21-year-old B.Com student learnt to drive autorickshaw to support family
She weighs barely 38 kg and can easily pass off for a school student. But 21-year-old Saraswathi has been steering an autorickshaw on city roads for the past three years.
The B. Com student of Quaid-E-Millath Government College in Medavakkam wants to earn a living and support her younger brother’s education. She makes Rs. 10,000 a month by driving the auto till 2 p.m. every day, and then heads to college in the afternoon.
After class XII, she insisted on helping her father who is also an auto driver. “We had heavy debts because of my sister’s marriage. I wanted to help my family somehow,” Saraswathi says.
“My father taught me to drive the auto but was not keen I take it up as a livelihood. But I did not mind and I also wanted to finish my studies. Today, if people respect me as an auto driver, it is also because I am educated,” she says.
Saraswathi’s mother sells curd and keerai in the Narayanapuram neighbourhood and makes less than Rs. 2,000 a month. “Since my mother has to leave before dawn to get to the market, I prepare food at home and finish other chores before heading out in my auto,” she says. Saraswathi is waiting for the day her income will help her family. “I want my brother to study computer science or any other computer course. Once he is skilled, he can get a good job,” she says.
Among her regular customers are working women who trust her to drop off their children to art classes and tuitions. “Some of the women don’t even trust their husbands to do this. They need me to come on time so their children don’t miss their classes,” she says.
She also gets calls from women who go to weddings without a male escort. “They don’t want to take a chance because they would have a lot of jewellery on them,” she says.
And distance is no barrier for Saraswathi who is quite familiar with the city. “I have driven up to Kovalam, Thiruverkadu and even to villages in Chengalpattu. “But these were for regular customers who know I drive safe. I am yet to learn to haggle over fares. When passengers start arguing, I just move on to the next person,” she says.
The daily drives come with their own set of challenges. Sometimes, motorists try to race with her or distract her. “But most people are amazed at the sight of a woman auto driver. Some even come up to congratulate me. I find it very inspiring,” she says.
So, why drive an auto when you can take up part-time jobs in offices? “I would like to do that sometime, but I cannot speak English. I barely understand the language because I studied in Tamil medium,” she says.
Her father is now supportive of her work, she says. “He helps me a lot by advising me on how much to charge customers for different routes. But he gets very worried when I get late,” she says. The only time she misses work is during exams.
“I have managed to secure pass percentage in all subjects so far. The B.Com degree is very important to me,” she says.
And customers too are supportive of her. “People often tell me to study and get a good job, in a call centre or somewhere.”