CHENNAI: It is 7.30 pm. Kamalesh Jayakar has been on the roads of Chennai since 7 am with only two short breaks. He’s clocked in 19 trips, but his relaxed demeanour denies the fatigue of being behind the wheels for 12 hours.
When we boarded his Uber cab and got greeted with a ‘Hello, how are you?’, what ensued was an engaging conversation about Kamalesh - his life, goals and love for people.
Hospitality to health
A native of Madurai, Kamalesh pursued hotel management at American College. “I was an average student and a last-bencher. After college, I joined a hotel. From a front office manager to manager operations, I’ve worked in several hotels till 2007. The profession has taught me to be patient,” says Kamalesh, a resident of Ayanambakkam. After his marriage in 1997, he moved to Chennai in 1999. He quit the hospitality sector in 2007 to spend quality time with family.
“In the meantime, I got an opportunity to work with a psychiatric hospital. I gradually started updating myself with health care and related terminologies. From 2009-2015, I worked in the health sector which I thoroughly enjoyed. The profession taught me empathy, kindness, and ways to handle challenging situations. Till date, I educate myself about concepts in health care. I have a few plans and I hope to make it big soon. I quit my job and stayed at home for almost a year,” he shares.
Where the drive began
A casual chat with Uber’s cab driver, during one of his commutes, became the turning point of Kamalesh’s journey so far. “I got home and told my wife that I wanted to take up a job with Uber. She was shocked and concerned about how our family and society would react. After a long discussion, I took my commercial license and leased out a yellow-board car in December 2016. Eventually, I bought the car,” he says. Kamalesh has a son in class 8, a daughter who is pursuing her Bachelors degree in Psychology, and his wife is pursuing her PhD and working as a professor in an engineering college.
Kamalesh has always loved meeting people. His day starts at 7 am. After dropping his wife at the bus stop, he turns his app on. To complete 150 trips a week, he keeps a daily target of at least 20. He takes a break at around 10 am, and again for lunch. He does not like sitting idle inside the car or talking on the phone while driving. He does not like smoking inside the car or spitting outside. Duty comes first. “Google Maps is a great invention. I hardly knew any routes, earlier. Every ride is an experience. I refresh after a trip, greet the next rider, and ensure it’s a pleasant journey for them,” he says, adding that he plays Tamil, English and Hindi melodies in his car.
Kamalesh drives through some regular routes every day, and he has befriended his passengers. Unlike most drivers, Kamalesh prefers to make a call to his passengers as soon as he accepts the ride. He does not mince his words when rules are not followed. “Self-respect matters the most, to me. I know where to sarcastically give it back. One of the disturbing facts about my job is the absence of dignity of labour. I don’t like how people treat you when you are in your uniform and otherwise. It’s yet another job. Same rules apply everywhere,” he says.
Ratings for Kamalesh, on the app, range from six to one. Most of the comments on his account read - well-mannered, great conversation and pleasant journey. He works six days a week. The maximum number of rides he has taken on a single day is 30.
The road ahead
It’s been a two-year journey of potholes and puddles. Driving has given Kamalesh a chance to meet all kinds of people and handle unexpected situations. Experience has been his best teacher - bitter trips ending up in arguments and happy ones of gratitude with a hug or a cup of coffee. “My mentors -Stanley Sampath and Dr Anbudurai - have transformed my life. I’ve learned about humanity, being organised, and respecting fellow human beings from them,” says Kamalesh, who lives up to the carpe diem philosophy.
A trip to remember
“On a rainy day, an elderly woman got into the car and complained it was dirty. I explained to her that’s how a cab would look, especially on a rainy day. This made her furious. She projected herself to have worked with late APJ Abdul Kalam and demanded an apology. I asked her ‘Haven’t you learnt to be humble from him?’ Listening to this, she said she’d complain to the company. I politely asked her to go ahead.”