At 50, she looks much younger and rules in a profession dominated by men. Vijaya Lakshmi Kondru can tell you what it is like to be a woman and a heavy vehicle driver.
“It’s not easy,” she says, adding: “Neither is it too difficult. A woman driving a heavy vehicle is a rarity here. I have been looking for an opportunity to use my heavy vehicle driving licence I acquired way back in 2000 in vain,” she rues.
Only child of her parents, her ‘tomboyish’ upbringing in Takkillapadu village of Nandigama mandal in Krishna district, attracted her to things that men do.
“I learnt cycling at 8 and at 12, I was manoeuvring a tractor. My uncle would take me to fields and I would persuade the tractor driver to hand over the wheel,” she recalls.
Vijaya Lakshmi was perhaps the first woman heavy vehicle driver in Andhra Pradesh.
“I was never interested in studies. I bunked classes and went to the fields. Unsurprisingly, I dropped out of 10th class and in 1986 came to Vijayawada,” she told The Hindu .
She tried her hand at tailoring and set up a shop in the Patamata area only to realise that she was not meant for a needle and thread job. In 2004, she worked in a private bus donning the role of an attendant, a conductor and, at times of need, a driver, all rolled into one.
“A lot of teasing can go on. If you are shy or timid, you are not meant for this job,” she says, adding that lewd comments are the order of the day in this field, especially in the beginning.
She then set up Vijaya Driving School and started teaching, both two-wheeler and car, to a set of learners at PWD grounds.
After deciding to continue in this field, she underwent a complete makeover — trimmed her hair really short and slipped into a permanent attire of shirts paired with trousers.
“Through my getup, I wanted to send out a clear message to men around me that I am no less than them, so don’t ever mess up with me.”
Vijaya Lakshmi has taught driving to some 3,000 people in the city. “I am by-and-large contented with my life. The only regret is that had I continued my studies, I would probably have been a pilot today, operating an aircraft,” she says.
A woman driving a heavy vehicle is a rarity. It is neither easy nor too difficult, says Vijaya Lakshmi Kondru