By Harjeet Khanduja
Having traveled across the country, while interviewing entrepreneurs for my book, I finally landed at the Mumbai airport. After being on such a long journey, it felt good to be closer to home. However, the journey—and the suffering that comes along with it—is not over, until you reach home. I was only carrying hand baggage, so there were no further delays regarding luggage. I rushed towards the prepaid taxi counter, hoping to avoid the queue. However, I was greeted with a long queue since a few other flights had arrived to Mumbai around the same time.
Having woken up early and traveled for a whole day, I was ridden by exhaustion. Furthermore, I still had to travel for more than an hour to reach home; provided that the traffic wasn’t heavy. Luckily, I noticed that another counter had opened up and I rushed towards it. The guy at the counter greeted me and asked whether I would be willing to hire a taxi with a lady driver. His question puzzled me. However, I agreed to it, since the gender shift didn’t quite matter to me.
Interestingly, the trend of offering women-specific taxi services to men was started due to the low consumer volumes of female customers. Without branching out of their traditional customer base, these services find it hard to financially sustain themselves. However, men do not prefer to travel by pink cabs. This subtle discrimination against women cab drivers will take some time to fade.
To my surprise, the cab was not pink and the lady too, was dressed in a blue outfit. She appeared to be in her twenties. She took me to a pickup point and asked me to wait.
The Initial Skepticism
Just as I was getting restless by the wait and started to rethink my decision, she arrived with her cab. As soon as we moved outside the airport, she drove towards a petrol pump since the cab needed refueling. The additional delay was frustrating. However, I kept quiet since I did not have any other option. Once the cab was refueled, she apologized for the delay. This incidence reminded me of why hiring managers push for recruiting experienced people instead of rookies.
Meanwhile, I also had the thought that maybe I was her first customer. I could afford the slight delay, as long as I would reach home alive. I started recalling the counter clerk’s question regarding my comfort with a lady driver and wondered what was his intent behind the question. To clarify the doubt, I asked her for how long she had been driving. She replied that she had been driving for the past five years.
I took a sigh of relief as I heard that and felt reassured about me reaching home safely. She explained that she did not get enough time to refuel as even a 10 minute delay while accepting a customer adds an hour to her waiting time. As a result, her daily target of earning three thousand rupees is not completed. That is a pretty decent amount, I thought. On the contrary, she clarified that 3000/- was her basic minimum necessity. She had to work for thirty days to earn sixty thousand a month. Out of those earnings, fifteen thousand went towards the fuel and maintenance of the cab. Also, five thousand went as a commission to the taxi company and twenty thousand went towards the EMI of the vehicle.
The Story Behind the Struggle
My God, she was the owner of the vehicle! That is why, the vehicle was so neat and clean. Also, she was working without any break, for thirty days a month. In fact, her working hours were equally weird—starting from early morning and lasting till the time daily targets are met. Even if the last ride finishes at 2 o’clock in the night. In her story, I could see another inspiring entrepreneur.
She had started her journey five years back, when a couple of girls from her neighborhood had joined a driving company. She had searched for this job on the Internet and sent in an application. This made me realize how far the concept of internet of things had taken its roots.
She had to invest ten thousand rupees for initial training and licence. Then, she worked for a taxi company for two years. After that, she worked as a night driver at a five star hotel for two years. During this period, she gained experience and made some money. Then, she decided to buy her own vehicle and since then she had been working on her own.
I felt pleasantly surprised about the fact that instead of having a far easier life—by working as a regular employee elsewhere—she took such risks and pain to develop a brighter future for her family.
Simple Economics of Survival
I asked her what was her motivation to do this. She replied that she was a mother of two children and had to financially support her parents and sister as well. More importantly, with her father getting paralyzed and her husband dying in an accident last year, there was no bigger motivation required.
Simply said, economics made her do this. The important aspect is that rather than not doing anything or taking an easier path, she strives to make her living independently.
Economics is a science of constrained choices. Yet, there are always better choices.
Harjeet is a SAP HCM Solution consultant, Six Sigma Green Belt, White Belt in Executive Coaching, Assessor for Predictive Index and a visiting faculty at NMIMS. He is an alumnus of IIT Roorkee and INSEAD. He is currently working as Vice President HR at Reliance Jio Infocomm. He was awarded for his “Outstanding contribution to Global Learning” by World HRD Congress and received HR Leadership Award by Asia HRD Congress.