Meet Gulesh, who shows us how to ride past gender stereotypes, like a boss
In 2016, I met with an accident while I was delivering meals on my scooty. The accident was so bad that I was bedridden for five-six months. With a 16-year-old boy to feed and an ailing mother suffering from cancer, I was going through one of the lowest points in my life. The conditions have been really bad ever since my husband's death, 15 years ago. I remember my mother telling me then, "Kafan bandh le sar pe aur ban ja mard, agar tujhe apna baccha paalna hai (Tie the shroud around your head and become the man of the house, if you want to take care of your child)."
I did, and she's been by my side all through. My in-laws severed all ties with me after I refused to marry my brother-in-law right after my dear husband's death. How could I? I had taken care of him like my own child, saw him grow up right in front of my eyes. How could I have become his wife? I just wanted to take care of my own kid. I loved my husband dearly. He never used to pray, he used to tell me, "Meri toh puja tum hi ho (You are my worship)." He loved me a lot. Where would I find a man like that?
To survive and make ends meet, I did a lot of odd jobs such as selling vegetables, cooking food at other people's houses, selling pakodas at a stall. I even stitched clothes. I have cooked for politician Amar Singh ji's father when he was alive. I have seen days I wish no one ever sees. Later, I started a tiffin service which I was operating from my home. Then the accident happened.
Our finances were so depleted that I was helpless. I am a 10th pass woman from Rajasthan. I was just a housewife. I couldn't even get a job. Then someone suggested that since I knew how to drive, why didn't I become a Uber driver? I was doubtful, being a woman how could I drive a cab? The person told me that gender is of no consequence where work is concerned. And he added that I was doing it for my family.
"You'll drive a taxi. There will be different types of men who would sit beside you," said not my family, but the neighbours. My mom encouraged me not to listen to anyone, like she herself had been doing since my husband's death. Now, even she's going away. She has cancer and is in the last stage of the disease. Eventually, even she will leave. But I have to take care of her for now.
I get up every day at 4am, prepare food for my family and by 6am, I am out with my car, ready to take rides with Uber. The car keeps running back-to-back, and I keep on receiving pick-up calls from customers. I end my work by 6.30-7pm, come home to my family, cook dinner and the next the day the wheel turns the same way.
A gentleman named Anil Kumar gave me his car and said, "You drive this." So, I drove that around. They needed a female driver in the army. One day, his friend Rajendra Kumar and his wife took a ride in the car. They were going from Faridabad to Hauz Khas. They saw my driving and later cajoled me into taking a quote for a new car from the showroom so that I could drive it.
I was reluctant at first. But after much coaxing from them, I found out the price of a Wagon R. They transferred Rs 2.8 lakh to my account, which was the down payment. For the rest of the amount, my loan got rejected because my bank statement was pretty poor. My file was rejected five times from different places. Then a bank sanctioned my loan of Rs 3.5 lakh after grilling me for over one hour as to why I needed the loan so badly. Every month, I pay an EMI of Rs 12,800.
People often ask me if it is safe for women to drive around Delhi-NCR, I always tell them, it is. Because I have never faced anything bad or had a man look at me in a bad way. There are so many people who ride in the car, but they have never said or done anything nasty. In fact, they have the utmost respect for me and the amount of love I receive from them makes me teary-eyed.
After becoming a Uber driver, I earn so much that my month goes by easily, which includes my son's well-being, the basic home expenses, treatment for my mother's cancer, etc. I might not save an amount of Rs 5,000-10, 000 every month, but it is okay. Life has become a bit easier, and that's more than what I wished for.
I am driving a small car now. After this loan is over (I've paid 12-13 installments out of the 36), I want to drive a bigger car and do something for women — college girls and the elderly — to make their commutes easier.
I am proud that I go out every day, earn so much of love and respect, and return home to my family. I have struggled a lot, seen family members turn away in the toughest of times, lost my husband and toiled day and night to put food on my family's table. I might not get things easily, but haar nahi manti main (I don't give up easily). Whatever I have wished for, comes to me after a lot of hard work.
What is the one thing I wish for right now? Well, I want Prime Minister Modi ji to come and sit in my taxi. I will be very happy that day. And it will happen, someday for sure.