It was the year 2002 that Mangaluru-based CS Radhika’s life changed. At 30, she had lost her husband, Suresh, to a two-year battle with liver cancer.
Being educated merely until class six, Radhika was left to fend for herself. She had to raise two young daughters, Bhoomika and Bhargavi, who were seven and four, at the time.
But this mother stood undeterred. She turned her grief into a driving force and started driving an ambulance to earn a living.
Today, this iron-willed mom from Mangaluru runs a fleet of 12 ambulances called the Cauvery Ambulance Service.
Speaking to The News Minute, Radhika now 47, says, “I never thought that the ambulance – which I learned to drive from my husband, purely out of interest – would help me earn for my family.”
Radhika originally hails from the Hassan district of Karnataka, married Suresh, and settled down in Mangaluru. Suresh ran an ambulance in the city at the time. He was incidentally also the only working member of the family.
While money was always tight, it was enough to make ends meet. When Suresh landed a job with the KSRTC, it eased the financial woes of the family. But this happiness didn’t last long.
Suresh’s diagnosis of liver cancer changed their lives. Two years later, in 2002, he succumbed, leaving Radhika devastated.
Radhika was 30 years old at the time and knew that she had to get herself together for the sake of her children.
“I had studied only up to Class 6 and briefly worked at a hospital in Puttur as an assistant. I was not sure if any of my skills were useful beyond the four walls of my home,” she told TNM.
But all hope wasn’t lost, as she still had her late husband’s ambulance. At the right time, she received encouragement from a family friend, Sunil Kumar, another ambulance driver. He would later join her fleet of ambulances as a driver.
Within no time, Radhika obtained a licence and restarted the ambulance service.
Radhika had previously worked as an assistant at a Puttur hospital. So she knew the minutiae of operating an oxygen cylinder and administering first aid. This increased the faith of the locals in her skills. They started calling her when they required ambulance services.
When she attended emergency calls late at night, she would often leave her daughters with her mother.
She would drive the ambulance at odd hours to ensure a steady income. In one stretch, she was able to drive up to 1,000 km. From Karnataka to Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, she continues to take long, arduous trips with her fellow drivers.
“I cater to all types of requirements – taking patients to the hospital, using an icebox, shifting bodies to a mortuary, transferring bodies inter-state for funerals and so on,” she says.
Going down memory lane, Radhika also explains that it was her husband’s dream that inspired her to take up ambulance driving.
“Suresh was very keen about public service. That’s one of the reasons he started driving an ambulance. So, I decided to start the Cauvery Ambulance Service (CAS). I bought one more ambulance and hired a driver,” she told the publication.
But slowly, as the service picked speed and people started connecting, Radhika decided to expand it. She took a loan, hired an additional vehicle and more employees. Today, CAS operates 12 ambulances. They recently added a tour bus and van, which can be hired on contract.
Looking back, the 43-year-old Kulai Gudda resident says, “Thankfully, I received support from my family and my daughters. Both of them help me manage the business while pursuing their education.”
While Bhargavi has graduated with a Bachelors degree in Commerce, Bhoomika is pursuing Engineering at MS Ramaiah in Bengaluru.
Radhika was also awarded the ‘Mangaluru Press Club Award’ in recognition of her service to society.
We salute for setting such an exceptional example, not just for her daughters but also for women and girls across the country.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)