Little Shashi along with her friends from neighbourhood cycled every evening towards a vantage point on Tadbund Road in Secunderabad to catch a glimpse of planes landing. With every touchdown, a little dream quietly took wing from the corner of the runway.
“We used to park ourselves and wait to see the big birds making touchdown. It was an awesome feeling to see planes comedown. There was this huge wall and the little opening gifted us close proximity to flying machines. We couldn’t afford to buy a ticket and see planes from close quarters. Enjoying everything from a distance was the norm then,” says Shashi Sinha.
Shashi locked on to the dream of dating flying machines for some time with the hope that she would become a pilot. To her, it was the most fascinating job on the planet. But, as she grew life charted a different flightpath and she completed her B.Tech in Electronics from Osmania University.
She drew inspiration from her father, a paratrooper
Her hero was her father who was in the Army. She picked up early threads of discipline from him, while her mother, a Hindi pundit, taught her the power of patience.
“My mother walked 5 km to and fro every day to her school. She was such a live wire and participated in all activities in the school. Not even once in her life she cribbed. Not even once she said she was tired of cooking for us. Not sure if I can find a woman today, who doesn’t complain,” says Shashi, Project Director, Advanced Area Defence (AAD) Endo Atmospheric Interceptor Missiles, Defence Research and Development Oorganisation (DRDO).
While sharing interesting bits of her family details, Shashi said her father was a self-made man and never depended on anyone.
“He was a paratrooper and joined the Indian Army at the age of 15. He fought in the World War-II and often told me stories of USSR (Russia) and their military might. I grew up listening to these inspiring tales of men, war machines and their triumphs. Decades later in 2003 when I set my foot on Russian soil, I fondly remembered the stories my dad shared,” says Shashi, now 56 years old.
I wanted both my daughters independent
She said the day when her father was born, he lost his mother. “That made my grandfather turn more superstitious, making my father not-so-welcome-soul in the family. But, over the years the neglect my father got from his own family made him so stronger,” she says.
Shashi too had her share of setbacks in life when she lost her husband Lt Cdr Gaurav Raj Sinha, a naval officer hailing from Allahabad, in a road accident in Hyderabad in 1997.
“Ours was a love marriage and he was my M.Tech coursemate at IIT Kharagpur. While pursing higher studies on radar applications, our signals and wavelength matched. But, his death really shook me hard because he took care of the family so much that I felt suddenly orphaned. With my two little daughters then only nine and seven years of age, I had to start a new life again,” says Shashi, who joined DRDO in November 2001.
Her contributions range over varied subjects such as development of flight vehicles, RF seekers, radomes and Radar Cross Section to name a few. In August 2012 she was made the Project Director and in 2015, she led the team successfully flight-tested the endo-atmospheric interceptor AAD, which incorporated many home-grown critical technologies.
The death of her husband and the additional responsibilities made Shashi to take a fresh look at her life and she chose to make both her daughters independent.
“I did not want to take any help from anyone. I did not want them to feel at any point that they are orphaned. It was tough for me. But I hung on to life. For many months, I used to sleep holding my husband’s photo closer to my chest. It gave me strength,” she adds.
Her elder daughter Pavitra is now a freelance artiste, while the younger one Roshani is pursuing her post-doctoral studies abroad.
Hit to kill AAD mission a great leap forward for India
When asked about the AAD project, Shashi said that India has now made huge inroads with the recent success of the mission. She said the systems are fine-tuned ahead of its induction.
“Elsewhere in the world, the missiles are lighter and smarter. We are also reaching there and with all the available technologies we could recently demonstrate a hit to kill mission, becoming the third nation after the US and France,” she said.
17, the AAD interceptor destroyed incoming ballistic missile satisfying all the mission objectives. Shashi and the team are currently engaged in the design and development of a multiple–role long-range interceptor that counters a wide range of threats, carrying onboard many new technologies.
On the challenges of heading such a sensitive project, Shashi says every job entrusted upon must be dealt with dedication.
“I want every woman to constantly push their limits. I want them to take on all the challenges head on. Enjoy the task given to you. Own them up,” says Shashi, who has been always inspired by Dr A P J Abdul Kalam and Dr V K Saraswat, whom she considers are the builders of the BMD programme in India.
“Dr Kalam’s encouraging words on my first day in DRDO were so inspiring so much that they are still my guiding mantras. If an ordinary girl from Madurai can come this far, I am confident there are many woman in India who can achieve much more than what I did. The idea is to lock on to your goals all the time,” says Shashi.
According to her visionaries like Dr Avinash Chander, Dr S. Christopher and Dr Satheesh Reddy have always encouraged her team to push the limits.
What’s the secret the family tattoo?
Interestingly the top missile scientist and her daughters spot a tattoo on their hands and Sashsi has a small story to share behind it.
“These are a family tattoo designed by my daughters. I got it done this year at the age of 56 and was really excited to get my first tattoo. The written tattoo says ‘pure moon light’ -- which is a combination of our names together. Pure means Pavitra, Moon means Shashi and Light stands for Roshani. The symbol seen is a celtic Triquetra. A triangle is known to be the most stable structures, and so it signifies the three of us. The shape around the Triquetra is that of a guardian angel, signifying my late husband watching over us and protecting us,” says Shashi, with a child-like excitement.
So, what does the ‘Iron Lady’ while not adding teeth to her hit-to-kill toys? Well, she paints, swims, paints and hits her garden of hope.