Shital Mahajan! The very utterance of her name will transport you to an adventurous and inspiring world where you will dare to take risks! She is known as the ‘Queen of Sky’, ‘Jump Queen’, and ‘Flying Bird’. She is the holder of five world records and 14 National records in skydiving. She is the world’s first woman to jump over the Geographical North pole in minus 37 degree Celsius from 2400 ft without any training. Shital Mahajan is also the world’s first woman to perform an accelerated free fall jump over the Antarctica from 11,600 feet, in minus 38 degree Celsius. She is the youngest woman in the world to perform jumps over both the North and South Poles.
Leading a team of 89 Indian skydivers she achieved a record for maximum tandem jumps in one day and 35 tandem jumps in one hour in Spain on 25 August 2014. Two more of her records were a free fall jump from a hot air balloon at 5800 feet and a jump at 24000 feet. She is the first Indian woman to perform a wing suit jump.
Shital Mahajan has been honored with the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2011. Other awards she has been conferred with include Tenzing Norgay National Award, Godavary Gaurav Puraskar, Shiv Chatrapati Maharashtra State Sports Special Award, Venutai Chavan Yuva Puraskar, and more.
Born on 19 September 1982 to Mamta Mahajan and Kamalakar Mahajan in Pune, Shital Mahajan is a Science graduate in Geology from Fergusson College, Pune. Her marriage with Vaibhav Rane, a software engineer working in Finland, was solemnized the adventurous way! It was performed on a hot air balloon, 600 feet above ground!! The feat was recorded in the Limca Book of World Records. The couple is blessed with twin sons Vrushabh and Vaishnav.
She is an inspiration to the women gentry not only in India but also across the world. Here is an excerpt of an interview with Shital Mahajan, taken by Manoshi Sinha, Editor, My India My Glory.
Manoshi Sinha: Please tell us about your first experience in skydiving and your success following it.
Shital Mahajan: Without any training, I did my first jump in the geographical North Pole at -37 degree Celsius from 2400 ft. from a helicopter in 2004 (MI8). It was a success! I was the first woman in the world to do so. It was for the first time that I sat in an aircraft, flying from Mumbai to Frankfurt and further touching three more destinations before reaching the North Pole. And till then I had never seen a parachute in my life. Also it was for the first time that I sat on a helicopter!
I did my second jump in the South Pole in the Antarctica without any training too. I was the first woman in the world to jump in the Antarctica. And then I got married.
My 2nd jump was an accelerated free fall jump in the Antarctica assisted by two instructors and a camera person on 16 Dec 2006.
Thereafter, I got sponsorships from the Govt. of Maharashtra for training. I did 250 jumps as part of my training. I underwent professional training, attaining A, B, C, and D licenses during my training course in the USA in 2008, sponsored by the Maharashtra Government.
Manoshi Sinha: How did you develop interest in skydiving?
Shital Mahajan: I was in Class XII then. I used to visit the NDA academy in Pune. I became friends with Jyoti Sumriya there; she was 1 class junior from the same college where I studied. Her brother Kamal Singh Oberh was a para trooper, then a Squadron Leader, now Wing Commander from Kashmir.
I wanted to do something different from what others do like pursuing careers in engineering, medical, etc. I tried swimming, badminton, table tennis, but somewhat I felt these sports were not for me. I even tried different types of painting, the professional way. I had been painting since I was in Class IV.
And then I saw Jyoti’s brother practicing skydiving. I developed interest in the sport. I met Kamal Singh Oberh and started enquiring about the sport. And that was how I developed interest in skydiving.
Click here to watch Shital Mahajan on YouTube.
Manoshi Sinha: Your inspirations and Gurus.
Shital Mahajan: My Gurus Kamal Singh Oberh Sir and Jeb Corliss from USA are my inspirations. Because of Kamal Sir, I am pursuing this sport. Jeb Corliss skydives with a wing suit. He has flown in numerous amazing places. I love his flying.
Jari Kuosma from Finland, the inventor of wing suits, is also my Guru and inspiration. Wearing the wing suit, one can literally fly like a bird. He has taught me the art of flying with the wing suit.
Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld from California is also my Guru. He has taught me many techniques in skydiving. He imparts his knowledge happily and tells us all to share and spread the tips and tricks so that more people joins this sport. He has been my inspiration ever since.
And many more people have inspired me in my skydiving journey.
Manoshi Sinha: Is skydiving a challenging sport?
Shital Mahajan: Yes, skydiving is a challenging sport. There is a thin line between heaven and hell. When you are ready to perform a jump, if your parachute opens, it is heaven and when it does not, it is hell. When you reach the ground, it is fine. When we jump from an aircraft, we always have one thought in mind – what if the parachute does not open! When we skydive, we always carry two parachutes in our parachute container, one is the main and another reserved. If any problem crops up in the main parachute, the reserved one can be used. If you forget to open a parachute, there is an automatic opening device that automatically opens your parachute at 1500 ft.
