Even the darkest cloud, it is said, has a silver lining. And because most oft-quoted cliches are rooted in reality, myriad acts of kindness, be it home-cooked meals for the ill or arranging an oxygen cylinder, are shining through India’s gravest health emergency.
As India reports upwards of 3.5 lakh fresh Covid cases a day, people infected and isolated find that succour is close at hand sometimes neighbours and other times a faceless name on social media reaching out to help in any which way. Just so they can, without any motive in mind.
From people offering to run errands and home kitchens delivering meals to organisations and individuals stepping in to supply oxygen cylinders, oximeters and the like, the goodness runs like an undercurrent through the tragic times.
And so, realising that entire families are in quarantine in many homes in her city and there is no one to cook nourishing meals for them, Chennai’s Rama Parthasarathy opened up her kitchen on April 14, Tamil New Year Day. The 61-year-old dishes out healthy preparations all vegetarian and sends the food through portals like Dunzo or Porter for a nominal fee.
The inspiration for Rama’s Kitchen, she said, came when her son Aravindh’s friend asked if she could food to the home quarantined as they are not in a position to cook at home.
The story is replicated in umpteen localities across the length and breadth of the country from Chennai to Chandigarh. Lists of home kitchens and thali meals, sometimes at a nominal price and other times free, have been circulating on WhatsApp groups, Twitter and other social media platforms.
Community kitchens have opened up in gated communities. In many places, including Mumbai and Gurgaon, neighbours have set up a roster system to ensure that all quarantined families in their complexes are provided food.
Help comes in many shapes and sizes. Gopi’s e-rickshaw in Lucknow is one of them. With cases rising in the Uttar Pradesh capital, the 45-year-old hasn’t been getting much business but is busy helping those in Shivaji Nagar locality. He gets milk, newspapers and vegetables for those who can’t move out from their homes, and often medicines and even X-Ray reports and the like.
Raja and Shakeel, who run a cycle shop in Lucknow, are also doing their bit, helping people in Sarojinidevi Dharamshala lane with their daily errands. Sometimes, they also go to the nearest post office and banks either to withdraw or deposit money or update the passbook of residents in their area.
They have a kindred spirit in Noida-based activist Kiran Verma who earlier this month posted on Twitter and Facebook that he owned “a humble Maruti Suzuki Esteem in good condition and completely sanitised”.
“If any person, (willing to #DonateBlood or plasma) is finding it difficult to travel around NCR for blood donation. OR don’t have access to good food, I promise to drop you safe (with a smiling face) at a blood bank or provide food at your doorstep,” said the founder of blood donation initiative ‘Simply Blood’.
“The motivation is simply that these are very difficult times and I just wanted to encourage more people to come forward and show that we all are together in this tough time,” he told PTI earlier this month.
Several people are working through their organizations.
In Hyderabad, Azhar Maqsusi, who formed the Sani Welfare Association in 2012, arranges for cooked food to the poor as well as rations and medicines for them.
“The food distribution is continuing daily and is being distributed to 1,000 people. We are also arranging for medicines for those who cannot afford them,” Maqsusi told PTI.
Given the rising number of COVID-19 cases, he has also started the ‘Wall of Face Mask’ at the Dabeerpura flyover to provide free face masks to the people.
And in Chandigarh, H S Sabharwal, a trustee of the Guru Ka Langar Eye hospital, said home quarantined corona patients are being given oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentration machines and oximeters free of charge.
We wanted to serve people who are in need of help during COVID-19 pandemic, said Sabharwal.
Hundreds of miles away, in Kolkata, mountaineer Satyarup Siddhanta and climber and model Madhabilata Mitra are among those who have been working to help COVID-19 patients in West Bengal.
Their Covid Care Network has over 400 members, including several doctors, across the state. The helpline number (1800-889-1819) raises awareness about the disease, counsels people and gives information on how and where to get admitted if the need arises.
Besides, Siddhantha and his colleagues also operate an ambulance, with aid from the state government, to ferry patients from home to hospitals.
We have been doing this since last June and there has been a massive response. And now with this surge, there are at least 40-50 calls daily,” Siddhantha told PTI.
The Rajasthani Health Foundation in Chennai is similarly helping with a dedicated team of doctors and nurses at a quarantine facility.
The facility, for those who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms without comorbidities, is meant mostly for economically weaker sections in one-room homes. Food, medicines, oximeters, masks and sanitisers are part of the deal.
“We get about 500 calls per day now on an average. Where are the facilities for so many,” asked Jagadish Prasad Sharma, chairperson of the Foundation.
In Rajasthan, the Narayan Seva Sansthan in Udaipur is among the NGOs working to help people with masks and food.
The NSS Mitra task force’ will be at the forefront in case of any crisis or calamity, said Prashant Agarwal, president of the NGO.
The outreach, sometimes from random strangers, is of huge help. Ask Atreyee Das, a fashion designer by profession, who lives alone in Gurgaon.
After I tested positive for COVID-19, I was feeling really helpless and scared, being away from home and living alone. At one point, my oxygen saturation level dropped to 94-95, which frightened me and forced e to think of consulting a doctor, said Das, who hails from Kolkata.
I reached out to a friend who asked for help on Twitter. Several people, including doctors, responded. Finally, I was able to speak to a doctor from Lucknow, Dr Saurabh Kumar Singh. Even though I am an absolute stranger, Dr Singh helped me in every possible way by prescribing medicines, diet and informing me of the Dos and Don’ts for a COVID patient, she said.
Good samaritans all, whether working in their individual capacities or through their organisations. As COVID continues its relentless march, they are also India’s Covid heroes.
On Wednesday, India saw a record single-day rise of 3,60,960 coronavirus cases, which pushed the total tally to 1,79,97,267 (17.9 million/1.79 crores), while the death toll crossed two lakh following 3,293 fresh fatalities, according to Union health ministry data.