There are scores of minibuses in Kolkata. Conductors scream destinations while hanging dangerously on the bus footboard. The jostle of passengers, to get in through the narrow doors is all too familiar. But there is one minibus in Kolkata that is different from the rest.
A minibus on the Nimta-Howrah route is driven by Pratima Poddar, a mother of two, and the city’s only female bus driver. What’s even more commendable is Mrs Poddar has driven the bus for half a dozen years without a single accident ever.
42-year-old Poddar has smashed the glass ceiling and encouraging her is Shibeswar, her husband, who doubles up as the bus conductor.
The family was in trouble after Shibeswar, a minibus driver himself, had an accident in 2011 and was bedridden. Pratima tried finding employment but didn’t find any jobs.
Pratima had learnt how to drive, out of sheer passion, at a young age. Now, that passion came to the family’s rescue. She drove ambulances and taxis for a few weeks and learnt how to drive the bus after Shibeswar taught her, once his health improved.
She went on to get her licence, and regularly drives from Birati to Howrah and back throughout the day.
The couple is determined not to let hardships come in between them and their goals – pay the EMI of their bus and educate their daughters.
Her elder daughter, Rakhee, is well-known in the Bengal gymnastics circuit and has represented the state in swimming as well. She is pursuing mathematics honours, at Jadavpur University. Younger daughter Sathee is still in school.
Pratima is a safe driver, as policemen at Howrah station attest. Regulars on her route identify her as a safe driver as well. A sergeant at Howrah Bridge, complimented her, saying she never overtook wrongly, or picked up and dropped passengers on the run. He added that she was a benchmark for bus drivers in Kolkata.
Everyone’s job has hiccups, and Pratima did face some occasional citation cases, for minor traffic violations, like picking up passengers at non-designated places, and stop-line violations. But she has never had a collision with another vehicle. This, despite the fact that she wakes up every day at 3:30 am, for her first trip.
The support provided by policemen, transport officials, male colleagues, and her family has kept life on the road relatively smooth for Pratima. She has had no concessions whatsoever, and drives along the same Kolkata routes male bus drivers do.
The enthusiastic BA dropout has no qualms and enjoys the daily challenges her role brings up. Being the only female driver in a male-dominated profession, she fields a lot of questions.
When asked about the challenges she faces, she admits everything might seem difficult, but how situations are dealt with is the most important thing.