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The Brilliant Indian Who Made the First Aeroplane

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Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.

Shivkar Talpade, an Indian is believed to have flown the first airplane in 1895, eight years before the Wright Brothers.

Shivkar Talpade, an Indian is believed to have flown the first airplane in 1895, eight years before the Wright Brothers.

The Wright brothers need no introduction at least in the field of aviation. On December 17, 1903, the two brothers created history by flying the first powered airplane which stayed aloft for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet on its inaugural flight. It was a much-publicized event that undoubtedly changed the course of history.

But were they really the first to fly an airplane? No. An unknown Indian by the name of Shivkar Bapuji Talpade accomplished the feat eight years before the Wright brothers did. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence (or publicity) to substantiate whether Talpade actually succeeded.

But the fact remains that he attempted to do it much before the Wright brothers, a brave attempt that got lost in the dusty annals of history.

Talpade’s plane was named Marutsakha. Marut means ‘air’ in Sanskrit and Sakha refers to ‘friend’. Marutsakha, meant friend of wind, an apt name for an airplane. There was no proper media coverage when Talpade came up with the invention and the only reference of his invention and works comes from historian Pratap Velkar in his book Maharashtracha Ujwal Itihaas that was written about 20 years ago. As Velkar says in his book.

"By the time I was growing up, Talpade had been long dead, and the house itself had been sold to a Catholic family. But my father would always point to the house and tell us about how Talpade had gone about creating his aircraft and had demonstrated its live performance at Chowpatty beach Mumbai. While I agree we have very little evidence to say whether Talpade was successful or not in creating a flying machine. But what is interesting is that someone way back then had tried."

The story of Shivkar Bapuji Talpade

Much of Shivkar Bapuji Talpade's life is cloaked in mystery and obscurity and our only reference comes through the work of Historian Pratap Velkar who painstakingly collects the facts and weaves together an interesting tale of perseverance, brilliance, and determination.

As per Velkar, Talpade is believed to have been born in 1864 in the Pathare Prabhu community in a South Mumbai home. He worked as an instructor in the art and craft department of Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai. That was when he got interested in making an equipment’ that can fly.

Talpade was a voracious reader and a keen experimenter. In his craft workshop at the art school, Talpade used to spend hours thinking about the motion of wheels while making model cars and also drawings birds. He was also a great fan of Thomas Alva Edison who flew the first balloon, said to be one of the initial achievements in aviation. Velkar paints Talpade as a man with 'fire in his belly’ who wanted to do something different from his mundane daily job.

While writing the book, Velkar began searching for any of Talpade's living relatives. It was when he came across the essays written by one of Talpade's students, P Satawlekar. From Satawlekar, he learned that Talpade was quite obsessed with building his plane and had invested a lot of his personal money in the pursuit. His friends and relatives called him ‘foolish’ but he persisted.

Talpade’s brief moment of fame came when he got an opportunity to showcase his plane at the Chowpatty beach in Mumbai.

According to Velkar, Talpade's marutsakha was a cylindrical structure made of bamboo. The structure was apparently filled with liquid mercury. "When the mercury reacted with sunlight, it released hydrogen. And because hydrogen is lighter than air, it helped the aircraft fly," he says. But the plane did not get very high or stay up too long. "It rose to just a small height and crashed within minutes," says Velkar.

It was hardly a well-publicized event. There was a small crowd with a few curious onlookers and some friends of Talpade who had come to encourage him. The plane crashed and along with the plane, Talpade’s dreams also took a nosedive.

Talpade was forgotten

After the failure of the plane, Talpade tried to raise funds by approaching the then Maharaja of Baroda and even some businessmen in Mumbai. He was unsuccessful and the damaged plane gathered dust for several years sitting on the beach becoming yet another curiosity for the children playing on the beach.

Ironically, Talpade’s efforts were never noticed or appreciated while on the other hand, the Wright brothers got a 25,000 dollar support from the US Army to propel their venture forward. The result is as we all know today; one created history and the other got obliterated into history.

It was only five years ago Talpade was finally remembered when a Bollywood director Vibhu Puri made a film Hawaizaada on his life starring actor Ayushmann Khurrana. It is time we salute this forgotten gem of India and give him his rightful place in history.

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on March 10, 2021:

Thanks Tuli

Tulii Banerjee from Kolkata on March 10, 2021:

Thank you for sharing this interesting information, Ravi. I get little time to write or read on Hubpages. But every day I am learning new things from all of you. Thank you so much for this interesting article.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on March 10, 2021:

Yes, Flourish. Unfortunately, history is written by victors, and losers are forgotten. That is the sad part.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 10, 2021:

You'd think there would be some way to substantiate his contribution for history so he could get more of the credit he merited.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on March 10, 2021:

Thanks Devika

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 10, 2021:

This is fascinating and I had no idea of that. You have enlightened me on a well-researched hub on this title. History is interesting and lets us know about heroes and Talpade is one of those who constructed a great invention.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on March 09, 2021:

Thanks Chitangada.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 09, 2021:

Nice and informative article.

Yes, I have read about Talpade. So many unsung heroes in our history. Thanks for sharing his contributions with the readers.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on March 09, 2021:

Thanks, Miebakagh He created 8 years before but did not get any financial commitments to continue his invention, unlike the Wright brothers.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 09, 2021:

When you say an. Indian created and fly the first earoplane, my historical mind at once credit the Wright brothers. Now that the truth is revealing, honor to whom honor is due.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on March 09, 2021:

Thanks, Bill.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2021:

I simply cannot imagine how difficult it would be to construct something no one else had constructed and have it work. Brilliant indeed!

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