As a child, Ann Mary’s favorite sound was the roar of her father’s Royal Enfield Bullet.
She had run to the gate as soon as she heard it, eager to jump on it and accompany her father for a ride. As she grew older, she dreamed of the day when she would ride a ball herself. So, at the age of 15, her father, who still supports her, gave her lessons in how to ride a bicycle.
Over time, she also learned to drive a car and quickly fell in love with driving. This love for small vehicles would catapult his interest in large ones – buses, trucks, etc.
“I loved the freedom I felt when I first rode my dad’s bike — it’s hard to explain in simple words. On these bike rides, I saw other buses going by and wondered what it would be like to ride one. When I learned to drive, I wasn’t happy to be a passenger on a bus, I wanted to drive one,” says Ann.
The opportunity presented itself by accompanying her neighbor Sarath, who knew how to drive a bus. He taught her what he knew, she said.
“When I sat on a bus, I always watched the driver and how he maneuvered the vehicle,” she explains. “Sarath Chetta taught me to drive for almost a month. He supported and guided me. »
She started taking lessons a few months before her 21st birthday and enrolled in a driving school to get her truck license. Today, she drives a private bus called “Hey Day” around Kochi every Sunday.
The idea, she says, is to fulfill her dream of driving heavy vehicles.
Ann, who is a fourth-year student at the Government Law College, Ernakulam, takes time off on Sundays to drive passengers on the Kakkanad-Perumpadappu road from 7 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. On the days her internship at the High Court ends soon, she is also driving the bus home.
“Why should boys have fun?” »
Ann remembers her first experience driving a bus with passengers was as exciting as it was stressful.
“The first day I drove the bus was in February 2022, after getting my license on my 21st birthday. I was extremely nervous because I had the responsibility of driving these passengers safely,” says -she.
“Every time another vehicle passed me, I tensed up. Every passenger who boarded the bus looked at me suspiciously. I could hear comments like ‘Oh, a girl is driving this bus?’. Even after all these months, I still see the same puzzled expression on their faces, asking, ‘Why is a girl driving a bus?’ “, she adds.
The number of female bus drivers in the country is very low. According to a report published in Urban Transport News, there are only 17.5% women employed in the urban public transport system in India. The report says that in addition to difficult working conditions, this is also due to a stereotypical male image of the transport sector. There is also the belief that women cannot “manage” a bus, or that accidents will increase if they become drivers.
Ann also says that initially male drivers were apprehensive about her, wondering why she was driving a bus without any monetary constraints. However, over time, they have warmed up to her, and she enjoys their company. “We eat together during the break,” she says.
There are important things she keeps in mind while driving a bus. “Unlike a car, you cannot adjust the seat height in a bus. I straighten up using back cushions on the seat to reach for the accelerator. Initially, any vehicle passing me would make me very tense. Now I stay calm and drive patiently. My only goal is to get passengers to their destination safely. There are so many lives at stake,” she explains.
She also has to practice time management as there is a time sheet for when she is driving the bus. She must reach each stop at a specific time, while managing her time in college and her internship wisely.
“Learning every day by driving a bus”
Ann says Sarath’s driving lessons have been very beneficial to her. “Sarah chetta (older brother) was extremely patient and supportive. There were numerous times when the bus would suddenly stop in the middle of the road with vehicles lined up behind. But he never panicked. He didn’t reprimand me. It told me to restart. Her patience helped me learn,” says Ann.
She also says her family have wholeheartedly supported her love of driving.
“My family never differentiated between boys and girls. They never brought us up saying ‘You can’t do this or that because you’re a girl’. They motivated me and supported my dream, and my father was the first to believe in me. He bought me my ball after I turned 18,” she said.
Ann, who is aiming to become a magistrate, says she is now aiming to get a JCB license to try her hand at other heavy vehicles.
“Driving isn’t just for boys,” she says.
“Just because a bus is huge doesn’t mean a woman can’t drive it. Actually, I want to try a train too!
“I learned a lot driving this bus. It is an incredible life experience. There is a lot to learn by meeting different people and hearing their stories. I also like to eat and chat with other drivers. They have seen a lot more life and their experiences are really enriching,” she notes.
‘IWD 2022: Birth of an Era for Empowered Women in Transport sector’ by Dr Amudhan Valavan for Urban Transport News, published 07 March 2022.
Editing by Divya Sethu, images courtesy of Ann Mary