By Quaid Najmi
Pune adventurist Shital Rane-Mahajan set a new record by becoming the first Indian to skydive sporting a colourful Nauvari (a Maharashtrian style of draping) saree in Thailand on Monday.
Speaking to IANS shortly after landing, an elated Shital said owing to favourable weather conditions, she was able to skydive twice from an aircraft at heights of around 13,000 above the world-famous tourist resort of Pattaya.
"I wanted to do something different with International Women's Day coming up next month, so I decided on wearing the Maharashtrian 'Nauvari saree' for my skydives," Shital told IANS on phone from Thai Skydiving Centre.
Recounting her experiences, she said that wearing the Nauvari drape was a challenge in itself since the attire is nine-yards (8.25 metres) long compared to six yards of the regular Indian saree.
"First, to drape the Nauvari saree properly, plus to wear the parachutes on it, the safety gear and communication equipments, helmet, goggles, shoes etc. add on to and make it all quite a challenge," Shital explained, as she seemed to stumble in her first landing but escaped unhurt.
She grinned and admitted she had to make a lot of "extra preparations and precautions" for draping the Nauvari saree, including pinning it up tightly and taping it in many places to ensure it did not come off her body from the staggering height as she soared down, with strong winds from the Gulf of Thailand lashing all through her descent.
Shital said that the country's signature women's wear saree is draped in different styles all over India, but the Maharashtrian Nauvari drape is probably the most difficult and toughest to manage for women.
"I wanted to prove that Indian women can not only carry the saree graciously in their routine lives, but can also use it for high adventure like skydiving," smiled the 35-year-old extreme sportswoman.
The jump was originally scheduled on Sunday (February 11), but had to be postponed due to sudden heavy rains and stormy weather in Pattaya, though she managed a jump from 9,000 feet height.
With this, the Padma Shree laureate and mother of two nine-year old twin boys has set around 18 national skydiving records, plus six international records and completed 704 jumps around the world, bagging several national and international honours.
She shot to global fame on April 18, 2004, when she took her first leap -- without practice dives -- on the North Pole from a Russian MI-8 helicopter hovering at a height of 2,400 feet in minus 37 degree temperatures, making her the first woman in the world to accomplish the feat.
Two years later, on December 15, 2006, Shital made the world's First Accelerated Free Fall Parachute Jump on South Pole in Antarctica, from a Twin Otter aircraft, coming down from a height of 11,600 feet.
This made her the first and the youngest woman in the world to achieve the feat at both the Poles at the age of 23.
On April 19, 2008, Shital married a Finland-based engineer, Vaibhav Rane, and also created another national record - the couple got married in a hot-air balloon, complete with a priest performing the ceremonies and parents in tow, around 750-feet up in the air above the Pune city skyline.
Incidentally, Vaibhav is also an avid skydiver with 57 jumps to his credit. They became the first Indian civilian couple to skydive together in November 2011.
However, she still is keen on pursuing her dream of skydiving over Mt Everest, with two unsuccessful attempts made in 2010.
At present, Shital is on a real high -- with dives on all seven continents -- in around 10 years, on Antarctica, Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America.
Last year, she became the first Indian woman to be nominated by Aero Club of India for the prestigious FAI Sabiha Gokcen Medal for completion of skydiving on all seven continents.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)