These good Samaritans are encouraging volunteers and frontline workers in their endeavours, proving that kindness is indeed contagious
Stay away from doomscrolling, they say. But at a time when the battle against the coronavirus is being fought on social media and messaging apps — rallying volunteers, sharing resources, hunting down hospital beds and oxygen cylinders — it’s tough to stop that thumb from moving. And occasionally, you chance upon small glimmers of joy. Like a 12-year-old baking cookies under #BakeForIndia, to collect funds for Covid relief, or a philanthropist donning a PPE suit just to bring food to street dogs, or neighbours pitching in to make sure an isolating family gets to celebrate a birthday.
Delhi-based chef Eeshaan Kashyap, for instance, has been making frittatas, flat breads, and even a dhokla‘cake’ for friends who’ve not been able to cook their own meals. His most recent success story: a decadent banana bread with chocolate chunks for children whose parents have tested positive and were getting antsy by themselves. “Now a lot of people have got in touch, asking if I could bake for them. So I make something twice a week for them,” says Kashyap.
But who is celebrating these volunteers? As the second wave grows in intensity, people are stepping up with little gestures of kindness to acknowledge the tremendous work others are doing. From free brownies and haircuts for plasma donors to free therapy sessions, there’s plenty of goodwill out there. We highlight a few.
With inputs from Serish Nanisetti, Nidhi Adlakha and Aparna Narrain
BREAD, BROWNIES AND ART
Visha Suchde, Mumbai
Home baker | @vishasuchde
On April 26, Suchde put out a tweet and an Instagram post promising a loaf of sourdough bread to anyone in Mumbai who has/is donating money upwards of ₹5,000 for any Covid related effort. ‘I’m doing this for the next 15 breads that I’m baking,’ read the post, but so far the retail business owner has sent out more than the promised number, and has raised over ₹1 lakh in donations. “I am relatively new to baking but I know the joy one gets in receiving a fresh loaf of bread,” says Suchde, who’d started sending loaves to friends because “we are all collectively anxious and upset about what is going on”. The sentiment was, ‘If I can make someone smile by receiving something they didn’t expect, it would be worth my effort.’ But then as “the situation worsened and we started needing to chip in, in terms of resources, I turned my initiative into what it currently is”, she adds. Does she hope others will get inspired? “I think kindness is contagious. I’m just trying to spread that.”
Siddhesh Gautam | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
Siddhesh Gautam, New Delhi
Artist | @bakeryprasad
The 29-year-old Delhi-based artist tested positive for Covid-19 a couple of weeks ago. Though on the mend now, the “scary days” when he received little help from the health facility in his home town, Bijnor (in western Uttar Pradesh), is a vivid memory. “But many people [family, friends and strangers] stepped up to help me through the tough times,” he says. “So I wanted to do something to show my appreciation, not just to them, but to everyone who is helping people in need.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Gautam posted that he’d share prints of two of his artworks — a piece depicting Babasaheb Ambedkar breaking a Nazi swastika, and one with Savitribai Phule, who gave her life during the bubonic plague while nursing patients — with anyone making a donation to a charity of his/her choice (except PM Cares Fund). Within an hour, he had received donation slips for ₹10,000. The NID graduate, who is part of the Dalit movement, will share A2 and A3-size prints, and will be adding to the art works he’s offering.
Fatema Kanchwala | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
Fatema Kanchwala, Hyderabad
Home baker | @SugarBlushed
As the online world buzzed with ‘oxygen cylinders’, ‘ventilators’ and ‘plasma’, Kanchwala sent out a tweet on April 25 asking plasma donors to get in touch for a “sweet treat in the form of a box of brownies”. At a time rife with plasma scamsters, she wanted to reward generosity. “I wished to help in my little capacity and connecting it with what I do [baking] was the easiest solution,” says the literature student who started Sugar Blushed during the first lockdown. “Once you donate plasma, just DM your address and the donation receipt, and we will deliver the brownies.” Till now, 39 donors have received brownies. “A few reached out directly, while others came via references from donees,” she says, adding that if, through this initiative, “even a single person is inspired to donate, I’d consider it a big win”.
Harsha Vadlamani | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
Harsha Vadlamani, Hyderabad
Photographer | @harshavadlamani
Vadlamani’s gritty photographs from the hinterlands of India to the country’s chaotic urban contrasts have graced the pages of newspapers and magazines around the world. As he documents the unfolding second wave of the pandemic, he thought he should do his bit for society. “I am offering a free postcard-sized print of my photographs to anyone donating more than ₹10,000 to any Covid-19 relief activity in India,” he shared, adding that the donations (from March onwards) could be to any private individual, voluntary group or registered charity, except the PM Cares Fund.
“The prints will be sent out in some time as people are still making the donations,” adds Vadlamani, who did a print sale during the migrant crisis last year, and was able to raise about ₹1.2 lakh.
Daniel Liao | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
HAIRCUTS AND MORE
Daniel Liao, Bengaluru
Co-founder, Pretty Dan Good | @danielliaopdg
“A good haircut can lift anyone’s spirits,” says Liao, a fourth generation Indian-Chinese and co-founder of Pretty Dan Good salon in Frazer Town. “I’ve so many friends who are stepping up. I’m sure they are afraid, just as I am, but they are still going out and helping those in need. It’s amazing,” So, rather than just applauding their efforts, he decided to offer them something tangible to encourage their work — free haircuts. What started off as a pledge for plasma donors has now extended to any donation of significance. “I already have a list of 12 people who’ve done some good work, and I don’t mind if that number goes up to even a thousand,” he says. You can refer good Samaritans to Liao too, and he will get in touch with them personally.
