Microlight Pilot Audrey Maben And Her Daughter Share More Than A Penchant For Adventure
Audrey Maben, India’s first female microlight flying instructor, and her daughter Amy Mehta have a resplendent family heirloom that the pair hopes to pass down the generations
Two identical pairs of chestnut eyes greet me when I meet the mother-daughter duo of Audrey Maben (43) and Amy Mehta (19) who shot to fame last November for being the first Indian women to attempt a circumnavigation expedition in a microlight aircraft. They spare me only a cursory smile before plunging headlong into conversation with each other. Having flown in from Mysuru, the city that she calls home, Audrey cannot wait to swap stories from the past few months with her daughter, who has driven down from Pune where she is currently pursuing a degree in visual art and photography. It is some time before the two bring each other up to speed on their lives and are finally able to give their attention to the shoot.
Ideally, the pair should have been able to spend a great deal of time chatting with each other if they had been given the opportunity to be together in a cockpit for almost 80 days during their dream journey. However, as it goes with bureaucracy in India, there wasn’t enough time to get the paperwork in place for the quest and Audrey and Amy’s lofty ambitions could not be fulfilled. The matriarch wistfully states, “If one takes a hard look at the lives of the women in India, they would realise that we are a long way off from uplifting our gender. For me, flying is quite symbolic; it involves emancipating women from their chains. When I was approached to take on this mission, I didn’t bat an eyelid before accepting because I had complete faith in my capabilities.” Amy, who has been airborne since she was a practically a foetus, is all praises for Audrey’s determination. “She instilled an enduring sense of self-confidence in me and groomed me into a responsible, independent individual at a very young age. I was free to explore my likes and dislikes and she always encouraged me to articulate my conclusions with assertion.”
It is evident that Audrey and Amy share common personality traits — that much can be deduced from the composed manner in which they conduct themselves throughout the shoot. They emanate twin waves of power, as if they are a joint force to be reckoned with. Perhaps the daughter takes after her mother when it comes to this aspect. Audrey confirms my guess as she reveals, “Amy caught a flight from Bengaluru to Hyderabad all by herself to visit her grandparents when she was only three years old. She was accompanying me on cross-country flights between the ages of two and six; that’s when I knew my girl would grow up to be fiercely independent. At 14, she took a test to deduce her mental age and scored a 50. She’s always been an old soul.” I wonder if this similarity exhibits itself when you sneak a peek into their wardrobes. It appears that they share a predilection for jackets – Audrey almost never leaves the house without either a cotton, corduroy or crocheted one thrown over her shoulders and Amy prefers those with slightly androgynous silhouettes.
She now also borrows Audrey’s saris from time to time, having traded the short, spunky hairstyle she sported during her childhood for longer tresses. “My mother has always dressed smartly and enjoys having fun with her outfits. She paired boat-neck blouses with silver chokers and aviators before it was deemed cool. I can recall, with perfect clarity, the denim pinafore she wore when she hosted a Spider Man-themed party for my brother at home.”
Out of the many items of clothing the two hold close to their hearts, a red sweater knitted by Audrey’s mother has been promoted to the ranks of a family heirloom. “To pass on something made with so much love is a true honour and hopefully, it won’t stop at Amy. My mother loved crocheting and we helped her with it, all the while laughing and joking. It’s a great way to pass down memories to the next generation.”
As a 26-year-old woman who has never pierced her ears, my eyes are drawn towards a pair of beaten gold jhumkis with three rows of encrusted pearls that the pilot and her daughter have on for the shoot. They each wear a single earring that catches the afternoon sun at the most gorgeous angles, the intricate floral patterns standing out as the women attempt different poses for the camera. I notice that they are extremely careful with the jewellery; every time there is a change of clothes and the earrings have to be removed, they are treated with utmost reverence. Clearly, there’s a story there and Audrey lets us in on a little secret about them – they are made of pure silver because she isn’t particularly fond of the bright yellow colour of gold jewellery. Caught up in a fleeting bout of nostalgia, a sad smile plays on her lips as she recollects that the earrings were a gift to herself when she was parting ways with Amy’s dad. “The separation happened around Diwali and it suddenly hit me that I was going to be the man of the house for the rest of my life. I felt like I owed myself a little something. I always pull the jhumkis out for a special occasion but the first time Amy wore them, I was left speechless.” Amy fondly reminisces, “I wore the earrings for my 12th-grade graduation with a teal silk saree, for which my mother specially designed a boat-neck blouse. It had tiny ornamental cloth buttons along the back and was a sight to behold. I believe I looked just like a younger version of her.” Audrey adds, “I preferred to invest time in my children rather than shower them with worldly possessions. The earrings are probably the only purchased treasure I’ll pass on, with the pearls symbolising the joyful little experiences we’ve had.”
You might think that living in different cities leaves them with little knowledge of how the other is doing. But Amy is quick to dispel this assumption. “Despite her busy schedule, mom and I invariably speak once a day, mostly on her way back home, when she is exhausted but also eager to know about my day. Of late, events have been bringing us together – like the TEDx talk we delivered together in Mysuru and this shoot.” Audrey, who founded Mysuru’s first Cambridge International School in addition to being an instructor for microlight aircrafts at Mysuru Airport, relies on technology to stay in touch with her daughter, but wishes she could resort to handwritten letters, like she did with Amy’s father. “My daughter and I discuss everything from food and clothes to our friends and relationships; we confide in each other about our emotional state of mind. With applications like WhatsApp and Instagram, talking to her is much easier, but I’m sure she doesn’t share my enthusiasm when I bombard her with messages to change her profile picture!”
Before they leave, the mother and daughter embrace each other for a long time, aware that it will be a while before they see each other again. I have a parting question for Amy as she carefully reunites the jhumkis and places them together in a box. Are there any other items in her mother’s wardrobe that she hopes to inherit? She smiles at me knowingly as she responds, “Nothing apart from her tailor-made suit of positive thinking and her intricately designed gown
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