When Shabana Shaikh graduated from school, all she wanted was a car that she could drive around in Mumbai, the city she had grown up in. She knew how remote the chances were of her wish coming true. Her mother was the sole bread earner in the family, and she had four children to feed and take care of.
Shabana's mother worked as a housemaid after her father had passed away years ago. Still, Shabana nursed her dream of owning and driving a car.
With advise from friends, she enrolled herself in a driving class and started taking lessons on the sly. "I knew I couldn't tell this at home, so I told my family that I was doing a part-time job," Shabana told HuffPost India.
Every day, she would go for two hours for her driving class. Within six months, she found a job with an all-women cab service in Mumbai.
Getting the job was a cakewalk, but what came after wasn't. Shabana had to break the news to her family. She had learnt driving without their permission and would now be driving around the city, even at late hours.
Her mother was shocked. "Iske like padai karwaya tha? Shaadi kaise hogi tumhari? (Did I educate you for this? How will you get married after joining this profession?)," she asked. Shabana, of course, was prepared for all of this. She convinced her mother to talk to her boss at the cab service. "My boss told my mother that I will be safe," she said.
Her mother wasn't convinced, but bowed down before her daughter's wishes.
Six months later, Shabana registered herself with Uber and began driving a friend's car.
She has been driving in Mumbai for three years now. Her mother has stopped working because the 21-year-old now takes care of her family of six, including her sister, brother, sister in law, and two of their children.
Recently, Shabana bought her own car on an EMI plan. "Sometimes it gets difficult to manage the family and pay the EMI, but it's fine," she said.
Does she not get worried driving at late hours? "No, I know martial arts. I have never faced any harassment from passengers, but I can beat up any guy if he tries to act otherwise," Shabana says with supreme confidence.
She does admit however, that on many occasions, she has been stopped by men on motorcycles and given strange stares. Recalling a recent experience, she says, "Two men, who were on a bike, first pointed at me and laughed. Then they tried to block my way." Shabana then started driving towards a traffic policeman. "The men went away."
"Sometimes I go and actually complain to the traffic police," she adds with a touch of indignation. "These men need to be taught a lesson."
Asked about how her mother feels about her driving now, she says, "She is very proud of me." The other day Shabana took her mother out for a spin, and her mother couldn't stop smiling. "Meri hoshiyar beti," she patted Shabana on her back when they got back home. "My smart daughter."
Also See On HuffPost: