Indian Entrepreneur Sarla Thakral’s Biography

Feb/25/2023 / by Swarnendu Biswas
Sarla Thakral
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

She Aspired for the Skies

It would be hard to exclude Sarla Thakral in any comprehensive history of India’s women’s empowermentas she did achieve the coveted distinction of being one among the first three Indian women from undivided pre-independence India to fly an aircraft (the others being Imtiaz Ali and Urmila Parikh). As a pilot Sarla Thakral can inspire millions and millions of women to fly high.

While exploring about Sarla Thakral we can easily come to know that she was born on 8th August 1914, in Ajmer (a historic city in the present day Rajasthan)   and got married to PD Sharma at the tender age of 16. After marriage she moved to Lahore (now an important city in Pakistan, it was a culturally vibrant city of undivided India) to live with her husband’s family.

Making History

Her husband who was also a pilot and the first Indian to get an airmail pilot’s license, and her father-in-law encouraged her to fly. In fact, it was her father-in-law who got Sarla enrolled in a flying club. She knew that by learning to fly she was about to break a male bastion but that didn’t deter her courage and zeal.

It sounds unbelievable that her instructor decided that she was ready to fly solo only after eight hours and ten minutes of training. The mother of a four-year-old daughter stepped into the cockpit in a saree and flew a double-winged Gypsy Moth solo. Sarla earned her aviation pilot license in 1936 when she was not yet 22.

In the 1930s conservative India it was almost unimaginable for a woman to fly an aircraft but she proved to millions of women and men that what can’t be imagined could also be achieved. And she was ready for higher heights.

After earning her initial aviation pilot license, she completed one thousand hours of flying in  aircraft owned by the Lahore Flying Club to obtain her ‘A’ license; the first Indian woman to achieve so. This achievement of her obviously should be one of the major highlights in any good biography of Sarla Thakral.

Sarla now aimed for the ‘B’ license, which would have enabled her to fly a commercial plane.

Death of a Dream

However, cruel fate had other plans for her. Her supportive husband died in an airplane crash in 1939, when Sarla was only 24. Though shattered she collected herself and with renewed determination she went to Jodhpur to train for a commercial pilot license. But soon World War II began and civil aviation training became suspended, which came as second major jolt in the way of her flying career.

She was forced to abandon her dreams of becoming a commercial pilot and returned to Lahore where she got admitted in the Mayo School of Art. From that institution she got trained in Bengal School of Painting, and got a diploma in fine arts.

Merging Art with Business

After partition of India, she moved to Delhi with her two daughters, from where she began the second innings of her life. She and RP Thakral met and eventually they tied the knot in 1948. Sarla Thakral went on to establish herself as a successful businesswoman, which was again a rarity for a woman in India in those days.

Sarla Thakral ventured into making jewellery, saree designing and painting, and achieved quite a bit of success in her creative endeavors. She amalgamated aesthetics and entrepreneurship well.

In an interview to Tribune (one of the leading English dailies in India) she said, “I dabbled in designing costume jewellery, which was not only worn by the who’s who of that time but also supplied it to Cottage Emporium for 15 years. After that, I took to block printing and the sarees designed by me were well sought-after. This too continued for 15 years. Then I began designing for the National School of Drama and all along I kept painting.”

Remains Forgotten

She breathed her last on 15th March 2008. The age of Sarla Thakral at the time of her death was 93 years.

It is about time Bollywood or Hollywood or both make/s biopic/s on this unsung hero, lost in the skies of time… It is sad that no noteworthy film has been made on her till now, nor do this writer know of any good biography of Sarla Thakral in the form of a book. However, it is commendable that Google honored her with a Google Doodle last year, on her 107th birthday.


When did Sarla Thakral start her career?

Misfortunes prevented her from embarking on a career in flying, for which she showed lots of promise. However, she began her career as an entrepreneur in early years of post-independence India.

To whom was Sarla Thakral married to?

She married twice. Her first marriage was with PD Sharma, which took place in 1930 and her second marriage with RP Thakral that took place in 1948.

What is Sarla Thakral’s educational qualification?

Sarla Thakral did have a diploma in fine arts from Mayo School of Art in Lahore.


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