India's Covid warriors: Female cabbie drives patients to hospitals in memory of her mother
It’s been a rewarding experience, as she's managed to save many lives, she says.
A middle-aged woman in personal protective equipment (PPE), busy manoeuvring through traffic while rushing a Covid-positive patient to a hospital, has come to be a common sight for residents of Bengaluru, India.
The 40-year-old's name is Tulsi Lavakumar — and her tale is a heart-wrenching one. Her mother was her world after she lost her father, when she was barely 12 years old. But, one day, about 10 years ago, her mum suddenly collapsed.
“There was no ambulance in sight. I was so helpless. By the time the ambulance arrived, my mother had passed away. That day, I regretted not knowing how to drive, which could have saved my mother's life,'' she told Khaleej Times.
Lavakumar enrolled for a free driving class at Banashankari Welfare Society in South Bengaluru. “I learned to drive all cars, even an ambulance, in a bid to ensure that no life is lost. Though I had no intention of becoming a driver, I told myself I'll drive to save lives,'' she said.
She started a martial arts academy, which taught Taekwondo, in South Bengaluru.
At present, her son Gautham Lavakumar, a Taekwondo champion himself, runs the academy. And during the first Covid-19-induced lockdown in March last year, she cooked more than 150 meals every day for hospital-goers and distributed them.
Once again, it was adversity that brought her back behind the wheel. Her husband, a driver, himself underwent a heart surgery last year, which rendered him unable to drive.
“His health began failing and he could drive only once a week. So, I decided I would let him rest. I took to the wheel to support my family. I signed up with Cabto, a ride-hailing mobile app, which ferries Covid-19 patients. It’s been a rewarding experience, as I’ve managed to save many lives. And every time I do this, I wish I had done it for my mother,'' she said.
Lavakumar has her grinding task cut out.
She wakes up at 5am daily and completes all her household chores, including cooking and putting out her husband’s medicine, before hitting the road.
“I don't know when I will return after work, as these are challenging times. So, I prepare everything at home and then leave for work. I can’t leave anything to chance since my husband suffers from a heart condition. Besides, I need to be extra careful, as I don’t want to be a carrier of the deadly contagion,” she added.
Lavakumar has a natural advantage. Passengers take to her easily — perhaps, because she is a woman.
On Monday, she picked up an 85-year-old Covid-19 patient. “There were no family members accompanying her to the hospital, and she was sad. I cracked jokes with her throughout the 10-kilometre ride while unconsciously thinking I was ferrying my mother,” she recounted.
In April last year during the lockdown, Lavakumar even drove an elderly couple who had arrived in Bengaluru from Australia across state lines. “I had to drive them to Andhra Pradesh from Bengaluru. We had nothing to eat for hours during our journey and survived on chocolates,'' she added.
She has a simple yet effective message for all her passengers: learn how to drive to become independent the next time around.
Lavakumar, who has learned life's lessons the hard way, wants to put her passengers on cruise control and prepare them to take the rough with the smooth.
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