By Harihar Swarup
“Most people think women don’t make good drivers, but I have proved them wrong”, says Laxmi Jadhav, 42, with a mischievous smile.
It’s been a week since she became the first woman bus driver in the history of BEST (The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking), which has been running Mumbai’s always-on-road, red mass transit buses for 96 years.
Jadhav believes it was fate that brought her here. She is assured of it when passengers stop to take a selfie or to complement on a job well done. “Those reaction are most enjoyable part of my job”, she says. “There isn’t a day that goes by when heads don’t turn.
Jadhav has lived in Mumbai since 2000, when she moved to Mumbai from Satara with her husband Dilip Jadhav, a driver
Before BEST job, which she calls a dream come true, Jadhav worked as door-to-door sales person, selling plastic products. She also tried her hands at running a street side food stall ( which served bhurji-pav and missal-pav) that she first imagine driving for a living.
The majority of her customers were drivers. They made a good living. It was a better job than once she had had, more comfortable and better paid. This became her goal, she says. Most of men in her family drove heavy vehicle. Two of her uncles drove buses for BEST; her father drove trailers and her brothers drove trucks.
Being a woman, she did wonder whether she would be able to find similar work. But the thought didn’t cause her to slam on brakes, not even little bit, she says. Give up her dream because she is a woman? “That was not a good enough reason”. In 2015, she learnt to drive a car. She started working for private transport companies, where was trained to drive luxury vehicle such as BMWs and Audis, but she could not manage the irregular hours while caring for octogenarian mother-in-law and two children. So, Jadhav began to look for something on wheels, but more stable.
In 2016, she tried auto. “The word Jhansi Ki Rani are still written on the back of my auto –rickshaw”, she says, laughing. “That’s what my rickshaw drivers friends still call me”.
She knew that driving a heavy vehicle would mean a steadlier income, and a BEST job would come with several other perks too. She was tired of trying to balance revenue against the price of fuel and repairs. “You also get respect when you work for a company like BEST”, she says. “So I decided to push myself to get a heavy-vehicle. That became my ultimate goal”.
The heavy vehicle license came in 2019. She continued to ride her auto rickshaw; there were no openings at BEST. But in 2021, she enrolled at a BEST depot to learn how to drive the red bus. In May 2021, just after her course had concluded, she heard that BEST was looking for women drivers. “I quickly applied and selected”.
It was great feeling but not everyone was elated.
“Many people shrugged and told me that I would not make People said “You won’t be able to drive a bus in Mumbai traffic”. Jadhav said.
Jadhav is now a pioneer in her dream job; working with a private company that runs buses leased by BEST, on behalf of BEST. Before she started this week, she spent another month in BEST training, getting tips on how to respond in case of a road accident or a medical emergency, how to communicate with passengers. (IPA Service)