Renowned American figure skater and Olympic gold medalist, Scott Scovell Hamilton had once said, "The only disability in life is a bad attitude."
True to the saying, polio affected Trinath Patra’s life is testimony to the fact that if there is a will, there is a way! At a time when physically challenged people are often treated as second-class citizens and encouraged to take up easy jobs; Trinath has overcome his limitations to earn his own livelihood and lead a life of dignity. In his early 30’s, Trinath is probably the first physically challenged person in Bhubaneswar to work as an auto rickshaw driver.
Affected by polio, his lower body parts could not develop properly and thus, he has to slide around with the help of his hands to move from one place to another.
Trinath, who belongs to Bhaliadihi village in Nayagarh, used to own a cycle repairing shop earlier where he worked for more than 10 years. “Since I am physically challenged, it was difficult for me to do other jobs. After completing my matriculation at the age of 15, I started learning to repair cycles. Later, when I shifted to Bhubaneswar, I opened a cycle repairing shop in Dumduma but shifted it to other places.”
It has been six months now since Trinath purchased an E Rickshaw on loan and is making a living from ferrying passengers in it. “I recently purchased the E Rickshaw, which cost me around Rs 1,40,000. It has been six months and I have been driving around passengers every day from Dumduma to Master Canteen, besides other destinations in the city. Moreover, it is economical as it runs on a battery. I don’t have to spend anything in terms of re-fuelling. I charge the vehicle twice a day and it works for nearly eight hours. The rickshaw has certainly made me more independent.” On an average, he earns around Rs 700 each day, driving the auto. “The earning is good and satisfying as it is helps me look after my family,” he informs.When asked about the reason for opting to work as an auto driver, Trinath shares,“Since I have to look after my family, it is natural on my part to desire to earn more, in order to give them a better standard of living. I have a daughter who will soon turn two and I want to give her a good life. After running the cycle repairing shop for 10 years, I finally decided to take up some other job. When I heard about the E Rickshaw, I planned to purchase one. My family members were initially reluctant about my purchasing an auto rickshaw. They had a fear that I wouldn’t be able to drive the auto besides the fact that it is quite dangerous to ride a vehicle in the city.”
Trinath’s disability doesn’t deter him from being a perfectionist at his work. His passengers barely notice his physical disability. Instead, he is reckoned as a great driver. “Whatever I do, I do it with full dedication. Nobody ever complained about his or her cycle after getting it repaired from me. Similarly not a single has ever complained about my driving skill,” he says.
According to Trinath, auto-drivers of various auto stands have never made an issue when he has picked up passengers from their stands. He says, “I have never faced any problem from other auto drivers. They have rather been extremely cooperative and even helped me get more passengers. Even passengers are kind enough to hop into my auto without hesitation.”
However, driving the auto is not without risks. Therefore, he wants to open a cycle repairing shop again at one of the vending zones of BMC in Bhubaneswar. “I have applied for a cabin in one of the vending zones. I just hope that the BMC authorities would consider my case. I am an expert in cycle repairing. I have also trained many people who are now earning well for themselves. If I manage to get the permission, then apart from repairing, I would also give training to others.”
While many like Trinath still face a major challenge in eking out a proper living for themselves, he feels that the government needs to focus on giving all kinds of skill training to physically challenged people, considering their interests. Technical training needs to be included in the curriculum apart from tailoring, carpentry, computer education, among others. I have been interested in technical line but never got an opportunity to take up any proper course.”
Despite all his struggles, Trinath is lucky to have a close friend, Ramesh Chandra Bisoi, who has stood by him at every step. Talking about his friend, Trinath says, “Ramesh is an important person in my life. He has helped me stand on my feet. He took the responsibility of my marriage and bore all the expenditure. When he found that my earning in Bhubaneswar is not sufficient, he even opened an account in my name and deposited some amount. Even now, I receive a certain amount from him every month.”
Trinath, who is now trying to clear his loans, wants to buy another E Rickshaw so that he can double his income and look after his family.