The Optimist Citizen

Maa Ula – India’s first bike-taxi service by the differently abled

We often complain about our lives as being tough without thinking about all the privileges we have been blessed with. As much troubled as we may be, having a full functioning body is something most of us can be thankful for. The ones who do not have this privilege are the ones who struggle through their lives every day. When it is difficult to go about their day-to-day lives, some fight against such barriers and start taking a step towards a better life.

Balaji from Chennai lost the use of both of his legs when he was just 19 years old. Like so many others, he had desired for a successful corporate routine for himself. He even started working in a corporate job, but the unnecessary pity of his co-workers proved disturbing for him. “I would feel dejected and cry all day” he told in an interview.

It was during this tough phase in his life that an ingenious idea came to him. While dropping his yoga teacher to his home after yoga class, he asked Balaji why doesn’t he do this for strangers and charge them a fare for it. He decided to give it a try and started with this service. His first ever customer gave him 20 rupees as he didn’t even know what to charge then.

He was soon approached by Mohammad Gadaffi, the co-founder who christened the service as MAA ULA and was instrumental in encouraging others to join. ‘Maa’ is for ‘maatru thirunaaligal’ which means ‘differently abled’ in Tamil and ‘ula’ which translates to ‘journey’. Quite aptly, Balaji says that the name translates to ‘a journey with the differently-abled’. So far, they have employed five people in their fleet.

Balaji and Gadaffi intend to increase their fleet to 20-25 people by next January. From the time when Balaji would feel like a beggar looking for customers to looking forward to his preferred night shift as a bike taxi driver, Balaji has come a long way. The pity of his colleagues during his last job stung him deeply and his eventual determination then made him his own boss. His parents also are a lot happier now and are assured that he has a secure future. What Balaji says is truly heart-warming, “My life changed after I began doing this. I am much more comfortable with myself. I want others like me to feel this way too.”


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