“I never thought that the ambulance – which I learned to drive from my husband purely out of interest – would help me earn for my family,” says 47-year-old single mother Radhika.
Now the mother-of-two runs a fleet of ambulances in Mangaluru, as well as a tour bus and van. But the going wasn’t always easy for her.
Radhika, who grew up in Hassan, got married to Suresh, who was from Kodagu. The couple decided to settle down in Mangaluru as Suresh operated an ambulance in the city and was the sole breadwinner of the family. The money was not much, but the income was sufficient to run the household. The couple had two daughters – Bhoomika and Bhargavi.
Radhika and her husband Suresh
A few years later, Suresh even secured a job with the KSRTC, which made the family ecstatic as they desperately needed a steady household income. However, in 2000, Suresh was diagnosed with liver cancer and he passed away in 2002.
“When the doctors told me that my husband had succumbed to the disease my mind went blank," Radhika recalls.
A 30-year-old homemaker at the time, a devastated Radhika was left wondering how to provide for her family.
“I had studied only up to Class 6 and briefly worked at a hospital in Puttur as an assistant. I was not sure if any of my skills were useful beyond the four walls of my home,” she says.
Mounting bills and uncertainty regarding the future of her daughters pushed Radhika to look at her only available option – her late husband’s ambulance.
“I had to raise Bhargavi and Bhoomika. How would I be able to do that without a job? I told myself that whether or not I like it, I have to drive at least to look after my children,” she says.
Radhika soon obtained a licence and restarted the ambulance service.
“Since I had earlier assisted at a hospital in Puttur, I knew to operate an oxygen cylinder, administer first aid and so on. Locally, people used to call me for ambulance services, as they knew that I had the basic skills,” she says.
Radhika has attended emergency calls even late at night and leaves her daughters with her mother on such occasions. She has travelled several times to Kerala, Bengaluru, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh with fellow drivers.
“I cater to all types of requirements – taking patients to the hospital, using an icebox, shifting bodies to a mortuary, transferring bodies inter-state for funeral and so on,” she says.
Radhika also received some money from Suresh’s insurance. She pooled in that and her own savings and decided to fulfil her late husband’s dream.
“Suresh was very keen about public service. That’s one of the reasons he started driving an ambulance. So, I decided to start the Cauvery Ambulance Service (CAS). I bought one more ambulance and hired a driver,” she adds.
Soon, the demand for CAS went up, and Radhika was forced to take a loan and hire an additional vehicle as well as hire more employees. Today, CAS operates 12 ambulances, and recently added to its fleet a tour bus and van, which is hired on contract.
Looking back on her struggle of over a decade and a half, Radhika says she has had her share of ups and downs.
“Thankfully, I received support from my family and my daughters. Both of them help me manage the business while pursuing their education,” she says. While Bhargavi has completed her Bachelor’s in Commerce, Bhoomika is pursuing Engineering at MS Ramaiah in Bengaluru.
Radhika with her daughters
Radhika, who was recently elected as the secretary of the Tulunadu Rakshana Vedike’s ambulance division, has been protesting against the government’s decision to phase out ‘Omni-type’ vehicles which are used as ambulances.
“We understand the government’s concerns, but there are several drivers who already own such vehicles and are from poor families. The government should be considerate towards them. A few days ago, some local leaders have agreed to address our concerns,” she says.
Radhika says that by the end of this year, at least one of her daughters would be able to completely take over the organisation and take its work forward.
Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)