To those who misbehave with Daksha Gadhvi,she is a terror. To her passengers on the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar road,she is toofan
Kemcho Dakshaben,aaje udavjo (How are you? Please fly to day), says a commuter walking up to her jeep. Dakshaben Gadhvi,Gujarats first woman public transport driver,laughs. Do I need to? My Toofan flies anyway, she says. Gadhvi does have many fans among the youngsters for how fast she drives,covering the 30-km Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar trip in just 15 minutes. For 10 years now,she has been driving on this stretch of the highway,popular among students. After 10 rounds,Gadhvi,42,energetically jumps out of her seat calling out for customers. Adalaj,Gandhinagar,chello round (last round). A throng of office-goers and students gathers around Toofan quickly.
Hailing from a small village in Surendranagar,Gadhvi did her graduation in commerce from a government college in Gandhinagar. She also cleared the police services examination for women constabulary but never took it up. It was after her marriage that Gadhvi found her vocation.
Her husband Girish owned a garage in Ahmedabad and would get scooters and autorickshaws for servicing. After her first lessons in the garage,she started driving two-wheelers and quickly moved to autorickshaws and then four-wheel drives. Dakshaben took to driving in 1989. She started with autos and buses in 1991-92 and shifted to jeeps and cabs in 2003. I wanted to make my hobby of driving a real profession. People say drivers are rough and rude,but its the policing that makes you like that, she says.
While Girish died two years ago of a heart attack,Gadhvi didnt let that come in her way. She forged a new life around her two great lovesher 18-year-old son and driving.
Clad in a salwar-kameez,a dupatta tied carefully on one side,Gadhvi never forgets to wear her sunshades and bindi. My husband loved it (the bindi),I wear it in his remembrance, she says. The going was not always easy. From sexist remarks and eve-teasing to troublesome policemen and men trying to show their dominance,Gadhvi has seen many ups and downs. But even when male drivers tried to steal her customers,spreading rumours about her,she didnt waiver. There was a time when my community also spoke ill of me,but its because men see competition in us women.
Her dont-mess-with-me attitude keeps troublemakers at bay. Five years ago,when I was driving to Mehsana with passengers,a cop stopped me. Then he grabbed my hand. I took out my dhoka (a flat wooden stick) and waved it at him. His colleagues pulled him away,asking him not to mess with me, she recounts. Today,when Gadhvis Toofan races past them,the policemen wave at her and mutter,Ben to terror che (The ladys a terror!).
On late-night journeys,girls and women even confide in her.
Gadhvi doesnt always have her way though. Once,while ferrying passengers to north Gujarat late at night,she faced eve-teasing from two drunk men. When she overtook their car to avoid a confrontation,the driver hit her jeep and she took a fall from a bridge. Some memories always remain, she says,showing a scar on her leg.
On the return leg to Gandhinagar,more than 20 passengers squeeze into her jeep. With body parts hanging out of the windows and hair flying into their faces,Toofan gets ready to fly. Since women face harassment on public transport,I try taking only women passengers. The gangrape in Delhi wouldnt have happened if it had been a woman driver. Women really need to come forward and take up this profession, she says. With the three new Tata Sumo jeeps that she has bought,Gadhvi plans to train more women to become drivers. One day,she hopes,she will have her own all-woman driving agency.