Their dream soars into the air
Inspiration to villagers
Airport: The nearest airport from her picturesque village in Manipur is a five-and-a-half hours drive. The first time she saw an airport was when she was 18.
Now, Paotei Sele Roveinai is an international pilot.
The airline operators committee, Calcutta, awarded the 28-year-old for being the first woman from her tribe to become a pilot at a programme held on the occasion of International Women's Day on Thursday.
Roveinai is from the Poumai tribe, among the oldest and largest Naga tribes in Manipur.
Roveinai had to arrange for around Rs 70 lakh to train in Australia as a pilot. Her father was a retired government officer and she did not have the money to pursue her dream to fly an aircraft.
Neighbours, relatives and friends chipped in generously and the rest the dreamer raised as loan.
"I had never seen an airport till I was 18 and so didn't have any idea of (what it means to be) a pilot. I had always wanted to become a doctor," Roveinai, a pilot with Jet Airways, told Metro after receiving the award.
"I had never seen a plane and I can't explain my feelings the first time I entered a cockpit. It was a mixture of tension, joy, everything."
Roveinai was born at Purul village in Manipur. The nearest airport from there - in Imphal - was a five-and-a-half hours drive. The family shifted to Senapati when she was still a child. "From Senapati the Imphal airport is two-and-a-half hours' drive," she said.
"I want residents of Purul to fly the aircraft I am piloting. But the village is very remote and the people are too poor. They can't afford to fly."
Roveinai said she had come to know about flying in Pune, where she went at the age of 15 to study her Plus-II course in science.
"A cousin of mine was an instructor at an aviation institute in Pune. It was from him that I first came to know about flying and immediately got hooked on it. But I needed a huge amount of money to realise my dream. As I was not in a position to raise the entire amount as loan, my neighbours, friends and relatives helped me generously," Roveinai recounted.
It was during one of her trips back home from Pune that she first stepped into an airport - Calcutta - and boarded a flight (to Imphal).
Roveinai trained at Hunter valley Aviation in Cessnock, New South Wales, Australia, and joined Jet Airways as pilot in 2016. She is currently based in Calcutta.
Apart from domestic sectors, Roveinai flies to international destinations such as Singapore, Bangkok and Gulf countries.
This February she went back to Purul for her father's funeral and was treated like a celebrity. "I was elated to see that girls of my village want to follow in my footsteps.... Their biggest hurdle is their poor economic condition," she said.
Senior pilot Captain Sarvesh Gupta feels someone from a small town or a village wanting to become a pilot faces many challenges. "Not just money. Unlike city people, they don't have exposure, can't go to a flying club."