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Of autos & karate

Vivek Narayanan
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At 11 a.m. on a hot Thursday morning, Shanthi Dayalan has been driving around the city for three hours, in an autorickshaw.

She has nearly nine more hours of picking up and dropping commuters, before she can call it a day and go home to her family.

One of the few women auto drivers in a predominantly male profession, Shanthi navigates the roads, and her chosen occupation, with ease.

A series of events led her to becoming a driver — not her first choice by a long shot. After completing her schooling in 1983, she did a diploma in desktop publishing and took up jobs in a few private companies, but left them, dissatisfied. “I wanted to join the police force and even appeared for the tests. But they lost my application,” says the 48-year-old. In 2003, one of her neighbours requested her to drop and pick up their children on her moped.

“I started doing that and a well-wisher happened to spot me manoeuvring through traffic-choked roads. She gave me the idea of becoming an autorickshaw driver,” says Shanthi.

Though it took her only a few months to learn how to drive the three-wheeler, it took her several months to get a loan to buy the vehicle. After this, there have been no breakdowns in her journey. At present, she earns Rs. 12,000 every month just by dropping and picking up children from school.

A brown belt in Karate has given her additional confidence. “All my passengers, fellow autorickshaw drivers and police officers treat me with respect. Some of my customers consider me part of their family,” says Shanthi.

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