Doing Their Bit: The Extraordinary Men and Women of These Extraordinary Times

From cooking to ensure migrant labourers are fed to working round the clock to bust WhatsApp myths, here is how Indians responded to this extraordinary crisis.

Chennai: We are living through extraordinary times. Amidst news of hoarding and misery, those of self-driven volunteers who have cut across barriers all over the country have emerged.

Here are some of the people who have acted on the principle that a small act goes a long way.

Food warriors

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.
– Mahatma Gandhi

When Dr Raman Kishor, Junior Resident of Community Medicine at AIIMS, Patna, heard the news of migrant labourers stuck due to the lockdown, he convinced his hostel mess cooks to prepare vegetable biryani for 200 persons and travelled 10 kms to the Patna Railway Station to feed them.

“Being a doctor doesn’t confine me to cure people with just medicines but render timely service when required.”

Dr Raman Kishor, AIIMS, Patna, Bihar serves vegetable biryani to migrant workers and their families.

Priya Amit Batra, an online women’s apparel entrepreneur, has been packaging aloo, poori and pickle on a daily basis since Mahashtami, the 8th day of the Durga Puja celebrations.

“These feed at least 15 migrant workers walking towards their homes on the Jaipur National Highway. My neighbour drops them to the needy. I am privileged as I have a house and I want to give people the strength they need to reach their homes,” she says.

Priya Amit Batra has been sending packets of foods for migrant workers struck in the National Highway in Jaipur.

Rakesh Arya is a final year nursing student at the Metro College of Health Sciences and Research, at Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh. The first thing Rakesh did after his college shut due to the lockdown was to identify the deprived in the community and plan a menu for them, along with his neighbour Sunder Lal Gupta. With 20 of his friends, he started delivering food packets in their neighbourhood of Anand Parbat. 

“We have managed to feed 3,000 persons so far. We can’t afford cooks so we compensate for the taste with love,” says Rakesh. 

Harinder Gujral, an active member in the gurudwara community service has been helping the local madrasa at Tilak Nagar, New Delhi with a donation of Rs. 2,000 per month since last year. He is in regular touch with the maulvi who intimates him if anything else is needed for students in the madrasa.

“I believe that in times of crisis, religion should play the unifying factor. I have kept Rs 1 lakh aside, which is being used for feeding daily wagers and their families,” says Harinder who works in a multinational e-commerce company.

Harinder Gujral has been taking care of kids from the madrasa at Tilak Nagar, New Delhi.

Nimmi Mahaldar, a homemaker and resident of Bholi Nagar, Masjid Moth, has been religiously preparing food with the help of friends for 200 poor family members of patients waiting outside AIIMS, Delhi. “I send food packets along with hot tea and bread pakodas in the evening as food shouldn’t be a cause of additional worry to them,” she adds.

Twenty-seven-year-old Pranjali Gupta, a deputy manager at an Indian conglomerate, has stocked a monthly supply of biscuits and bananas for the police personnel on duty at Laxmi Nagar. “I am just repaying those who are running the city tirelessly,” she says.

 Meanwhile in Chandannagar of West Bengal’s Hooghly district, Sampad Mondal and his friend Amit Ghoshal provide a balanced diet by including Vitamin B-complex and Vitamin C supplements along with grocery essentials for 60 families of daily wage earners. To each family, Sampad gives a relief box in memory of his dear friend Debratha Mukherjee who was generous towards the needy.

“We give 3 kgs of potato, 5 kgs of rice, 1 litre of cooking oil, 2 kgs of wheat flour, 50 grams tea leaves, half kg each of moong dal, masoor dal and 2 packs of biscuits, 1 kg of sugar and one big soap per family,” says Sampad, a sales-marketing professional.

Also read: In Madhya Pradesh, Ordinary People Emerge Heroes Amidst Lockdown

His brother Dr Gautam Kumar insists on a nutritional diet given by well-protected volunteers. “A person needs at least 2,000 calories at the very minimum and the above essential supply will suffice for a family of four on an average.”

Sampad Mondal from West Bengal distributes boxes of dry food essentials to daily wage earners.

Village vigilantes from J&K

Irshad Ahmad Dar (29) and Riyaz Bhat (38) are the COVID-19 “vigilantes” of Patel Bagh village at Pampore block in Jammu and Kashmir. They have personally disinfected all the streets and also pasted awareness posters of the novel coronavirus on the walls of houses.

Irshad, the father of a toddler and who is expecting a second child, owns a fertiliser shop and Riyaz, the father of two school going kids, runs a saffron and dry fruits business. 

They screen newcomers to the village and ensure effective home-quarantine by delivering essential supplies at their doorstep.

“The village has around 40 families which include physically challenged, safai karamcharis and migrant labourers from mountainous regions. We distribute essential supplies to them and work closely with the health authorities in every aspect. Our lives are now interlinked more than ever and only if we help each other we will come out of it together,” says Irshad.

Irshad Ahmad Dar disinfects his village in Jammu and Kashmir.

