BENGALURU: There are two kinds of begging, says Renuka Aradhya, a Class 9 graduate who has fought acute poverty to live a life of dignity.
“One is where you ask for money from people on the streets and make it a regular practice. The other is what I did — knocking on doors and begging for money or food,” he explains.
Renuka was six then. The family lived in a village about 18 km from Bengaluru. His father had a one-acre farm, where he cultivated some vegetables.
As a temple priest, he earned `1.50 a day, but that was not sufficient to make ends meet. So, taking Renuka along, he went from door to door, begging for alms.
Growing up, Renuka was forced to take up several odd jobs to survive. He has worked as a security guard, a pandit and a driver. At one point, he sold covers for suitcases and cars.
When he was a driver, he had to visit several travel agencies to collect his travel sheet — the list of trips he had to make. “That’s when I resolved to open my own travel agency. I wanted to give out travel sheets to drivers some day,” Renuka says.
And he did. He started his own venture Pravasi Cabs, named after the Sanskrit word for tourists, in 2006.
Poverty pushed him to succeed, he says. “I saved money driving cabs and bought my first car in 2000. I started doing regular railway station and airport drops.”
Carrying the Dead
Renuka worked for Nehru Travels on Lalbagh Road and used to transport corpses after postmortem from the government hospitals. He says, “I have carried 300 corpses across the country. I have gone as far as Siliguri. It was a four-day trip.”
“Sometimes, I used to drive alone with the bodies. It was a job and I got paid, so I didn’t mind. I have carried dead bodies on my shoulders at some places where cars couldn’t enter,” he recalls.
Getting Fired at First Job
Renuka didn’t go to high school or college. He mortgaged his wedding ring and borrowed money from his brother-in-law to learn driving and get his licence. But at his first job, he rammed his car into a gate and got fired.
Patience, good values and the will to contribute to society are the only things that can make a person successful, he says. “A travel operator called Rajendra motivated me and gave me confidence after I failed at my first job. I worked with him for two years and started my own venture with one car. I saved money from the tips I got from my clients.”
Today, he owns about a thousand cars. He is not only the managing director of Pravasi Cabs, but also a director in four other companies.
Learning French in 90 Days
Renuka learned about marketing, investments, value, mergers and acquisitions on the job and through workshops. His experience as a driver also contributed to his development.
He says, “I was a driver for 15 years. I used to listen to my clients’ stories about their families, businesses and their lives. That motivated me. I was just waiting for the right opportunity. When I got one, I made the best of it.”
Over 10 years, Renuka learnt spoken English. He read newspapers and practised copying the news to improve his handwriting. “I mostly interacted with Kannada-speaking people. If I had had English-speaking clients, I would have learnt the language eight years ago,” he says. Renuka even knows a little French! “A group of 10 people had come from France for sight-seeing in 1997. It was their first time here and they didn’t speak English. They had told me 90 days before their arrival that they would like me to learn basic French. I bought a book of English to French translations and learned how to say things like “Where do you want to go?”, “Good morning, what’s the plan for tomorrow?”, he recalls with a laugh.
World is a University
The world is a university and every human being is a book, says Renuka. “If you spend some time with a person, you will get to learn something.”
“There are many opportunities available today, unlike the 1980s. Even an illiterate can walk into an office, offer to clean the premises and earn `3,000 to `5,000 a month. But people now want to make easy money,” he says.
Renuka feels educated people should come forward to empower the less fortunate.
Family That Eats and Stays Together
Renuka prioritises his family over work. He says, “I was a security guard when I got married. Today, I have taken her to 25 countries — UK, Portugal and Thailand. I can’t thank her enough for all her support.”
Renuka is currently working with several organisations to empower women. He is striving to encourage women drivers. “Women are not coming forward in spite of companies like mine, the government and corporates encouraging them. They are worried about their safety,” he says.
He doesn’t think there is anything to worry about. “They just need to pick up software engineers from their companies and drop them home. There wouldn’t be new customers every day like the other cab services have,” he explains. Renuka plans to employ at least 10 women drivers in the next two months. His daughter-in-law will join his business as a director, he says.