from any of the degree colleges, my dad wanted me to utilize the year to prepare for the entrance exams. However, I had different plans. So I took the next step towards my dream and visited one of the training institutes to enquire about the fee structure, placement, etc. Out of fear that my dad wouldn't accept it, I had to take a study loan which initially was rejected by many banks as working parents are accepted as guaranteers and my mother was a housewife. I didn't want my father to know about this, hence to get this loan approved, I had to visit places I never imagined of like court, collectorate, police station to get the required documents. I had to lie to him that I'm pursuing a degree in Biotechnology so that he doesn't leave his job and come back home out of stress. He was at peace to know that I've given up on my dreams.
By then, it was time for me to take the third step towards my aim - the training phase. The training was a piece of cake but the real challenge was hiding the truth from everyone. In order to take care of my expenses and bank interest, I started coaching school children at home. I was bullied by the locals as I traveled alone every day to Bhubaneswar wearing clothes that they didn't approve of (Jeans and shirt). I played deaf to all of these talks. The only thing mattered to me was my family and they trusted in me that I wasn't doing anything wrong.
My hard work paid off when I got my first job in hospitality i.e., as a restaurant hostess in one of the big-time hotels in India. I knew it was time to reveal all of this to my father as I have to stay away from home. Again, hiding the fact that I was going to work in a hotel, I told him that I was going to Vizag for an on-job training at the airport. He was angry and stopped talking to me for a few days but then gave up. The only reason I agreed to work here was to gain experience in hospitality. I quit in 3 months and was back home and started searching for jobs in Bhubaneswar. The taunts kept coming since I was jobless. Everyone believed pursuing other courses would have been better.
Once again luck favored me when I cracked the interview with one of the leading airlines in India but as a ground staff. I was hugely relieved that I don't have to lie to my father. The bullying started once again when everyone got to know and this time the consequences were faced by my family too. Relatives boycotted us for a few months and others threatened. It's very humane to feel the fear of obstacles but you must learn to face it. What made me forget all of these was the expression on my father's face when he saw me after landing at Bhubaneswar airport. I saw the tears of joy and pride in his eyes and at the same time, he had the guilt that I had to do all of this without his support. Even though I loved working as a ground staff, I kept checking on how to apply for a flight attendant.
Desires might look impossible, but a gentle push can help achieve it. This was given to me by the love of my life. Finally, my dream came true when I attended one of the interviews. Everyone was happy but my father was a bit concerned that I wouldn't get marriage proposals. However, it was easier for me to convince this time. Now it was my time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey.
So this was my roller-coaster journey so far and I chose to enjoy than screaming. Each one of us has a spark within ourselves, we just need to fuel it.
Asifa Parween currently resides in Kochi with her husband and daughter and is the only girl from her village working for in the aviation industry
The views expressed by the author are personal