The lockdown has tested life skills and thrown up challenges, but is not without some enduring takeaways. The most heartening are the spontaneous efforts by individuals and groups to rush to the aid of those in need.
During the daily commute to work throughout the lockdown, we noticed policemen who were not just proactive, but humane to the hilt. Some of them served food to the needy, others fed street dogs, some even took to singing on the streets, invoking Pete Seeger and Anjan Dutt. Under a blistering sun, they went beyond their call of duty admirably, although they were quite merciless with errant drivers, making them do sit-ups on the road if not wielding lathis on them.
Along our route, we saw hand sanitizers being sold at Gate 4 of Jadavpur University (made by students of the science faculty under the supervision of teachers). The students even opened a community kitchen to feed at least 200 people daily, most of them jobless during the ongoing nationwide lockdown. One student said this initiative had been launched with the support of teaching and non-teaching staff and the authorities of the university. The kitchen is located in a corner of the sprawling campus and it costs “around Rs 2,000 for us to prepare khichdi and another
Rs 2,500 for making hand sanitizers,” he added. We heard that other colleges like Lady Brabourne had also made sanitizers that had vanished from retail outlets from the early days of the lockdown and are still classified as “rare commodity”.
The Presidency University Students’ Union has also come forward to raise funds for the poor. While the JU students took to crowdfunding (crowds in the time of corona?) for their mission, students of Presidency requested faculty members, researchers and non-teaching staff to donate money for helping vendors as well as their canteen, security and cleaning staff and those severely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. Several other groups (bankers, religious organizations) and individuals, including schoolchildren, pitched in.
With every passing day, we noticed longer queues at drugstores, especially because depleting stocks are not being replenished. To help the elderly in the city get their medicines and essential provisions, a non-profit group was formed by professionals, appropriately termed Let’s Help. I got to see this aspect of philanthropy from close quarters because a young colleague is one of their volunteers. Every morning she cycles to the nearest market to buy medicines, vegetables, groceries and masks and pedals her way around the neighbourhood, reaching them to the old and infirm. She wears many hats for her beneficiaries; as a ‘dog carer’ for Wagamuffins, she feeds the strays everyday with home-cooked egg-and-rice meals and cookies.
On March 31, once the Bengal government allowed sweet shops to open, we witnessed another spectacle en route that made us chuckle. Mishti is an intrinsic part of the Bengali gene and we spotted a queue of delivery boys patiently waiting outside these shops to pick up their orders. Homebound and possibly craving the unattainable, sweets must appear as the panacea! And while domestic help may have vanished, the sense of self-reliance is a bonus!
Midway into the lockdown, a video of a deer gambolling on the pristine Chandrabhaga beach in Konark began trending. It certainly made us more appreciative of our environment: did the sky indeed look azure, not the usual grey? As we zoom past the Calcutta Maidan now, the trees seem to revel in a sylvan springtime sonata. From the incessantly cooing koel, to woodpeckers, kingfishers, pigeons, mynahs, hummingbirds, sparrows, the ubiquitous crow and even eagles, the City of Joy is revelling in its bouquet of feathered blessings. Whatever be the new normal in store, there is room for thanksgiving. Let’s make every moment count.
This article was originally published in The Telegraph India April 14th 2020