humans of leap — major prajakta desai
major prajakta desai is the first female officer in the indian army to become an unmanned aerial vehicle observer pilot, and this is her story.
i was born in the late 80s, in a humble, middle-class home. at the time, there were still set patterns of behaviour expected of women: expected things to study like medicine, engineering, or teaching. i grew up with financial difficulty, but my parents encouraged me to always dream big through hard work and gaining merit.
my inclination towards the army started when i was about 8 years old after watching the movie “border”. i found it mesmerising and was upset that i wasn’t a man who could be part of the forces. as time went on, my interest and inclination only grew: i became a part of the ncc, specifically the air wing ncc, for which i worked hard to qualify.
i wanted to fly: to become a fighter pilot — but my petite size wouldn’t allow me to make the cut. i thought i’d aim for air traffic control officer, but my initial dream never really died down. my desire only grew and i decided to get what i wanted regardless of how much i’d have to slog!
i went on to join the academy with the support of my friends. here i learnt that once in, everyone is equal — it doesn’t matter what background you come from, which school you went to or what religion you’ve grown up believing in. everyone starts from ground zero at the academy, and it’s here that men & women become soldiers.
through the long days, rigorous training, and packed schedules, it was just the thought of having those stars on my shoulder that kept me going! looking back, the day i got commissioned was one of my proudest moments.
being a woman officer comes with its challenges especially when most of your troops and subordinates are men. there’s a different kind of rapport that the men share with each other in the army, taking breaks, bonding over certain things, and getting a drink together. i learned that just being a superior is not enough to truly command respect, and had to devise unique ways to bond with my troops. i kept my physical fitness high to run with them, play games, and develop relationships. i’d get to know their wives & children and maintain a social connection. it was through this that i began to share a strong bond, without needing man-to-man connections over drinks and so on!
in 2019 there was an opportunity for women in army aviation to become observer pilots, and i obviously jumped at the chance. it was overwhelming because i was already 8–9 years into serving. it had been a long time since i last picked up my books to study, and i was the most senior amongst the few who were preparing with me. i put in the extra hours, and it was truly worth it all! it feels rewarding to have my name associated with being a “first” — india’s first woman to become an unmanned aerial vehicle observer.
i believe that if i can do this, anyone can achieve anything no matter where they come from. never underestimate the impact of hard & consistent effort!