I won’t say skydiving is dangerous, but yes, it is challenging. When the door of the aircraft opens and you have to jump down, darr toh lagta hai. Lekin darr ke aage jeet hai. Once you take up a challenge, it becomes a lust. And you can’t stop! After the first you will be tempted to go for a second, and then a third, fourth and the skydiving journey continues!
Manoshi Sinha: Your views on skydiving as an adventure sport.
Shital Mahajan: Skydiving is an amazing sport. Once you practice this sport, you will never develop fear. Just one jump and you will taste and come out of your fear. You can conquer anything in the world. Just one jump and then no one can stop you! You will never fear dangers, adventures, and risks. You will accumulate confidence and your life will change because of it.
Manoshi Sinha: How fast can one learn skydiving?
Shital Mahajan: Based on one’s skills, one can perform 25 jumps and get an A license in one and half weeks or two weeks at the most. Performing another 25 jumps in a week or more, one can get the B license. After 50 jumps, one can conquer the sky. He/she can then perform jumps anywhere in the world.
Manoshi Sinha: Do you coach students in skydiving? Any skydiving academy that you run?
Shital Mahajan: Yes, I do. I run my own skydiving academy called Phoenix Skydiving Academy in Pune. I provide training to aspiring students and also prepare them for skydiving competitions around the world. I keep sending them abroad for advanced training. This year up to October, the academy will remain closed, as I shall be out of the country for an advanced training course. In my absence there is no one to take care of the academy.
I give guidance free of cost to those who are interested in pursuing a career in skydiving. I share knowledge without charging any fee and I believe knowledge should be shared for free. I have seen this in the USA.
Manoshi Sinha: You are a true exemplar of women empowerment and of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao slogan. Your opinion and message in this regard.
Shital Mahajan: Beti padhaoge toh beti aage jakar family, society, and desh ko aage barhayegi. I regret of not having a daughter. But I have adopted three girl students who wish to pursue a career in skydiving. I am training them. In the future, I am going to form a Women Skydiving Team.
When we speak about women empowerment, a woman can do wonders. Every woman has the power to prove herself. In India, especially, every woman is controlled, from birth till her end; first by parents, siblings, then by husband, in-laws, and then by children. They sacrifice their life for others. By prioritizing the needs of their family, they tend to neglect themselves. They neglect their health and hardly get time to socialize. Many women wish to do something different, but are bound to stay within the boundaries and priorities of their homes and family. They should come out of that aura. They should stand for themselves.
Every woman is an expert in one particular field or another. For example, if one is an expert cook and creates new recipes, she can utilize her expertise to her advantage through networking. She can share her knowledge, rope in other woman members of her family like sister, sister-in-law, mother-in-law including neighbors and start a business and empower herself in her locality and beyond. This will boost not only her but also the group’s confidence, enhance their self esteem, and instill a sense of independence. Ultimately, doing this, they will not only stand for their family but also for themselves. One should have the urge and the zest to do. Socialize, network, go to the gym, play some sport, do some skipping. Start this way! Start from your home and other homes will follow too.
Manoshi Sinha: Please tell us about your family.
Shital Mahajan: I have twin sons who stay along with my husband in Finland. My vocation requires me to stay in India. I train students in India. My students participate regularly in skydiving camps organized in Pune and other places in Maharashtra and across India. My family is very supportive, standing by me in my endeavors. When my husband goes for his 8-5 job, our kids go to school followed by their afternoon activities; their time schedule matches. He takes good care of them. When I am free and when they are free, we meet. My parents stay in Pune and my in-laws in Bhopal; they are very supportive in what I do.
Manoshi Sinha: Your achievements.
Shital Mahajan: Right now I have 5 world records and 17 national records. I am the only Indian woman to have so many records in skydiving. I am not doing the records for name and fame. I am doing this for self satisfaction. I am going for another two national records. I shall be traveling to South Africa and Brazil for skydiving tasks.
And there are so many things coming up for skydiving in India. In Women Skydiving Sports Team, few girls are being trained. They will be participating in championships.
Manoshi Sinha: Your message to readers.
Shital Mahajan: If anyone wishes to learn skydiving, start with tandem jumps, starting line jumps, etc. If you wish to undergo advanced training and pursue a career in skydiving, prefer choosing New Zealand. Here, training is less expensive compared to other countries.
Whether it is career or projects or any small or big tasks, create two plans – Plan A and Plan B. Both the plans should be perfectly planned. If the first plan fails, you can switch to the second plan. If you are in some difficult situation, have patience and do not react impulsively. Take your time, understand what is to be done, and act accordingly.
Never give up at any cost despite any problems that may crop up. Believe me whatever situation you are in, you will always find a solution. Keep trying in your life. You will certainly achieve success.