Nava Kanta Kalita PATACHARKUCHI, Jan 8 - This industrious lady starts her day at 3 am and leaves for work at 3.30 am and finishes her duty in the evening hours. She is Sheetal Lama Rai, a girl originally from Mahur, Dima Hasao district, in Assam, and has completed nine years as a driver of the most prestigious iconic red double decker bus in London. It is one of the most striking features of London, she informed ANN Service. Being a lady from a remote area of Assam, her success story is considered an inspiration to others.
The iconic red double decker bus of London and (right) Sheetal Lama Rai at the wheels.
Talking to this correspondent, she said, “When I first came to the UK, I was fascinated and amazed by the iconic red double decker buses as it is the most striking feature of London and the very same day I decided what I wanted to do and that was to become a ‘bus driver driving the big red bus’. A very weird aim to have in a very male dominated industry, which I realised later. But I was not ready to give up.”
One day she went to the recruitment centre where she found only her standing in the queue among 20 male candidates applying for the job of driver.
Luckily, she was selected and after a few weeks and many tests and training, she passed and got her bus license. She considers it as one of the happiest days of her life, She was allocated a garage to work. At present she is working for the Metro line West Company under Transport for London for the past nine years driving the route no. 83. Sharing her experiences, she said, “I am on the early Rota which means starting as early as 3.30 and finishing mid-day but I don’t mind as this means I finish early and have the rest of the day to myself. Some days I would work longer hours as overtime. I then collect my duty board/card from the supervisor which tells the timings and where I need to be. I then carry out all the safety checks on the bus and report any defects, if necessary.”
She drives route no. 83 which connects Golders Green to Ealing Hospital. The journey time from each point differs depending on the time of the day with a maximum of two hours between two points.
The best part of her job is the people she meets every day. Many are regular passengers and she gets to know their daily routine. A big smile and good customer service goes a long way and she is one of those people who believes in the principle “you get what you give/sow”.
Sometimes passengers gives her chocolates, coffee, gums etc etc. Her male colleagues think that it is because she is a female driver, but it is said in jest,” she added. She works with 400 male drivers and only five females on board. All her colleagues have great respect for all the females on board. But driving a bus in London can be very stressful at times with passengers’ arguments, mostly on the issue of tickets but the introduction of smart pay has made things much easier to deal with since there’s no cash handling on board, she informed. During her jobs she had to tackle adverse situations too. There was a time when her bus was smashed up by two young boys for which police had to be called and she was totally shaken up. But she accepts such things as work hazards, which they are trained to handle.
“The only downside of the job is the traffic which is definitely much worse than it used to be. I don’t enjoy rainy or snowy days in heavy traffic when driving conditions are tougher. There are many more cyclists to look out for and I have to concentrate and be focused at all times. I take almost 600 passengers to and from each point on a daily basis”, she added.
She is very proud to work in this profession and even after nine years of being in the transport industry, she can still wake up and look forward to go to work. She admits that the remuneration is commensurate with the nature of work and there is dignity of labour here. It is worth mentioning that she even holds 6 years of safe driving awards in a row and their garage has won the best garage of the year award too.
During her spare time, she likes spending time in the gym and also likes to learn new things in life through her I-pad. Surprisingly, recently she had been learning to ride a cycle! She doesn’t know how to ride a cycle but that would not be for long. People tell her that she drives a bus and still cannot ride a cycle but that is the irony she feels.
She makes it a point to visit her birth place Assam at least twice a year to visit family and friends. She is passionate about eating all varieties of ethnic food there especially at Mahur, Dima Hasao.
The mom of two daughters – Ishika Lama and Ishita Lama, Sheetal also spares time from her tight schedule to look after them. She believes that women are no less than men. Her mom, a sexagenarian Sheela Lyngdoh resides in Mahur and is running a school in the comparatively backward place. Sheetal too has started a school at Patacharkuchi with her sister jointly.
Expressing her desire she said, “I feel that we should have more female drivers in this industry and I would highly recommend and eager to help anyone wanting to join from the north-eastern State”.