12 Jul 2019
Breaking stereotypes: This 46-year-old is Kolkata's first woman bus driver
Just a few days ago, one 24-year-old hit headlines for being the first female driver of BEST buses, Mumbai.
Pratiksha Das, who has obtained a mechanical engineering degree from Thakur College (Malad), surely smashed gender stereotypes by entering a male-dominated profession.
However she isn't the first one.
We have Pratima Poddar, Kolkata's first woman bus driver, whose gritty tale is an inspiration in itself.
She got her first lesson by driving her husband's auto
46-year-old Pratima doesn't come from a privileged family, and though she was attracted to the steering wheel, taking professional driving lessons was a dream.
It was her husband Shibeshwar who gave her the push to learn driving, since he wanted to prepare her for any untoward eventuality.
That time he used to drive an auto on hire, which became her first steering lesson.
After government banned 15-year-old vehicles, they went bankrupt
Over the years, Shibeshwar started driving an ambulance, and she learned that as well.
In the meantime, she gave birth to two daughters, so naturally they wanted to be financially more secure.
With some money that they had collected, they bought a bus, but soon an order came out that 15-year-old vehicles were banned from plying.
"We became bankrupt then," Pratima shared.
They bought another bus taking bank loan, ensured daughters' growth
But that didn't kill their spirit.
They took a bank loan and bought another bus, agreeing to pay a stunning Rs. 18,000 every month for five years.
In addition to this, they also had to pay for the bus' insurance, permit, etc. Despite their poor situation, they didn't compromise with their children's education and sports practice, that is swimming and gymnastics classes.
Don't listen to others, you've to help yourself, Pratima's mother-in-law
Two years later Shibeshwar fell ill, and while he was recovering, Pratima's mother-in-law asked her to start accompanying him.
"She told me don't worry about what others say because they will not help you in case something bad happens. You have to help yourself," Pratima said.
She ditched sarees, wore a salwar kameez and became a conductor in the bus that her husband drove.
Pratima's brothers-in-law gave out toxic reaction to her employment
Her neighbors were extremely critical of this move. Even Pratima's brothers-in-law couldn't accept the fact that their ghar ki bahu is out on the streets earning.
But the mother-in-law stood firm and constantly served as Pratima's motivation.
She also learned how to drive the bus, and officially took behind the wheels when her husband met with an accident and could no longer drive.
Pratima has a great control over the vehicle
It has been six years now since then, and Pratima proudly claims that she hasn't met with any accident till now.
"I can drive as fast as any of my male colleagues, but I ensure I drive safe," she says.
Her daily routine entails her to wake up at 3:30 am and go to work with Shibeshwar.
At 8:30 am, they return.
While Pratima drives the bus, husband fulfills conductor's duties
Pratima then gets engaged in household chores including tending to her bed-ridden mother-in-law.
She holds a license since 2006, and drives the bus in the 22km-long Nimta-Howrah route.
Interestingly, the roles have reversed now, as currently Shibeshwar fulfills the conductor's duties.
Their elder daughter, Rakhi is a well-known Bengal gymnast, and is studying in JU, while the younger one is still in school.
Pratima was also invited to deliver speech at Josh Talks
Pratima's story is so motivating that she was even invited for a Josh Talks session.
There, she urged girls to join her profession, in order to make the roads safe, adding that if no one trains them, she is always there.
She wrapped up saying, "If you have josh inside, nothing can stop you from reaching your goal. Don't hesitate, just drive."
Not Pratima, Vasanthakumari is however India's first woman bus driver
However, Pratima isn't India's first female driver.
That belongs to Vasanthakumari, who started driving at 14, probably making her even Asia's first woman bus driver.
At 19, she was married off to a widower with four children, and her struggling life continued until she met the then CM Jayalalithaa.
In 1993, she became a Tamil Nadu Transport Corporation driver, and hasn't looked back since.