Of all the stories that I have brought back from Pondicherry, there is one that I cannot stop thinking about. This empowering tale is one of those happy surprises that travel unfolds. There's so much about Pondicherry that I want to write about, but for a change, this time I am not at a loss for where to begin.
Jennifer speaks perfect English, is proud of what she is doing and comes across as someone who is living life on her own terms.
It was the last day of my trip to Pondicherry but somehow I felt I wasn't done with the town just yet. Something pulled me back to the French Quarter again. We wanted to explore the boutiques and artwork the town is famous for. Last-minute shopping, re-living the vibe of the French town once more and some pretty pictures were on the agenda. But then Jennifer decided to put a halt to everything that was going on in my mind. With a radiating smile, she asked me if I wanted a ride in her auto.
I wanted to stop and talk to her but my friends were already a few blocks away from me, searching the lanes for Auroville Ashram boutiques. I waved a hello, flashed a thumbs up and moved ahead, feeling so proud of this woman who was driving an auto. I wanted to come back and talk to her. I wanted to tell her how inspiring she was. I wanted to go hug her. And we did all of that.
Meet Jennifer, who has been ferrying passengers on the streets of Pondicherry for the last eight years. She is not intimidated by her profession and says she actually started doing it because she loves this auto! Jennifer speaks perfect English, is proud of what she is doing and comes across as someone who is living life on her own terms. Her husband is also an auto driver and he supported her when she decided to do what is widely considered a man's job.
We asked her for a picture and she was more than happy to pose with her auto. Our cameras flashed as she smiled, making her the hero of our stories. It was an overwhelming moment for all of us, in our own ways. We clicked, we posed and we clicked some more. And in those moments, I knew how to start this post. I told her how proud I felt and then words failed me. But she understood everything I wanted to convey. I could not stop smiling, seeing this woman who was breaking barriers, doing something she wanted to do, not getting intimidated by society or norms. A woman just being herself.
Though we could not take a ride with Jennifer, we promised to call her to show us around the next time one of us visited Pondicherry. In case you are planning to visit this French town and want to meet her, get in touch with me and I'll share her number. She'll be happy to show you around and won't try to loot you like many other auto drivers of Pondicherry do when they come to know that you don't know the roads or the language. There are in all 20 women auto drivers in Pondicherry and I am sure they all are heroes in their own right, having chosen a profession not many women can even think of entering.
There are in all 20 women auto drivers in Pondicherry and I am sure they all are heroes in their own right...
The trip to Pondicherry ended on this high note. It was such a happy story that I couldn't even be sad that the trip was over. Jennifer's smile is one which I won't forget and her story is one which needs to be told -- breaking barriers, one bylane at a time! She loved the pictures and I promised to send them to her. She doesn't have an email ID, so I am going to get them printed and send them to her with a letter that I have written for her, telling her how proud I am of her and how she is inspiring women all around. Woman to woman, heart to heart