Meet India’s youngest women driver who is driving a bus on the busy streets of Kolkata. Kalpana Mondal is just 21 years old and got her passion for driving from her dad who also loved driving. Due to an accident that happened two years ago, his legs were operated on with metal plates due to which he does not drive anymore. Kalpana was just 8 years old when she learned how to drive heavy vehicles. She did not drive on main roads or highways, but just around the family’s locality. She has given the exam for bus driving, which qualified her for driving on the main roads. Her father or her mother always stay with her whenever she goes out to drive the bus. It is her income which runs most of the household.
When the father of Kalpana met with the accident, Kalpana decided to support the family. It was tough for them because not a lot of bus owners trusted Kalpana with their buses. But an owner of a bus decided to give Kalpana a shot and she did not disappoint. “Now, when those who rejected Kalpana see her driving the bus everyday, I feel proud. In a way, she has sacrificed her future for the wellbeing of the whole family,” says Subhash Mondal, Kalpana’s father.
“We would start for the warehouse with the heavily loaded-truck around 10 pm every day, so we’d return home really late. My father would drive towards Howrah, while I would drive the vehicle back home. On one such day, the vehicle’s tyre got punctured,” Kalpana says. Subhash continued, “I had no idea how I would fix it as I could hardly bend my legs. While I was absolutely paranoid, Kalpana volunteered and assured me that she could help. She went under the vehicle, put bricks under the flat tyre, and replaced it with a new one. She did this as a young teenager. That day, I had no doubt about the fact that this girl was ready to sit behind the steering wheel, and was already quite prepared to deal with whatever life throws at her.”
Kolkata is one of the most difficult cities in India to drive. On top of that Kalpana drives a full-size bus on the narrow streets. The roads of Kolkata are congested, there are a lot of crowded market areas. When asked if she ever faced any difficult situation while driving on such roads she explained that some police sergeants will interrogate her because they are curious that how she is driving a bus. Whereas, some police sergeants would encourage her to drive and even click pictures of her.
On asking about the future goals, Kalpana said that after working so hard every day her health does not allow her to continue with studies. She further says “There’s no such thing as a ‘career’ or ‘opportunities’ for me.” The family consists of her, her parents, an elder sister and two elder brothers. So, she is the youngest sibling in the family. She hopes that she can give Madhyamik (class 10 board) someday because that will qualify her for applying for a position of the driver in the police as she always wanted to learn driving since a young age and now she knows how to drive. She starts her day at 7 in the morning by helping her mother with her household chores and cooking. Before heading out for work she eats a heavy breakfast. Now, she is driving on the Esplanade-Baranagar route for more than a year. She has already become a known girl in the community and is certainly helping with the finances of her family.