Sumanti Sen is an English Literature graduate who believes "there's just one kind of folks. Folks.".
I was waiting near my residence in Banashankari, Bengaluru, a couple of months back for a cab I had booked online. It was a busy Saturday morning and I booked the cab to MG Road which is around 40 minutes from my place.
When I looked inside the cab that stopped at my gate, I was a little taken aback.
It's not every day that a woman cab driver comes to pick you up.
I think the driver noticed the expression on my face - she gave me a wide, warm smile as I boarded the cab.
As the journey began, I struck up a conversation with her, as I often do with drivers while I commute. I believe that every person that you pass by, make an eye-contact with, exchange a smile with, have a story to tell.
The individual at the steering wheel was Ganga Bhavani, one of the few female cab drivers who operate in Bengaluru.
"There are just about 80 female cab drivers in the city," Ganga told me. "As women, what we need the most is support from our family. And that is the most difficult thing to get."
Ganga, 40, finished her schooling and went on to pursue her higher studies. For a short period of time, she worked as a teacher in a primary school.
"I had to leave the job due to certain unavoidable circumstances and was sitting at home, doing almost nothing. My husband would go to work and my kids to school, and I remember spending my days trying to figure out what profession would suit me. I thought I did not have the skills to do a good job," Ganga told me.
"You see, waking up every morning without a goal, knowing you have nothing to achieve for the day, is a terrible feeling," she added.
"One day, as I was serving dinner to my kids at night, my husband suggested that I learn driving. I was extremely taken aback because women in our family did not drive. I have always been told that driving is a man's job," Ganga said.
As she spoke, Ganga reminded me of so many women in my family who never wanted to learn to drive because the men in their family knew how to.
"Although I was excited at the idea, I knew that nobody would support me in my pursuit, and doing something without the support of your close ones is the most difficult job in the world," Ganga added.
After a lot of contemplation, Ganga decided to join a driving school.
"I would not have done it if my husband had not motivated me. I have grown up knowing that there are only certain jobs that are meant for women, but men can do anything they wished to do. It is my husband who pushed me to question patriarchy, he made me believe that there is nothing that a woman cannot do," Ganga smiled.
For the first time in my life, I wished to have been stuck in traffic for a little longer.
"I soon passed the driving test," Ganga said. "As I began driving around the city, sometimes without passengers in the backseat, I realised that the feeling was liberating. Going against the world to do what is right makes you feel free, like you owe no explanation to anyone."
"Initially, I was afraid of being judged by people who board my cab, or being looked down upon by male passengers, but people in this city have been very nice to me. Male passengers have made me feel comfortable," she added.
As much as we talk about equality and women empowerment, a female cab driver on the streets of a metropolitan city is a rare sight. Beating the odds to do a so-called "man's job" is not easy.
Ganga's story took me back to the time when I had begun learning to drive. I remember the stares every time I got inside to sit on the driver's seat. Despite all the progress in the country, patriarchy is a stark reality looking into your eyes.
As though she read my mind, Ganga said, "You see, Madam, the best you can do is evade all the injustice and assert what is right. No man's world can stop you from achieving your goal if only you are determined to achieve it."
Ganga's family is now mainly dependent on her income and she is more than happy to be the main bread-earner for her loved ones.
"All I dream of now is to earn enough to let my kids study what they want to and follow their dreams," Ganga said.
I was lost in her story when I realised that despite a lot of traffic and a number of halts, I had reached my destination.
As I got down from the cab, Ganga came out to say goodbye to me.
"Not everybody is a good listener, madam. I am happy to have met you," she smiled.
I gave her a hug and urged her to call me by my name. I wished her luck and waved as she drove away.
I stood on the road for a while, looking at the cab driving away - with a woman in the front seat whom I may never meet again, but whose story will remain with me.
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