For 20 years, Pataabi Raman taught English in a Mumbai college. At 60, when he retired, Raman moved back to his hometown in Karnataka and began to drive an auto. It has been 14 years since.
Raman's story came to light when Nikita Iyer, who works in a private firm in Bengaluru, shared her experience of meeting the professor-turned-auto-driver on LinkedIn.
Iyer writes that one morning, she was stranded on her way to work when an auto approached her. "Skeptical at first, I told him I needed to get to the other end of town to my office and that I was already late. He said, 'Please come in Ma'am, you can pay what you want' in impeccable English," Iyer wrote in her post.
She was taken aback but decided to hire the auto and what followed was "a very enriching 45 minutes."
According to Iyer, Raman is 74 now and has been driving a rickshaw for 14 years. He had moved to Mumbai to work as an English lecturer because he did not get any jobs in Karnataka. The only question he was asked by possible employers was "What is your caste?"
In Mumbai, he worked at the college for 20 years before retiring and returning to Karnataka.
"Teachers do not get paid well. The maximum you can earn is Rs 10,000-15,000 and since it was a private institution, I don't have a pension. By driving a rickshaw I get at least Rs 700-1500 a day which enough for me and my girlfriend," Iyer wrote quoting Raman.
He then explained, "She is my wife but I call her my girlfriend because you must always treat them as equal. The minute you say wife, husbands think she's a slave who must serve you but she is in no way inferior to me, in fact she is superior to me sometimes."
Iyer added that Raman's "girlfriend" is 72 and takes care of the house while he works for 9-10 hours a day. "We live in a 1 BHK in Kadugodi where my son helps pay the rent of Rs 12,000 but beyond that, we are not dependent on our children. Now I am the Raja of my road, I can take my auto out any time I want and work when I want," Iyer wrote quoting Raman again.
The LinkedIn post has since gone viral with over 2,500 shares, 74,000 likes and more than 1,800 comments.
People lauded Raman's grit and determination.
"Loved this story! Made me think about what I can change in my own attitude. On a lighter note, maybe I should start calling my husband, my boyfriend," commented mental health professional Chitra Apte.
The post even reached one of Raman's former students. "A friend and I were school students of Raman Sir roughly from 2005 to 2008. He was our History teacher and was one of the best, I must add."
"Even years after leaving school we used to bring him up in our conversation and wonder where is he and what he might be doing. Today by sharing his well being you have really made our day. Thanks a lot, again. Looking forward to get in touch with him."
A number of comments were, however, made on the discrimination Raman apparently faced because of questions on his caste.
"It is unfortunate so many are applauding (for wrong reasons) the individual for his grit and determination for doing hard labor at this age when we should be ashamed as a society that we can't treat our elders with dignity during their old age...," wrote carbon credit auditor Sanjay Kumar.
Engineer Ravi SD pitched in, "I am curious how would somebody identify his caste when he told his name is Pattabi Raman in Karnataka. Very curious to know perhaps which part of Karnataka did he get discriminated on caste. Karnataka especially Bangalore has Avery open culture where caste is a least bother except for politicians."