A young woman in salwar kameez, her hair tied neatly into a bun – who looks more like a teenager – hops into a bus along with her mother. You might expect the two women to join the 20-odd passengers (who are by now impatient, waiting for the driver to arrive and start off from the bus terminus). Instead, the young woman heads straight to the driver’s seat, sits there and presses the accelerator of the vehicle with the deft movement of her hands. Her mother takes the seat behind her.
Some passengers are surprised by the arrival of the female driver. Is this a joke? They wonder and giggle. But by then, she has started the private bus of 34C route, and the passengers are convinced that the young woman knows her job well.
Life has thrown many challenges at Kalpana Mondol, a resident of Noapara in Kolkata’s Dum Dum, but she has chosen to not be defeated. Her father – Subhas Mondol has been driving the bus for years, but they were devastated when he met with an accident. He was bedridden and the family had no other source of income.
“How could we survive? So I thought why not drive the bus myself?” Kalpana said. Her mother, Mongola, supported her decision, and they set off for the new journey together, hand in hand.
Now that he is back on his feet, father and daughter share the workload – they both drive the bus. “My father’s feet are still weak and he cannot drive for long. So in the afternoons, I take over,” said Kalpana, smiling.
But it’s not easy. Kalpana’s parents realise it’s a matter of safety for the young woman, so even when she is at the wheel, one of the parents is by her side. “My parents inspire me, so I feel more confident when they are around,” she said.
The parents are proud of Kalpana. “I am proud that she took up the responsibility when her father was unwell. All children should show such sense of responsibility,” said Mongola.
Those who travel regularly in Kolkata’s 34C bus route are proud of Kalpana too. “She is such a great driver! Steady at the wheel and responsible. I feel so happy to know that she stood by her parents when things were tough,” said Puja, a passenger.
Kalpana dreams big, she says. “I have to achieve something important in life. I want to work as a driver in the police force. That’s my dream, and I am confident that I can make it,” she said.
She had to drop out of school due to her father’s illness. Subhas Mondol wants his daughter to clear Secondary examinations next year. “I know she will do well,” he said.
Not just her parents and some passengers, Kalpana also has other drivers and helpers of 34C route supporting her. “Even the traffic sergeants show me affection and respect,” said Kalpana.