Chennai

Riding his way to independence

D. George at work. Photo: Special Arrangement  

The clock needles point to 8.45 p.m. as D. George waits, seated on his brown Activa, near DPI on College Road.

On the outside, George is a symbol of calm.

Inside, he is desperately hoping he would get one ride, the last one for the day, and that it should be towards Jafferkhanpet, where he is a resident.

“That would make it better as I can wind up for the day. However, I would take up any ride that comes to me,” says George, and his voice does not betray the unavoidable fatigue that would accompany a day that began at 7 a.m., and was spent ferrying people around a city

George has so far done 10 trips.

George is one of the 50 differently-abled captains (as drivers are called) in Chennai working for Rapido, a bike taxi player. Physically-challenged since age one, George has not allowed his disability to prevent him from achieving independence. With hard work and determination, he has crossed many a hurdle to be on his own.

He lives in a family of four where he and his brother, who is an electrician, are the breadwinners. Prior to joining the bike taxi company a year ago, George was working as a lift operator at Kilpauk Medical College on a contractual basis.

Learning to drive

“I only studied till Class X or I would have had more options before me,” he says. His disability would not allow him to walk long or take up tough jobs, though George is ready to try his hand at other jobs.

“The main obstacle I face is convincing people that I can and asking them to give me a chance,” says the 37-year-old who has worked as an electrician, a painter and a plumber to eke a living.

Driving has been a childhood desire and he learnt to operate a two-wheeler on his own. He had seen his neighbours drive vehicles, which in his mind represented independence.

“More than 10 year ago, I learnt to ride a two-wheeler. I bought a second-hand bike and asked a friend to sit behind me to help me and that is how I learnt to drive. It was not easy as my legs are weak and I cannot put much stress on my back. It also took a lot more effort for me to get comfortable while driving. I have been using my modified bike to attend to any household-related work. The freedom and independence of not depending on anyone else is special,” says George.

George has been shifting jobs to beat the monotony, and to earn better.

He found out about Rapido through an advertisement and applied for a job with the company.

Lockdown was tough for ride-sharing companies and he switched to other works.

“On an average, I earn ₹20,000 a month which is more than what I earned in any of my previous jobs. Besides, there is the satisfaction that comes from being on my own. I decide which ride to take and can also choose when to take a ride,” he says.

Building confidence

George says most riders are encouraging. Some of them know that he is handicapped but that has never been a reason to cancel a ride. “This has boosted my confidence,” says George, adding that he even ferried people to the areas lying on the outskirts of Chennai.

George talks about a road-related incident that happened during Pongal. He was taking a rider to his destination and near Jafferkhanpet, a person in front of his bike dropped her wallet and continued on her way.

“I took the wallet and asked the rider sitting behind me, if we could return it before dropping him at his destination. So, we followed the owner of the wallet for close to three kilometre,” he says. Both the pillion rider and the wallet owner thanked him. He says: “Such incidents motivate me to do my work with dedication.”

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 1:50:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/riding-his-way-to-independence/article33641733.ece

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