“Lady cab driver, can U take me 4 a ride?
Don’t know where I’m goin’
Cuz I don’t know where I’ve been
So put your foot on the gas, let’s drive”
I was destined to meet her.
I will never ever stop my car for any passerby, even to the most unsuspecting person on this earth. But Rani does, she stops her car for people, even for the most notorious characters.
My first meeting with Rani was unplanned and unwarranted (at that time, according to me). I did not have my car with me that day and was stranded at a Godforsaken place where the only means of public transportation were buses (back then). “Back then” refers to the very very recent past and does not date back to the 19th century!
A Santro stopped in front of me and a lady offered me a ride only if I was willing to shell out Rs 25. Was she planted by someone? Was it a trap to kidnap me? My eyes immediately started screening through the dark wintery foggy night for “decent” people around whom I could reach out to for help. I could literally hear my parents tell me in a stern voice – “do not talk to strangers”. But I was destined to meet her.
In her early 40’s, Rani had never had to work before. She hails from a well-to-do family but her husband’s illness had forced her to take to the streets as a cab driver. Even as she was narrating her story to me, she maneuvered her car to the extreme left, she had spotted a prospective customer – a middle-aged man. The way she argued with this man for her “rightful Rs 25” amazed me.
“I charge Rs 25 per head and drive down four people at one time. I provide them with an air-conditioned cab and play songs too. How else will I run my household? I have to pay my children’s school fees,” she said. Rani, who would have passed off as a housewife-next-door, revealed that the eight such trips she made during her twelve-hour shift of 8:00 am to 8:00 pm got her around Rs 24,000 per month, not even half of what her husband used to give her as petty cash earlier. But, she is trying to manage, somehow.
All of us love to debate issues like “gender equality” and “respect for women”, but no one better than her can understand the real importance. “There have been times when men have got into my cab and offered to take me to their place. Why don’t they understand that I am not “available”, I have a family out there to support else would have never even allowed such men anywhere near me,” Rani says with her eyes red with anger.
How I wish her family, most importantly her husband was supporting her. “No, my husband does not have much of an option but our relationship has got strained owing to my “business”. I cannot tell him that all kinds of people sit in this car. And probably he feels I am upto something fishy, I just do not want to even think about it.” She is clearly frustrated.
Using her personal car “for hire” was not her first choice. She had applied to innumerable places but apparently her “not-so-young” face and “not-so-cool” demeanour proved to be a deterrent. “Initially I faced a lot of problems and had many inhibitions. There were times I would keep on driving but could not tell people that they can hop-into my “cab”. Many a times the police would stop me”. “Why is it difficult for a woman to enter a male-bastion? Do I come across as a prostitute? Would they ask any male driver if he is picking up women to take to a brothel?” She now keeps her family photo with her, and it does the trick she says!
Does she want to give any tips to young female drivers who would want to take to cab-driving as a career? “No, educate yourself well and do not find yourself in my shoes ever.”
She is waiting for either her husband to get well soon or a decent job to land in her lap. Till then, she will have to steer her life through the crisis.
Ps: Name changed on request.