Shanti Devi works alongside her husband in the no woman’s land of Delhi’s largest truck stop.
It’s unclear how the Internet originally discovered Shanti Devi, a 50-something who works alongside her husband, repairing truck tires in the Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, a sprawling truck yard stuffed with mechanics, about 16 km away from Delhi’s northern border. Pointing to a my smartphone, she says, “Open this up and you’ll see dozens on pictures of me.” She shakes her head and offers a hint of a smile, “Sometimes they’ve even made me pose while pretending to remove tires from trucks. Though that’s the truck driver’s job. I don’t remove or replace them, but repair them.”
Shanti Devi seems bemused at the attention. For her, working alongside her husband in the repair yard was a necessity, and though the decision has given her a solid sense of her own capability and brought her the admiration of readers around the world, these were hardly her considerations when she made the choice to do it.
Originally from Gwalior, Shanti Devi has worked all her life, in whatever odd job she could find, from rolling beedis to sewing work. She came to Delhi about 35 years ago, with her first husband, who drank himself to an early death. She married again, and set up a tea stall in the transport centre with Ram Bahadur. “We hired a mechanic to bring in some more income,” she says. “After we learned everything we could from watching him, we started doing the work ourselves. We built a house and got our children married off.”
“Trucks come here from all over the country,” Shanti tells us. “People do come back to us—there’s a relationship, but also we have a kind of stamp. They say ‘Come on, let’s go to the old man and woman’s place and get our work done there.’ They know we do our work well. Someone calls me tai, someone else calls me chachi.”
But though the family has been here 20 years—almost since the transport centre was created—the shop is still an impermanent structure, subject to the mercy of the municipality. Sipping her afternoon cup of tea, Shanti Devi surveys the life she’s made in her little tented shop, dwarfed by the large orange trucks surrounding it. “The work is easy enough,” she says, “though I’m starting to feel my age. But we’ve never received any help from anyone.”
This article is part of a series of stories written by freelance journalist and editor Sonal Shah and photographed by Abhinandita Mathur on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.