A remarkable journey

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‘Learning to drive a bus was not easy for me either, but my instructor, Andy Careless was a fantastic person.’ NCT

The UK Bus Awards 2019 Top National Bus Driver was NCT’s Jatinder Kumar who outlines his extraordinary story and how much winning the Gold award means to him to Andy Izatt

Jatinder Kumar is probably one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. An NCT driver for more than a decade, he has an exemplary record. No accidents or complaints, a telematics score in the top 3% of 800 drivers and only five days off sick, but what really marks him out is his natural empathy and capacity to help others, whether it’s colleagues or passengers. Put simply, he delivers exceptional service with a wide beaming smile. Yet the road that brought him to NCT could not have been more difficult. His capacity to deal with adversity is remarkable.

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“I was born in a small village called Nandachaur in the district of Hoshiarpur, Punjab, India,” explained Jatinder. “When I was growing up we struggled for electricity and water. We didn’t have a TV until I was 11. Before that we used to go and watch it at someone else’s house.

“My dad, Mangat Ram was in the Indian Air Force based far from home. He always wanted me to do something like driving or becoming a pilot. When he had to quit his job he started his own business in the rubber trade, but lost a lot of money. It was just when I was turning 18. I’d had secondary education and was planning to go to college, but my dad needed to pay to send my sisters to university.

“In India if girls are well educated, they can look after their own futures. Otherwise they have to depend on their husbands for life. I really wanted my sisters to do well. I said to dad I needed to do something. I wanted to earn money to help my family and working in India wouldn’t have been enough. I needed to go abroad to take advantage of the exchange rate.

‘I believe if you’re doing good today, if you need help someone will come along and give it to you.’ ANDY IZATT

“Obtaining visas was not easy, but I went to Thailand, Singapore and China before ending up in South Korea where I found a job doing woodwork. I didn’t speak the language and initially the guy who gave me the job wanted me to pay for it, but the person who helped me find it stood up for me. He’s still my best friend. You can’t forget the people who help you.

“As a result of working in South Korea for three and a half years, all my dad’s loans were paid and my sisters were able to complete their education. Monika came top in economics in the state of Punjab. She moved with her family to Australia and now works in IT. My other sister, Sunita is a senior teacher in India where I was also able to buy a little bit of land for myself. My parents – my mother’s name is Bias Rani – were very proud.

“I’d learnt the Korean language very slowly, one word at a time and after a year other Asians would ask me to translate for them. I had a good bond with people around me. With those I worked for as well.

“It was while I was in Korea that I met my future wife, Minakshi, online. She lived in Nottingham and we spoke for a year before she came to see me. We spent a week together before going to India to be married. With my wife I decided we should come to Nottingham. She said to me, try it and if you don’t like it we can move to India instead. She came back here to arrange all the documents and I went back to South Korea. That was in January 2005.

“When I got off the flight I was feeling so tired and after a few days back at work I had a high temperature and started feeling sick. My eyesight was also going. My manager took me to a doctor who said I needed to see a specialist. That required money so a friend who was from the same village in India as me was called and he took me to hospital. I was diagnosed with having meningitis and for a time lost my memory. I was in intensive care for about a month.

“I had a picture of my wife with me that said ‘I love you’ on the back. She wasn’t able to come, but my mother-in-law, Usha Karbal did and stayed with me until I was back on my feet and able to travel back to India. She paid a lot for flights, accommodation and medical bills. She stood by me and I’ll never forget that.

“In October 2005 I moved to UK. I remember the official issuing the spouse visa wasn’t happy with the paperwork, but he issued it anyway. Although I already spoke a little English, I now had to learn another language. I spent nine months looking for a job, but not being able to communicate properly was a barrier. My wife and I were living with the parents-in-law and every day I would try every shop on Calton Road to see if I could find something. In the end an Indian from the Punjab gave me a cleaning job at a fish and chip shop.

“Everyone wants a step up in the world. Eventually someone gave me the number for an Asian factory behind the main road where they did embroidery. I’m a quick learner and they taught me what I needed to do. From there I went to Boots’ distribution warehouse, worked hard and became a line leader.

“In the meantime my father-in-law Purshotam used to look for free education for me to improve my English. I’m so close to my parents-in-law because of all they have done for me. I respect them so much. Whatever you do in life for people who did that much for you, it isn’t enough. What I say to anyone I help is, help someone else if you can. That is what we should all do.”

Driving for NCT
“I like talking to people and I love driving,” Jatinder continued. “I used to see people in nice NCT (Nottingham City Transport) uniforms driving buses and thought that was something I could do, but I didn’t have a UK driving licence. I got a provisional one and started taking lessons to drive a car. Driving in India is different and you develop habits that are very hard to change. In the UK there are very strict rules about what you can do.

“When I passed my car test, I rang NCT to see if it would give me a job. I was told I had to wait six months, but if I had no points on my licence after that I could apply, and that is what I did, starting in March 2008.

“Learning to drive a bus was not easy for me either, but my instructor, Andy Careless was a fantastic person. He was always calm. When I failed the first time I thought I was never going to pass, but he said don’t worry. Don’t give up. The manager of the training school, David Cole was also a top man. He would sit with me and listen to what I had to say and went through everything with me. I knew there were people there for me. Another instructor, Karen Pownall took me out and explained that she thought the problem was what I’d learnt about driving in India. She said, don’t worry. Be confident. I passed my test in April 2008.

