Along the streets and lanes near Elamkulam in Kochi, if you see an auto rickshaw zooming past faster than other vehicles, it is most likely being driven by ‘Parakumthalika’ Prema. Meaning flying saucer, parakkum thalika is often used in Kerala to describe super fast vehicles.
At 50, Prema PA sets a rare precedent for women across the country.
A single mom, she struggled throughout her life to carve a solid space for women in one of the most male-dominated professions while also ensuring that her kids never slept on empty stomachs.
“My husband left me, when I was carrying my second son about 25 years ago. Shortly after, my baby was born, and I left my marital home to return to my parents’ place. At that time, my responsibilities didn’t just include taking care of my sons but also my parents. So, I stepped out in search of a job when my younger one was only 57-days-old,” Prema tells The Better India.
However, the first option that came along her way was to work as a domestic house help.
“Things might have changed now, but over two decades ago, one had to slog every day, just to earn a meagre monthly income of Rs 250. Even a layman knows that this wouldn’t help us survive the month! So I was adamant that I would struggle as much as I could, but never let my kids starve,” she shares.
Prema decided to work as a daily wage labourer on construction sites through Kerala’s pioneering poverty eradication programme, Kudumdashree—a job she held for the next 17 years.
“I would also double up as a cook at some households for extra income,” she recalls.
Life wasn’t luxurious, but it wasn’t bad. Staying true to her word, Prema made sure that all the needs of her kids were met.
Sometime in 1993, she became a part of the first ten women under Kudumbashree to be trained in driving two-, three- and four-wheeler vehicles. “Even though I got the license for all the three kind of vehicles, I couldn’t take up a driving job back then as my little one was just a year old,” she says.
Funnily enough, the auto that Prema has been driving since the past five years was originally bought for her elder son. “I had received a loan of Rs 2 lakh from Kudumbashree to start a business, and I bought this auto for my son. However, he didn’t wish to pursue it after a few weeks of toiling. I didn’t want it to lie unused, and thus, I entered this field,” she laughs.
Initially, it was a struggle. “Most other drivers on the road were men, and they weren’t very open to the idea of a woman doing their job. But that has changed over the years. Passengers have been incredibly supportive, and even male auto drivers have changed their perceptions towards me. They now see me as one of their own and help me when I’m stuck with a flat tyre or other faults. Overall, I feel happy with what I do, and this job pays me more than any other work that I’ve done to date,” she proudly adds.
While her elder son is self-employed and does welding works, her younger son is a painter. On an ending note, Prema tells me that things turned out this way for her because she refused to give in to fate.
“We all wish for a lot of things, but as women, we put our wishes aside. Also, merely wishing is not enough; we need to strive relentlessly, until it becomes our reality. If you are motivated enough and willing to work hard, you can learn anything at any age,” she concludes.
For us, Prema is a super mom, who is, as the saying goes, willing to go extent for her children. This Mother’s Day, we salute this amazing woman and every mother across the country whose struggles and sacrifices have made us who we are.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)