Calling out faking news

In India, fake WhatsApp forwards keep circulating on groups till they become viral. A recent one is:

“Coronaviruses don’t survive in hot temperatures, as per research by NASA. If 130 crore people light candles together, the temperature will increase by 9 degrees as per IIT professor. So, Corona will die at 9:09 PM on Sunday.” 

Dhivya Marunthiah from Chennai, Tamil Nadu busts fake news.

Dhivya Marunthiah, a civil engineer from Chennai, Tamil Nadu busts such fake messages.

“I have seen that misinformation spreads faster than the virus. I am constantly on the lookout. When I spot them, I immediately point it out on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. People forward messages without checking their authenticity. Wrong information can cause havoc.”

Dhivya is one of the founders of ‘The New Face of Society’, a Facebook community previously called Tamil Nadu Flood Support, with 75,000 members from all over the world.

On the speed-dial of the old and isolated

Ramya Nirmal, a resident of Besant Nagar, Chennai received a Whatsapp message that a 84-year-old man and his 76-year-old wife needed home cooked food as their caterer had failed to turn up due to the lockdown. The wife had just recovered from a major heart operation and had to take care of another bedridden family member.

“The very next day I delivered their breakfast, lunch and dinner promptly on time for the whole week till they got alternate arrangements made,” says the data analytics professional and mother of two small kids.

In Bengaluru, cyclist Tasneem Topiwala, an architect and a mother of two, is highly active on online forums and if any elderly needs any help she is ready to cycle all the way to their home. “There are many old people whose online orders are failing or taking too long to deliver. I am just a ride away for them.”


Tasneem Topiwala from Bangalore cycles down to help the elderly in Bangalore.

The Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) has set up a direct helpline for many elderly Parsis who are staying alone in Mumbai. “Most of them are either unmarried or their children stay abroad. Our helpline connects them with volunteers who help with food supplies, groceries, adult diapers or any service required,” says Jimmy Merchant from BPP.

Being the Zen in times of coronavirus

Dr Milu Maria (42), is mother of three kids and a clinical psychologist. She is also assistant professor at the Prajyoti Niketan College, Thrissur district, Kerala. Dr Milu sees a mental health epidemic in this pandemic.

“This lockdown has resulted in heightened levels of panic and concern among everyone. Restricted by mobility, young and old are facing a mental storm. Serious cases involve people who are undergoing medication for mental health issues like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, whose situation is worsening and their family members are unable to handle them. I take calls 24×7. In this commotion, they need someone to address the distress in their body and mind alike. They need an unconditional support system,” she says.

Dr Milu Maria, a clinical psychologist holds the emotional leverage of many in Kerala with her counselling.

Dona Thomas, a clinical psychologist and Catholic nun from Kottayam narrates the case of a young man who was sleep deprived for three days, after reading COVID-19 news.

“There are students who are worried about their postponed exams, single mothers with hyperactive kids, couples separated and anxious about their partners in the Gulf and many whose wedding have got postponed and people who are constantly confused whether they are COVID-19 infected or not, I am their emotional leverage, consoling them,” says Dona.

Love beyond the lockdown 

Immediately after the lockdown, many stray animals were starving as shops were shut and people were locked in. The Assam Police took the situation in their hands.

“Our security unit in the police functionary is relatively free now as there are fewer VIP movements. So we deployed some police from the 200 member team to feed stray dogs, cattle and monkeys. We feed them twice a day, with the help of NGOs and locals. As I have two dogs at home, I am empathetic towards this cause,” says Imdadul Hussain Bora, DIG (Security), Assam Police. Bora is the nodal officer behind this.

The Assam Police has been regularly feeding cattle, dogs and other stray animals post lockdown.

Simi Jose, a 29-year-old resident of Gole Market, New Delhi has been feeding five newborn puppies and their mother who wait right outside her main door. “These puppies were born on March 16. Lockdown or not, me and the residents of this block continue to take care of them, and why not? I cook a wholesome meal for them and my pet cat Melanie. I am very particular about the well-being of all the strays in my colony,” says Simi.

Mayuri Jain, a Pune based entrepreneur has come up with a pan-Indian open online directory for animal volunteers www.animalvolunteersofindia.in that helps people get in touch with them in any emergency. “I am also planning to launch an app that tracks animals and volunteers in real-time and keeps everyone in the loop.” 

Simi Jose from New Delhi has been taking care of all the strays in her locality including five new born puppies.

Pocket savings

 Prasansha Kharel (16) had donated Rs 5,150 from her pocket money savings to the Sikkim Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for COVID-19 on April 2. Her parents Jeevan and Nina Kharel were surprised but very proud when she offered to donate. 

“I have always been thrifty with my pocket money of Rs 200 per month. I prefer going to the library instead of buying books as I wanted a camera for myself when I had saved enough, but now I think it is more important to save people,” says Prasansha.

Prasansha Kharel from Sikkim donated Rs.5,150 from her pocket money to the CM Relief Fund.

Nalini Ravichandran is an independent journalist who has worked with The New Indian Express and Mail Today and reported extensively on health, education, child rights, environment and socio-economic issues of the marginalised. She is an alumna of the Asian College of Journalism.