There are a ton of minibuses in the busy streets of Kolkata. Conductors scream the name of the destination while hanging dangerously on the bus footboard. They are habituated in this situation, so are the people of Kolkata. But there is one minibus in Kolkata that is offbeat from the rest of all. Let me introduce you to Pratima Poddar, mother of two and the first woman bus driver of the city.
“Life begins at 40”, maybe Pratima took it a bit seriously. The 46 years old started driving the bus all through Nimta and Howrah’s crazy traffic. Breaking the gender stereotypes by entering a male-dominated profession, Pratima Poddar has an enthralling tale that will surely inspire all of us.
From bus conductor to driver, Pratima Poddar’s journey was not at all an easy one. Born and brought up in a non-privileged family of Bengal, Pratima always dreamt of holding the steering wheel. It was her husband, Shibeshwar, who inspired her to learn driving for the first time. Shibeshwar started to teach driving from the time when he used to drive an auto on hire. Even when Shibeshwar started driving an ambulance, Pratima also began learning that as well. In a way, Shibeshwar also broke a typical stereotype by supporting his wife through thick and thin.
Meanwhile, the couple was blessed with two daughters. Now the most important point was that they should plan to make themselves more stable financially. Keeping this in mind the couples bought a bus with almost all of their saved money. Everything was perfect until one fine day the order came out stating that “any vehicle that is 15-years old or more were banned from using.”
“We became bankrupt then”- Pratima shared the story with tears in her eyes.
But they knew that it was not the time to break down as the future of their daughters was about to start. This spirit encouraged them to stay strong in the face of adversity. Pratima and Shibeshwar took a bank loan and bought another bus ensuring to pay a handsome Rs 18,000 per month for 5 years. Additionally, they also have to pay for bus insurance, permit, and more. Despite their poor financial condition, Pratima and Shibeshwar never compromised with their daughters’ education and sports practice.
Just after 2 years, Shibeshwar suddenly fell ill and till his recovery, Pratima’s mother-in-law asked Pratima to support him. Now, working on buses wearing a saree is quite a difficult job. So, what Pratima planned is to switch from saree to salwar kameez and become the conductor of that bus that her husband drove. The situation became bitter after Shibewar met with an accident in 2011 and was bedridden. Pratima searched for a job but hardly anyone employed her. This is where the driving skills came to the family rescue. She started driving ambulances, taxis and buses until his health improved. Amid all the mockings from her neighbours on family members, Pratima stood strong to serve her family. People used to say a woman never fits the job of men, but Pratima hardly paid attention to them.
Presently, Pratima is recognised as a safe woman bus driver and she regularly drives from Nimta to Howrah and back throughout the day. A sergeant in Howrah bridge said, “ I have rarely seen her overtake or pick or drop passengers on the run, which is a common practice in Kolkata. We need more drivers like Pratima”. Policemen at Howrah Station are regulars on her route.
“My husband has to quit driving because of an accident he suffered from another person’s bus. As he can no longer drive, I took the wheels, and am proud to say I never met with an accident. I can drive as fast as any of my male colleagues, but I guarantee to drive safely”- Pratima Poddar.
The couple promised not to let hardship come in between them and their goals, and so they did. Elder daughter Rakhee is well-known in The Bengal Gymnastic Circuit, having represented the state in sports and swimming. Currently, she is studying mathematics honours at Jadavpur University. Younger daughter Sathee is in school and regularly tops her class.
Janta Power salutes the first woman bus driver9in the male-dominated profession who has dealt with severe challenges but believes that everything may seem hard but how situations are dealt with is the first point to be considered.
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