Priyanka Sahasrabudhe | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
Priyanka Sahasrabudhe, Bengaluru
Marketing head, Straight Studio | @straight.studio
“We have over 15,000 followers on Instagram and I came across many examples of people working selflessly to aid Covid patients — from home chefs making free meals to hospital staff to the police force. It is so inspiring,” says Sahasrabudhe. Today she and her company are reaching out to deserving volunteers and workers with offers of free hair cuts and hair treatments. “We just wanted to do our bit for these Covid warriors, and I hope this will encourage more people to do something similar.”
TECHIES PITCH IN
Kaushik Subramanian | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
Kaushik Subramanian, London
Senior executive with a Big Tech company | @theholykau
On April 23, London-based Subramanian tweeted that he would spend an hour with anyone who donates a “decent amount” to a Covid relief charity. In the last 10 days, he’s already spoken with 15 people, and has another 30 (and counting) lined up. “I think there is a level of immigrant guilt that I have,” says the Pune native, adding how “the feeling of helplessness prompted me to do something beyond just donating money”. So he is leveraging his time. “I don’t think people should need a nudge to donate when it comes to things like this, especially when you are more fortunate than others. But, at the same time, I think of this as the final catalyst.”
The donations have been quite generous, between ₹50,000 and ₹1 lakh and more. “Most of the donors are from the tech space, and so far we’ve discussed everything from career advice to start-ups [how to build a company that scales, etc].” Acknowledging the collective fatigue that is setting in, he says, “We owe a debt to the people who have stepped up and though what I’m doing is miniscule in comparison, I hope it inspires others to give whatever they can — money, time, tweets.”
Carl Savio | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
Carl Savio, Bengaluru
Founder, CCO of BlueBot Digital | @colourtrippin
“Right now, a lot of businesses are going to go through an insecurity phase. We saw it happen last year, and this year, while people are slightly more prepared, things will still be shaky,” says Savio, who identifies as a writer, filmmaker, technologist and foodie — explaining why he decided to offer an hour of his time to anyone who donates ₹15,000 and above, to discuss market positioning, brand strategy and the like. Since his tweet on May 2, a few start-ups have reached out with their donation slips. But what’s more heartening is that others from the industry, like a senior PR executive, have also contacted him, offering to donate their time. “If someone like me [a branding and advertising specialist], a CTO, a PR honcho, etc, can offer their time, it will become a nice ecosystem that people can tap into.”
Aviva Bhansali and Anushka Kelkar | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
Aviva Bhansali and Anushka Kelkar, Mumbai
Entrepreneurs | @therapize.india
Therapize India, started last May, connects people with credible mental health professionals (they have around 80 professionals across geographies, budgets, languages and specialisations). “Now, with the second wave upon us, we are going through a healthcare crisis,” says Bhansali, pointing out that it’s not just patients who are grappling with mental health challenges, but the volunteers too. So they’ve launched two initiatives, keeping affordability in mind. “We’ve started support circles [₹250 for four one-hour sessions a month] led by a therapist, where people can come together and talk about how they are feeling, learn from each others’ coping mechanisms, and draw comfort from knowing that they are not alone.” They also have 200 slots of free therapy available all through the month of May. “We roll out new sessions every Monday, at 3 pm, and people can sign up on the link in our bio,” she says. Last week’s lots were filled within 15 minutes! “These are for people who are in an SOS situation, when they need a quick session.”
Anna Chandy | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
Anna Chandy, Bengaluru
Social psychologist | @counselloranna
“While we were impacted by the lockdown last year, this year, the devastation is so severe that every single one of us is suffering from collective trauma, grief and anxiety,” says Chandy, founder of Anna Chandy & Associates. Needless to say, frontline volunteers are the hardest hit. “They are impacted further because they are actively present in these real-life situations. They are watching people die in front of them, and some are suffering from survivor’s guilt.” Chandy is working with Whitefield Rising, a citizens’ movement, and Mercy Mission, a coalition of nonprofits, to provide free support to them. Meanwhile, in Rajapalayam, Tamil Nadu, a group they had trained last December, are supporting frontline workers under a project called Atmaprasara. “This is all being done online, and, on an average, one person counsels four to five a day.”
Nisha Abdulla and Shalini Rao | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
Nisha Abdulla and Shalini Rao, Bengaluru
Deep Listening Circle
Educator Abdulla and therapist Rao launched Deep Listening Circle, a free space to share stories and experiences,on April 30. “With the ferocity of the second wave, there is a renewed sense of uncertainty and fear. We felt the need for a space where our current reality can be acknowledged and [participants can] know that there are others going through the same thing,” says Abdulla, adding that the meeting happens every Friday at 6 pm on Zoom. While the circle is open to everyone, the duo acknowledges that volunteers are the ones facing a lot of specific fatigue related to the on-ground situation. “A lot of people speak about the grief of not being able to provide oxygen in time or get a bed. These are things that stay with them; there is often guilt too.” To register, email [email protected] gmail.com or shaliniraao3 @gmail.com
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