Mysore/Mysuru: When Deepa Kumari finished her PUC, she did not have an inclination that one day she would be driving battery-operated vehicles at Mysuru Zoo. Discontinuing her education and coming from an agrarian background, life was not easy for this resident of Bannur.
Now, her life is headed in a new direction with Deepa serving as a driver of a battery-operated vehicle at the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, popular as Mysuru Zoo. She is among the two women recruited to drive the battery-operated vehicles that take visitors around the Zoo, spread over 78 acres.
The other woman is Shabreen Taj, a resident of Nazarbad. Both the women are proud of their jobs and have received accolades from tourists for their professionalism and polite attitude.
“After PUC, there was a big question mark on my future. I learnt through my brother about the vacancies in Zoo to operate battery vehicles. The best part was that the Zoo preferred women to drive the vehicles. I had a Driving Licence and I thought this is my chance to get the job. I applied and passed the test and today I am in front of you,” Deepa says.
She reports to work by 8.30 am and her duties end at 5.30 pm. Tuesdays, when the Zoo is closed, is her day off. The two battery cars that are charged overnight are assembled near the ticket counter and from 9 am, she has to drive the Zoo visitors around.
Her vehicle can carry 10 persons and Deepa has to cover the entire 3.5 kilometre route seven to eight times a day during weekends and government holidays when the Zoo is teeming with visitors. During weekdays, she has to take five to six trips.
For each trip, the Zoo charges Rs. 150 per adult and Rs. 90 for senior citizens and children on weekdays and during weekends and holidays, it charges Rs. 180 per adult and Rs. 100 each for children and senior citizens.
Comfortable in driving
“I can comfortably ride a car on city roads. With battery-operated vehicles, the elderly, little children and those pressed for time are able to fully see the Zoo. We are sending a message that these vehicles are eco-friendly, non-polluting and being soundless, they do not stress the animal population. I am proud of driving this vehicle,” Deepa says with a broad grin.
The battery-operated vehicle is silent and it can turn in tight corners with effortless ease. The natural tendency of prey animals is to stray to the far side whenever visitors crowd against the railings. But when the viewer is in the vehicle, he or she can view without the animal becoming stressed and moving away.
“We have to stop at three points near chimpanzee, snake and crocodile enclosures. This is because to enable the visitors to see the chimps and reptiles. Apart from driving, we also double up as guides, explaining to visitors about the Zoo and the animals. At present, the Zoo houses 1,450 animals of 168 species representing more than 25 countries,” Deepa says with her eyes open in wonder.
Deepa has to reach work at 8.30 am and she takes a bus from Bannur. Her parents and husband Shivamanchappa are farmers and depend on crops and domesticated animals for a living. “I have a brother who is working in Bengaluru. My entire family is supportive of my job and I am happy that I too contribute to my family income. I want to build a secure future for my family,” she says.
She says more than foreign tourists, Indians prefer to go around the Zoo in battery cars. “Communication is not a problem. I speak English and know a bit of Hindi. I am managing even foreign tourists as I am familiar with names of some of the Zoo animals,” she says.
Love for the job
Shabreen Taj has been driving another battery car at the Zoo since the last two years. She has completed B.Com from Vani Vilas College at Nazarbad.
She lost her father when she was one year old and her sister is married. She too has to report to work at 8.30 am.
“I have to finish cooking, pack my breakfast and lunch and then head to work. Sometimes it is very challenging but I love this job,” she says.
Even Shabreen has Driving Licence and is comfortable driving a four-wheeler. “Me and Deepa work in close quarters and we both are good friends. Many tourists have told us that we drive very professionally. Ultimately what matters is appreciation from public. Many promise us that they would revisit Zoo and take the battery car,” she says with a smile.