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Meet Revathi Roy, the woman who pioneered Asia’s first all-women taxi service and India’s first all-women two-wheeler parcel delivery service too.
There are many extraordinary, committed women who do stellar work to make a difference, despite the hardships involved. Among them are countless unsung heroes who do not make headlines, but quietly go about their work, bringing about the necessary transformation, one day at a time.
Thursday, 8th March was #InternationalWomensDay, a day to take stock of the progress in women’s lives. The theme for this year is #PressforProgress. On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2018, we showcased 3 such remarkable women till now, one every day, doing work that has got them on-ground results. This is the last in these series.
“I had a great childhood and was an only child so, really pampered. My Dad never allowed my Mom to give me any work. So, I was the Princess in the house. Always got everything before asking. Then, marriage in a very well to do family. No one ever thought life would take such a terrible turn.”
A turn in Revathi Roy’s life that not only changed her life but also that of many other women. So what was the turn? And how did it make her the woman icon that she is today?
In 2004, tragedy struck Revathi’s life. Husband Siddharth suffered a heart attack and slipped into coma. She spent almost Rs 3 crore on the treatments, which came from selling all his assets, including the house. But destiny snatched away her life partner on January 29, 2007.
Apart from the emotional loss, it was also a financial shock for her, since she was left with nothing but three sons.
“While my husband was still in the hospital, I had begun to earn for my children and him. I did not have the option of losing hope,” recalls Revathi. She made her passion to drive, her profession. She borrowed a taxi from a friend who connected her with the group that ran taxis at the Mumbai airport. She was given a slot to ferry passengers!
Two months after her husband’s death, she decided to take a step forward on Women’s Day – March 08, 2007. Revathi launched Forsche — a play on Porsche — pronounced as FORSHE. Asia’s first all-women taxi service, Forsche was launched with just three Indica cars!
“The idea was to teach the URBAN POOR women like me how to drive and become independent,” asserts Revathi.
Urban poor? Revathi could gauge the intensity of my question, “I talk of urban poor women only because I live in Mumbai and that’s what really I can do here. Also, I find that most programs and schemes are always available for the rural poor. I think it’s high time we recognise that there is an urban poor category and and the middle class poor women also to whom we must provide opportunities.”
Two years later, in 2009, Revathi exited Forsche and also gave up her entire stake in 2010.
In 2012 she quit her next venture – a new all-women cab service, Viira Cabs as well.
There was craving for more. And thus in 2016 came India’s first all-women instant parcel delivery service — “Hey DeeDee – meaning Hail The Sister.” It was on scooters and bikes!
The TedX speaker tells me, “FORSCHE was an idea – immature but passionate. I had the courage to do it. Very foolish decisions. No planning. Took the 1st thing that came to me. Hey Deedee is a well thought out business, with a vision and mission to make it the largest logistics business done by women on a single platform and acquire a huge market share in a few years. And become a force to reckon with.”
She takes pride in adding, “Hey Deedee employs about 250 plus underprivileged women who are turning around their lives for good. We are tied up with Amazon, Subway, Pizza Hut, EGK Foods, EFG, Shophop, Natures Basket, Brijwasi, Moshes, and many retails clients.”
Revathi explains, “We mobilise the girls from different locations and communities and train them for 45 days (on a 2 wheeler) and 90 days (on a 4 wheeler) and then ensure that they get a zero% down-payment loan to buy the asset.”
My next obvious question had to be ‘how did you handle the brickbats of the society, when you chose to drive women into a men-dominated arena?’
She patiently recalls, “I admit that there used to be a look of surprise and shock. But to say – ‘society that always looks at opportunities to devour a woman’s prestige’ – is wrong. To accept women in so called unconventional jobs may be a better thing to say. It takes anyone some time to adjust, so this really is only that. The acceptance level of people for our women driven cabs has been HUGE. They have looked at it as a matter of safety for their women and children at home.”
Revathi adds that despite all hardships in life, she would like to be reborn as Revathi, since lives of lakhs of women remains to be changed. Not surprising that Revathi has been on the cover of the FORBES magazine as a serial entrepreneur who is busy making women self-reliant. Thus, she has been the obvious choice of the jury while showering her with various national and internal awards including the “Women Icons Award at Singapore in March 2017” for empowering women throughout her career.
So, I ask her to name a few women in her previous or current fleet, whose life-turn-around has been the closest to her heart.
“Each Deedee is an inspiration to me. To single out would be wrong, however, maybe Lalita, Priti, Shradhha, Sarita ….each one has really struggled to make their life better. Moreover, to work with the girls/women from the lowest strata of the pyramid makes you have a lot of empathy. It is so humbling when you see their problems, though of a different kind but still trying to get out of their shackles, and dream for themselves. I am forever inspired and consider myself blessed to be doing the work I do,” beams a Revathi who sounds like a mother, who can never decide which child is her favourite.
Talking about her children, how does the 57-year-old manage to find time for them, since managing such a vast fleet spread across Maharashtra, surely means living life out of a suitcase!
“My sons are all grown up now, aged 32, 29 and 21. But there is always enough and more time if you really want to do something good in life,” Revathi smiles assertively. No wonder, Revathi even finds time to cook her favourite meal KHICHDI…read, travel and meet friends to unwind!
Busy woman she is and thus I decided not to hold her back, longer.
She signs off advising, “Dream and aspire. There is a beautiful future waiting for everyone. Come and explore. Don’t bother about the world if you are not hurting anyone.” While we wrap up, my heart fills with joy as I hear her humming Jagjit Singh’s “Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh….”
So, don’t forget to share Revathi’s inspiring “Dastaan”….you will only be taking a step towards making another life better!
Find the other inspiring women in these series here: Maya Vishwakarma, Namita Waikar, Abhigya Shukla Akester & Jemimah Marak.
Images source: Revathi Roy