Meet the only woman bus driver in Bangalore – Prema Ramappa Nadabatti, who works for the BMTC, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.
She is in a very unconventional profession as a woman, and she knows that very well. As I sit in an official’s cabin waiting at the corporate office to meet Prema Ramappa Nadabatti, she walks in after finishing her morning shift duty.
Prema is a driver for BMTC buses for the last six years in Bangalore. I had tried reaching her the previous day at 6a.m. in the winter chill, at the bus depot number 3 in Bangalore. All the male bus drivers and conductors were talking about the fact that again someone had come to talk to Prema. I wasn’t allowed to talk to her at the time, and was asked to meet her at the corporate office.
At the office as Prema walked in, her gait, body language, and her tough rugged look despite her huge earrings made quite a contrasting impression. She gazed at me as the official said that I had come for an interview. She gave a hint of a smile as though she is so used to the limelight. I mentioned to her that the story will be seen in online media on the Internet and she grinned and asked, “That means no paper to hold or no TV to see my interview?” I assured her that I will be back to show where her interview has appeared and she nodded her head with a warm smile.
“I am from Gokak in Belgaum district,” she starts in an accent that is typical to the people who speak in North Karnataka.
“As I was growing up due to financial problems, I had to start working. I had got a job as an assistant in a small private hospital. I was more of a nurse there assisting the team. However because of my interest and ability to drive, authorities at the hospital would ask me to travel and drive four wheelers like vans to ferry medicinal stocks.”
“I realized I truly enjoyed driving. But the opportunities were limited. I also happened to finish my B.A in Kannada, though I can read and understand English to some extent.”
“Soon I was married and I had a baby earlier than I expected. But things were not smooth in my life. Due to some health reasons my husband died. I was very young, in my twenties and was left alone with no income and a baby to take care of.”
“My mother supported me and asked me to quickly pick the pieces of my scattered life and begin life anew. I went to the RTO in Gokak and wanted to get selected for a six-wheeler license. The officials in the RTO perhaps thought I was joking. Everyday I would try to approach them and one day, one of them asked me to drive a truck that was parked in the premises. I did manage, and he was surprised and baffled. He was a good gentleman, and he ensured that I got the training and my license.” she expresses with a deep sense of gratitude.
“My mother told me to apply for government jobs, and around the same time I came across an advertisement in a Kannada daily on the announcement of hiring of bus drivers and conductors in Bangalore.”
“It was the first time that I had ever stepped out from my town. I had never seen such a huge city. I applied for a driver’s post in BMTC. Thankfully, I was selected, and the official at that time said with great pride, “She has to be trained well and she will be a shining example for others.”
When I ask Prema how people treat her at her workplace, on roads, and where she resides, she responds, “I meet a lot of people and many want to talk to me even though it is not just for interviews. Perhaps they are surprised I drive a bus. My neighbours, now of course, are used to me but people on the roads tell me that they have seen me on television or read about me somewhere. It feels good but life is much more than the adulation received. There are a lot of hardships. I am ready to face them for my son who is studying in class seven. I want him to be a pilot and he aspires too of being one.”
Prema says she has got interviewed in documentaries and videos by people, foreigners and many on the road take out a camera or a phone and keep asking her to ‘smile, smile please.’ She laughs, saying she often wonders whether she should concentrate on roads or smile for people or the camera. She is however happy she has had a no-accident record.
“Most of the people including my colleagues treat me very well. I am well looked after by my company, and I am happy no one has ever misbehaved at work or elsewhere. But yes, I have become tougher. Perhaps the Bangalore roads and traffic makes you tough enough to face a lot of things,” she grins with a ear to ear smile.
“There are kids who give me chocolates when they get inside the bus and see that it’s a woman driving. There are other instances, like at places of worship like at temples I am given ‘prasadam.’ These gestures do make me very happy about my work. Maybe unknowingly I have become an inspiration but for me, I am just doing my job. It is surprising to see such few women who want to drive buses. I strongly feel they can take it up as a profession.”
“I dream of big opportunities for my son. I want him to be a pilot. Now I don’t know whether it is just a dream or whether it will be fulfilled. I am doing my best.”
As I leave after wrapping up this wonderful interaction with Prema, I realize that the glass ceilings in the corporate world seem so frivolous; somehow they seem much more achievable for women, as compared to this woman who is in a completely male dominated work atmosphere. But she has soaked into that atmosphere and happy in the space she has created for herself.
Published originally on women’s web as part of women series: By Reshma Krishnamurthy