Unusual Occupations

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Unusual Occupations - The Taxi Driver

 D- Driver , The Taxi Driver


Hi Leena

Leena :Hey Welcome to Mumbai, Where have you reached ?

Listen, I have boarded the Taxi and we are on the Western Express highway. Tell me which turn should I take to get to this place in BKC.

Leena: mmm...it is slightly complicated. But give the phone to the Taxi Driver and I will tell him. 

Thanks. And By the way it is not a HIM but a HER.

Leena : Oh so you boarded a Priyadarshini cab,  did you  ?   


This is a country, where popular perception of a Taxi driver is usually a grumpy middle aged man who generously sprinkles foul language with a dash of rash driving. A Taxi driver is someone who cannot be trusted since he could easily take you for a ride ( pun unintended ) especially if you are not familiar with the city.  All the more so, if you are a woman travelling alone in a city. Bollywood movies are rife with reels after reels of the young belle escaping from the clutches of the village villain only to the ensnared by the Treacherous Taxi driver in the city who takes her on a ride until the handsome hero comes along to rescue the damsel in distress.   

It is this perception and reputation of the average Taxi driver that Susieben Shah decided to exploit as a business opportunity and founded Priyadarshini cabs.  A Taxi service by the women for not just the women, but everyone.   


Radha is one among the 25 drivers employed by Priyadarshini cabs in Mumbai.  Lean, short and dressed in a pink shirt and black trousers with her hair tied up with a pink plastic hair clip, she looks less like a Taxi driver and more like a stewardess of a low cost airline sans the heavy makeup.   

Radha, like most other employees of Priyadarshini cabs was trained for three months by the organization that Susieben Shah founded. 

Radha's family migrated from Uttar Pradesh two generations ago to a slum in what was then Bombay, to make a living. As the slums turned into chawls and then into high rise two room tenements as part of the city corporation's slum redevelopment program, Radha's family integrated themselves into the infinite opportunities that the maximum city offered them. 


When the family came into financially difficult times it was expected that young Radha and her siblings contribute to keep the family afloat financially. Not that the city of Mumbai had any dearth of opportunities to make a living.  To the contrary it was a problem of plenty.  Radha could have chosen any job and made a living. 





When Susieben Shah, the social worker approached her with the offer to get trained as a taxi driver, it seemed like an exciting opportunity but she was not sure. 
 No one else that Radha had ever known had ventured into it before, not in Mumbai and probably nowhere else in the country. It was certainly not a 'woman thing'.   But Susieben was determined and Radha was persuaded. 

Getting the Licence for driving a taxi was the easier part of the job.  


In the early days when fellow cab drivers would see a woman behind the wheel, they would dangerously skirt past her vehicle in an attempt to scare and tease the rookie taxi driver, probably for lack of balls.  Undetered the first batch of woman Taxi Drivers took to the road in 2008 in Mumbai to show them that they indeed had the balls.  Others followed slowly and steadily. 


Radha joined the team in 2008 and since then there has been no looking back for her.  She enjoys driving and the attention her Unusual occupation gets her not only from the men and women passengers, but also from the media.  Among the many newspapers, TV Channels and magazines that have covered an article or two on this all women Taxi service, it was the BBC that catapulted them to international fame, when its crew came over to Mumbai to make a documentary on women entrepreneurship and featured the women from Priyadarshini cabs.    


Radha works about 10 hours a day and sometimes she does the nights.  
It is in the nights, that the demand for women drivers is high and lack of  them in adequate numbers is acutely felt.  Especially over the weekends at the hotels, pubs, airports and at railway stations. 

Radha, like all her colleagues has been trained on basics of self defence. However she thinks safety is a matter of common sense.  She would always be on her guard if she senses any trouble brewing in her surroundings. She or her colleagues have been trained never to get out of the car to reach out to their customer especially in odd hours when the chances of people being drunk or getting duped are high.  As long as they stay within the cab, their safety is assured. This is because every Priyadarshini cab is fitted with GPS tracking devices and manned ... oops womanned by a 24/7 control room somewhere centrally. Thus Priyadarshini cabs assures safety for the passenger as well as the driver alike. 
What with a politically connected Boss like Susieben no one would dare mess with the girls on the wheels !!!   




Crew of Priyadarshini Cabs


Radha feels like one among the family of the 25 odd drivers that are a part of Priyadarshini cabs.  They help each other in times of family distress and everyone out there understands the need for flexi work hours and support systems at work.  Once I was picked up by Jyotsna another of Radha’s colleagues and her story of taking to the road was less by choice and more out of the dire need to make ends meet at home.  


There is a growing demand to recruit more of their tribe. However women drivers are difficult to find even in a city like Mumbai. Many just have a hard time convincing the family that it is safe for a woman to be a taxi driver.


There are many of her colleagues who have dropped out midway because of family pressures. With some the in-laws do not like a young woman in this profession, sometimes the demands from the Husband and later tending to the children can be very demanding on time. It is in times like these that the support or the lack of it from the extended family is acutely felt by the women drivers. Without a whole hearted family support it would get mentally taxing for them to be on call or to be taking to the road as and when required.

As much as there is capital available to acquire another 25 cabs, Priyadarshini cabs is training atleast another 50 women drivers before taking on the money from the venture capitalist. It is because in the long term they do expect a high turnover among the women drivers owing to pressures that seem to be beyond their control. But then a beginning has been made and the ball has been set rolling. Who knows in a decade from now, the gals behind the wheels may not be so unusual after all. 


Radha says that for a high school pass like her, working in supermarkets or a low end BPO outfit would have been the obvious choice. But she is glad she chose the road less travelled.  In her case, it is quite literally the Road, to travel and make a living. She says she enjoys the feeling of being behind the wheel and driving her cab and could not think of a better choice to make a living.


Click here  if you would like to read more about Radha and her Tribe.  



P.S : Radha's real name has been changed upon her request to remain anonymous. 


P.P.S : Everytime I have travelled to Mumbai since then, I have insisted on boarding the ‘ladies’ cab’ while booking at the pre-paid cab counter at the airport.  On all occassions except once it has been Radha who was assigns to pick me up. More often than not I have been told that there are no women taxi drivers available unless I was prepared to wait for the cab driver to return.  .



  

2 comments:

  1. How interesting. Enjoyed reading about the Priyadarshini cabs.

    @WeekendsInMaine
    Weekends in Maine

    ReplyDelete
  2. How liberating it is! I loved this Jayanthi. I was not aware of Priyadarshini cabs. Thanks for sharing the story behind Radha. Susieben is someone to reckon with. Happy that you are sharing such positive stories of progress in our country.
    @KalaRavi16 from
    Relax-N-Rave

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for stopping by.
Good, bad or ugly ... Trust me I would love to hear from you...
Please leave your comments here.