“I was in my teens when I learnt how to drive a car, and I loved every second of being behind the wheel. So, when the time came to choose a line of work, it was easy — I transformed my passion for driving into a profession,” begins 27-year-old Vidya Shelke, who used to work as a cab driver in Mumbai, for prominent cab-aggregators.
Her work was a source of constant joy to her. But, things went south when the COVID-19 lockdown was announced. Like many others in the country, Vidya too, lost her job.
“It was half the source of the total household income that was largely spent on the children. It was quite a hit for us, but I was not ready to back down,” shares Vidya who then decided to turn this adversity into an opportunity by helping people, who were stranded due to the lockdown, reach their homes safely. She started this service on March 28, and has helped almost 200 people so far.
From Adversity to Opportunity
Vidya lives in Mulund, a suburb in Mumbai, with her husband Anil, and two children.
“Anil runs a small business of transporting goods. He works very hard but supporting the entire family single-handedly is a challenge in this city, and I wanted to help, somehow. So, I started as an autorickshaw driver. However, continuing in that job was quite a problem especially with regards to security and so when I got the opportunity to drive at a prominent taxi-service, I decided to shift. Since then, things were great as we were able to manage our daily expenses while providing a good education to our children,” shares Vidya, whose kids study in a boarding school in Shirdi, Maharashtra.
But, after the centre’s decision to impose nationwide lockdown on 24 March, Vidya was scared. “I wondered about the future of my kids. How would I provide for them without a job?,” she mentions.
After a lot of thinking, Vidya came up with a novel idea of providing cab service to aid those who were stranded or stuck amid the lockdown situation.
“With the train and bus services shutting down, many were struggling to travel back to their homes. I realised the gravity of the situation and decided to do something about it. My husband already had a car that I was using when on the job, so I took it out, shot a video message announcing my services to those who needed it, and circulated it on social media,” she says.
In a matter of 10 minutes after uploading the video, Vidya began to get calls for pickups. From senior citizens, pregnant women to families from migrant labourers, the cab driver helped them all, and drove to the farthest corners of Maharashtra, to get them home.
When asked about how she managed to do this in a scenario where several cities and districts had sealed their borders, she mentions that most of her customers were emergency cases and she tried her best to find proper permissions before transporting them. And in cases, where she couldn’t, she would politely refuse.
“I am deeply grateful to Vidya for helping out when there was no option available. My wife and I would be stuck in Mumbai if it wasn’t for her. She not only dropped us to our village in Jalna, but also helped make the e-passes. Additionally, she did all of this while also following all the safety protocols,” mentions Sunil Sadam, who was working as a daily wage worker in Mumbai.
Adhering to the safety guidelines, Vidya has made it mandatory to wear masks inside the cab and carried a bottle of sanitizer and extra masks for those who did not have them. Also, she would only take two passengers, except children, in the back seat of her car. No one was allowed to sit in the front seat, owing to the norms of social distancing.
A Cab Driver Who Lent A Helping Hand
Vidya charges only Rs 12 per km, one way for the journey, and also provides a return journey, if required, for free. She has also helped arrange for e-passes for her passengers.
Having ferried so many people in the last few months, she has probably had her share of memorable journeys. Recounting one, she says, “There was a pregnant lady who approached me for a 160-km-long ride back home to Junnar. She was alone and did not have enough money to afford the travel, but was in a critical state, awaiting delivery any day. The municipal hospital had turned her away due to lack of vacancy, and she couldn’t afford any other hospital. So I managed to quickly make her e-pass and started the journey. We were only some 10 kilometers away from her house, when the authorities at the checkpost denied entry to her, despite having all the documents right. Thanks to the help of another samaritan, a truck driver transporting agricultural goods, I managed to board and send her home after taking extraordinary measures. That is one incident I can never forget.”
This sense of responsibility and the courage to help the needy even in dire situations, makes Vidya, and people like her, the true heroes of humanity, who go the extra mile to make the lives of others better.
“We can truly overcome such adversity only as a community.By offering my services, I was being a responsible citizen and doing my duty, as well as earning some money,” she concludes,
You can support Vidya or reach out for help, by getting in touch with her at: 79000 71050 (WhatsApp)
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)