Hyderabad: Indo-French conference highlights India’s aviation history

Hyderabad: A conference on History of Indo-French aviation was held at Science Beyond Borders, an exhibition at BM Birla Science museum in the city on June 3. The artistic, cultural, educational, and literary exhibition, which showcases 137 slides, will be open to the public every day from 10:30 am to 8 pm from June 4 to June 26.

During the conference, the panelists showcased the historic Indian and French connection in the domain of aviation. They spoke of Indian aviators who served in the flying arm of the British army during World War I.

One can’t miss on Indra Lal Roy when speaking of aviation and Indian fighter pilots. He shot down nine German planes in less than two weeks during World War I. That earned him the reputation of being an ‘ace‘ flyer, a tag conferred on pilots who shot down five enemy aircraft.

MS Education Academy
Indian pilots in France during World War I

The topic of discussion for the History of Indo-French aviation was chaired by CEO of Blue Horizons Strategic Engineering Pvt. ltd and Air Vice Marshal S Bhanoji Rao VSM (Retired).

The speakers included Sqn. Ldr. Rana Chhina (Retired), author of the aviation section, Convenor of Hyderabad chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Dr. Anuradha Reddy, Pilot and Collector Cpt. AS Randhawa, and author of the aviation section, Dr. Samuel Berthet.

Dr Anuradha Reddy spoke of Hyderabad and its association to the aviation industry. Founded in 1945, Deccan Airways ltd was one of the nine airlines existing in India during independence.  The airline was a joint venture of Nizam Government of erstwhile Hyderabad State and Tata Airlines.

Dr Reddy also mentioned Aban Pestonji Chenoy, the daughter of the Nizam’s Mint Master was the first woman member of the Hyderabad State Aero Club to qualify for an aviator’s license in 1938.

Flying license of PM Reddy, a pioneer aviator, flying instructor of Hyderabad State Aero Club.

Dr Reddy chuckled while saying, “She always wore a saree when she flew, while supposedly indulging in ‘modernism’ she flew with a ‘ghoonghat’ over her head.”

The exhibition also showcases the shared scientific history of Indo-French scientific collaboration across mathematics, medicine, nuclear science, biodiversity, aviation (commercial and military), physics, visual analytics, locomotives, cartography, space and more.

Instead of venturing into the technical nuances of scientific discoveries and achievements, the exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to hear stories about the interactions between the people behind such discoveries. It shares the experiences, memories, testimonies of many distinguished personalities from India and France.

The exhibition will also shed light on lesser-known stories such as the electrification of the Indian Railways in collaboration with the SNCF, the first Indian to take to the skies, and the Indian space programme which kicked off in the 1960s.

The exhibition takes visitors through some rare snippets of the prized Tata Central Archives, gives them a peek into Airbus’ geospatial digital platform, brings to the fore some illustrious records from the Institut Francais de Pondichery, a repository of international research in cultures, environments, and societies in South Asia.

Indian and French Flight Cadets during training on the MS 755 Fleuret (a sole prototype French jet trainer) in Begumpet, 1954.

The aviation exhibition is a part of Bonjour India, an initiative by the Embassy of France and its cultural service, Institut Français en Inde, the Alliance Française Network, and the Consulates of France in India.

On the occasion, Consul General of France in Bangalore Thierry Berthelot said, “It is important while building new research projects in science today to know about the background, history and all that our two nations have already achieved together. This exhibition showcases some great examples in this context.”

The opening day’s programme at the aviation exhibition commenced at the BM Birla Science Centre followed by a guided tour of the exhibition.  Several discussion forums were organized along with a reception which was followed by opening addresses by Director of Alliance Française, Dr. Samuel Berthet, and Director of Birla Planetarium, KG Kumar.

The second topic was on Visual Analytics and was chaired by Sanjay Gupta, IFS.
Speakers at the forum included Prof Luc de Golbéry and Dr. Anne Chappuis. They authored the visual analytics section at the exhibition. Other speakers included Prof. Kamalakar Karlapalem, IIIT, and Dr. Anne-Lyse Renon (Université De Rennes 2).

Discussions galore

For the French teachers who visit the exhibition with their students, an education kit specifically designed for French language classes has been created. Students will have the opportunity to practice their French through interactive activities. They will discover eminent Indian and French scientific figures, learn about Indo-French scientific cooperation, and enrich their French vocabulary.

The exhibition also showcases satellite images of Indian cities from space and helps them learn about the largest herbal study project on the Indian sub-continent.

Speaking at the Hyderabad inauguration of the Science Beyond Borders exhibition Dr Samuel Berthet said, “The first day of the Science Beyond Borders exhibition was a treat indeed. Everyone learned about past scientific collaborations between India and France from those who know the most about them. These stories will further spur young Indian scientists and thinkers to work more closely with their French peers. From these partnerships will emerge solutions that tackle some of the most difficult challenges facing us today.” 

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