‘When I won NCT Driver Of The Year for 2018 many of my passengers said they knew I would be the one,’ said Jatinder Kumar. ANDY IZATT

“I started on midi-buses at Trent Bridge depot, but after six months moved on to the big buses at Lower Parliament Street. I could have either applied for a rota or gone as a spare driver. I applied for a rota coming in at the bottom, but was happy with that. I enjoyed driving the big buses. After my six months probation my manager wrote ‘excellent’ on my report. I’d had no accidents and hadn’t broken any mirrors. I was so happy.

“I’d started on the Orange Line which then covered routes 35, 36, 28 and 30, but wanted to drive on Lilac Carlton routes 24, 25, 25B and 27 because that serves where I live. I applied a few times without success because there was a queue in front of me. However, in 2009 I got it and have been on that rota for the past 10 years.

“There have been so many ups and downs since then. Three years ago my dad had a heart attack and said he wouldn’t have surgery until I came back to India and was there with him. I spoke to my operations manager, Robert Clarke who is my role model. I said I had to go and he said yes. I always keep my holidays free for family emergencies and asked that he put them all together, which he did. That gave me three weeks.

“My dad had his operation, which went well, but it took time for him to recover. My mum couldn’t cope by herself so I explained to Mr Clarke that I needed more time. He said, don’t worry. You can have another two weeks. We’ll talk when you come back. I said, I won’t forget that and I haven’t. We all help each other at NCT.

“I enjoy carrying my passengers and although I was off for so many weeks, I was missed. They asked me where I’d been so I had to explain that my dad had not been well. Three years on they still ask after him, which is nice. After the operation he came to UK for a month, then went back to India. He and mum are OK.

“If I’ve not seen one of my regular passengers for a few days, I do the same – try and find out how they are. One lady had an operation and when she started travelling on my bus again, she said that her friend had told her that I’d been asking about her. There are so many elderly people on my route. They want to speak to me and I’m happy to give them time.

“When you see people who live by themselves, it’s very hard for them. We don’t know what they’re going through. Sometimes they don’t want to leave their homes and worry how they’re going to get to and from town. For me, helping them is just doing my small job. What the company is paying me to do.

“Understanding how people feel is so important. Sometimes they’re mentally set up differently so we need to understand that. We can’t say they’re not part of our society. We have to give more value to them. We get a lot of issues around that on the buses these days. We should look after people like that more.

“I remember on one occasion there was a girl crying on my bus so I stopped and asked if she needed any assistance. There is so much pain in this world. If we can give a little bit, it makes such a difference. We’re all the same. We’re human first.

“A driving rota has early, middle and late turns. I like to do earlies and then lates because it means I can pick up my children from school. I have two boys, Shubham who’s 13 and Soham who is seven. The first shift starts at 0434hrs and I’m able to walk to Lower Parliament Street from home. Taking exercise is always good. I love running and I have a small gym at home.

“There are gas buses running on my route now. They’re nice vehicles – comfortable to drive and the brakes are smooth. It means we can give a better service to our passengers and it show hows the company is earning and spending to help them and its drivers. That’s how we build NCT.”

International recognition
“When I won NCT Driver Of The Year for 2018 many of my passengers said they knew I would be the one. There was a winner from each season in the year who competed for the title and I luckily won it. On my journey, and from where I came from, it was a massive achievement.

“I knew I’d been put up for the UK Bus Awards because I helped put together the portfolio for the judges. I’d had many letters of commendation from passengers. A mystery traveller check was carried out on my bus, my record was checked and I was asked how I felt at interview. Then I was shortlisted. After being NCT’s Driver Of The Year, securing the UK Bus Awards Gold Award was an even bigger boost, not just for me, but my village as well. It was international news.

Jatinder Kumar has been on the Lilac Carlton routes driver rota for more than a decade. ANDY IZATT

“A reporter had actually gone to my village the day before the awards ceremony and wanted to interview my parents. They rang me and said, you didn’t tell us you’d won it. I asked the reporter for proof, but he didn’t send it. I sent a text to Anthony Carver-Smith (NCT Marketing Manager) who was as surprised as I was. The reporter and his team started making a video in my village. They wanted to film the small house where I was born and brought up. I said to my parents, tell them to stop in case I haven’t won, but they were confident.

“Next day my parents, cousins, everyone in the village were waiting for the news. They kept texting me, but I said wait. I will let you know. I was so nervous, but my colleagues were with me. When they announced my name they were jumping up and shouting. I will never forget that moment. It was fantastic. One of the best things that has ever happened to me.

“I told my parents now I’ve won it, yes you can make a video and it has been on so many channels in India. One of our relatives living in Dubai found the news in a paper there. They announced it in Nottingham on the radio and it was displayed on the real-time displays at bus stops the next day.

“Some of my passengers heard the news through social media. Others heard about it from the radio. Some of them didn’t know my name, but they said they knew it was me when they get on my bus. The respect I’ve been shown means so much to me. Thanks go to the company and to my public for all they’ve done. It has not been an easy journey for me and I’m so happy.

“At the moment I’m content with what I’m doing, but I will go for progression. Life is about having a challenge. Sit back and you become old. If an old person is still taking on challenges, he or she is not old at all because they’re still fighting – still living their life.

“People tell me I’m still the same person. Why should I change now? As I’ve said, I believe in helping others. Someone helps me, I’ll help them. I believe if you’re doing good today, if you need help someone will come along and give it to you. You’ll never be stuck. It might take more time, but you’ll always get through somehow.

“When I started with NCT I needed some help with my English and the company sent me to college for two years. It has done so much for me. The way our company works it’s all about team work. Everyone works hard and it paid off winning all these awards at the UK Bus Awards. We’re the UK’s top bus company. What else could we want?”