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Gyan Patnaik: Biju babu’s daring wife and one of the first woman commercial pilots

If Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru affectionately called Biju Patnaik “India's buccaneer” for his valiant deeds during World War II, Gyan Patnaik, his wife, was no less. She was one of India’s earliest women aviators, and in the 1930s, was one of the first women in the country to get a commercial pilot’s licence. She accompanied her husband in the dead of the night to rescue an Indonesian leader from Java which was then occupied by the Dutch.

Dearly called ‘Kalinga Bull’ in his native state, Biju Patnaik is a part of Odia folklore even today after almost more than 2 decades of his demise. However, very few people know that this legend was married to another legend in her own right, Gyan Patnaik from Punjab.

Image-Arunachal Observer

Gyan Patnaik: A force to reckon with

Although Gyan Patnaik is popularly remembered as the wife of Biju Patnaik, she was one of the greatest women of India in the 1930s. She was born in a Sikh family of Rawalpindi and possessed a flamboyant personality and a down to earth attitude.

Gyan came in contact with Biju Babu in the early 30s in Lahore and their relationship evolved into marriage.

Gyan Patnaik – Wings of fire

Gyan was one of India’s earliest women aviators.

During the 1930s, she was one of the first women in the country to get a commercial pilot’s licence. With a strong will, she co-piloted her husband in one of his historic rescue operations.

Gyan accompanied her husband in the dead of the night to rescue an Indonesian leader from Java which was then occupied by the Dutch. Thereafter during 1946-49, Gyan frequently visited Indonesia with Biju for providing humanitarian supplies and assistance for Indonesia’s rehabilitation.

Having an ardent passion for science, Gyan was deeply dedicated to ensure the reach of science for the upliftment of people through the Kalinga Foundation.

Image- Biju Patnaik

Gyan Patnaik: Inspiring by example

She was not only the source of inspiration for Biju but even ministers of high rank used to seek her advice on crucial matters.

To the Odia people, Biju Patnaik was that ‘know-them-all’ person who knew every important personality in and around the country and had access to all the important personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Indonesian adventure

It was Jawaharlal Nehru who sent Biju Patnaik to help the Indonesian freedom fighters and Gyan willingly went to Indonesia to support her husband.

During 1946-49, Biju was frequently flying to Indonesia, along with his wife with planeloads of medicines and other humanitarian assistance for the Indonesian freedom fighters. Later the Patnaiks built up excellent ties with Sukarno, who later became the first President of Indonesia.

Biju Patnaik rescued Muhammad Hatta, the then vice-president of Indonesia and premiere Sutan Sjahrir from the Dutch imperialists in a Dakota aircraft and brought them to India.

The Indonesian government later conferred the country’s highest civilian award, the Bhumi Putra (son of the soil)

Also Read : Biju Babu who saw modern Odisha in his dream

An advocate of democracy and freedom

Along with her husband, she worked closely with the Nepalese democratic movement in the early 1950s. Gyan also supported her husband in flying innumerable sorties to evacuate British families from Rangoon as the Japanese forces advanced during the Second World War.

Biju also opened supply lines to the Chinese forces fighting the Japanese and the Soviet army retaliating Hitler’s authoritarian domination. All this while, she stood beside Biju like a rock.

Gyan Patnaik was the mother to daughter Gita Mehta (author of Karma Cola, Raj, Snakes & Ladders etc) and two sons, Prem and Naveen Patnaik.

Anwesha Banerjee
An enthusiastic Law student from NMIMS School of Law, Mumbai, passionate about feminist lawyering and Indian cultural art forms. She is firm about her opinions and loves to express that through her writing.


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