The gravity of the situation was made known to me through my mentor, who called me up and told me that there were some doctors nearby who needed food. These doctors, who had worked tirelessly in hospitals overflowing with coronavirus victims were unable to avail dinner by the time they got to their residential complex. All restaurants nearby were shut. Their unfortunate situation moved me and I cooked for them. I thought, ‘If the doctors, who are working so hard to save our country are hungry, then what about the poor?’ The surrounding slums flashed in my mind. I grit my teeth and resolved to do something for them.
As I grew up in the Shyam Nagar slums of Bhopal, I couldn’t help but notice the deprivation in the slums around me. I used to observe the simple ways of the people who lived there, working hard despite all the odds stacked against them. When the lockdown was imposed, thousands of individuals living in these slums were affected as many of them did not anticipate this coming, did not have adequate stock of food and had no daily wages to buy them either. Children were crying in hunger, their mothers unable to console them with false hopes when they gave up their share of food each passing day.
One of those days of lockdown, I was walking through the empty streets of my neighbourhood to buy rations when I saw a huge crowd thronging outside a religious place. Horrified by that sight, I realized how easy it would be for the coronavirus to spread through such a crowd. These people were begging for morsels of food, trying to jostle their way to the front, their hands outstretched towards the volunteers of various organizations who provided them with small packages. I immediately went to my office and said to my team, “Contact every charity organization which is donating at places of worship presently and tell them to deposit their food donations in our office. We will take upon the duty of distributing it.”
I made a team and we started distributing food to those who couldn’t afford it twice a day. During the morning, we distribute food collected from various donations, especially the generous offerings of a Gurudwara. In the evening, we sit down and make food ourselves to give it to people. Usually, we store enough rations for at least two days in advance. Volunteers serve the food in our kiosk while making sure everyone follows social distancing. There has been a lot of progress as to how we approached the matter; earlier, we used to just give raw rations, then we started to provide cooked food. Now, we also distribute immunity medicines from AYUSH centres amongst the people to strengthen their bodies.
My schedule is pretty packed because of continuous activity and honestly, sometimes it is exhausting, taking its toll on my physical health. My mother is reluctant about me doing my work at times, understandably scared for my safety. This leads to a tiny bit of arguments, but in the end, I somehow manage to convince her. Even she knows what I am doing is for a cause beyond myself. She is, in fact, happy and proud that I’m doing this. It’s just a mother’s concern for her child that sometimes wins over her and she tries to convince me otherwise.
My team eats only after everyone else has been fed. It occurs to me that none of us could gulp down a piece when people outside have slept empty stomachs. This is the time to take care of our community which has shaped our lives and upbringing. When I look around and see full stomachs and satisfied smiles, it gives me hope. If we fight against the virus together, the victory, like the food, will be all ours to share.
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Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
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