Empathy with daily wagers and needy families motivated Rajesh Nandi, an enthusiastic social worker, to launch a personal initiative that helped gather and donate 1000 kg of rations around South Delhi, since the lockdown started in late March. 

On a recent Sunday afternoon, as the sun beat down, instead of relaxing, Rajesh Nandi headed out of his home in South Delhi, to hand over mango drinks, chips and biscuits to children in slums and on the roadside. After weeks of distributing dry rations and cooked food, these little treats generously given to him by a colleague made for a pleasant change, for the low-income communities where he has been working. “I think children were the most ignored during the lockdown because we have been battling to fulfil just the basic daily needs of families, struggling without incomes,” says Nandi.

Since the lockdown began, this 30-year-old IT professional has spent all his spare time gathering both cooked food and dry rations from friends and their families, to reach those in slums or on roadsides. “All the donations are in kind,” says the unassuming young man who came to work in Delhi over a decade ago.

The calling to lend a helping hand to people less fortunate is not new to Nandi. Three years ago, he joined as a volunteer with the Robin Hood Army that gathers surplus food from restaurants and others, to hand out to the underprivileged people on weekends.  

During the lockdown, as the eateries shut, he launched a personal initiative with the help of about 15 friends. It gathered momentum rapidly, as generous neighbors and communities pitched in, to go the extra mile and provide what was needed to alleviate the massive distress the pandemic brought to many. He does not restrict his efforts to weekends, but works whenever he gets the time, on weekdays as well.

“I gave cooked food to those who live on the roadside or whoever asked for it – the rickshaw puller or construction workers,” he says. “If I came across two people, I would ask them where I would find others.” He never faced a problem getting sufficient food. “My friends ask their mothers to cook for a few extra people and they are always willing to do it. We pack it and distribute it.”

In recent weeks, his focus has moved towards providing dry ration such as flour, rice, masalas, sugar, tea and soap. In keeping with the spontaneity of his effort, he does not prepare set kits. “We ask people what they require and give it accordingly. For example, if a family is running out of flour, we give them a bag of aata and if someone needs oil, we hand over that. They are very co-operative and never take more than they need.” So far, he has distributed about 1000 kgs of dry rations.

Children hold a special place in Nandi’s heart. Besides food for the families, he has also been handing out masks and soap to young kids. “I give them two masks – one to wear and one to wash when it gets dirty. I also teach them how to wash their hands properly.”

Nandi is touched by the generosity that has made his effort such a success. As word about his work spread in the South Delhi area, the neighborhood grocery store started giving him a packet of biscuits worth INR 4 for INR 2. A shop from where he procured dry rations charges him lesser than the market price. “Everyone is ready to help when they get to know what we are doing.”  

At times he worries that his work could expose the family of the friend, who he stays with, to the highly infectious virus. So besides taking the usual precautions such as wearing a mask and gloves, he takes extra precautions by bathing in a washroom outside the house before entering.

What keeps Nandi going is a simple thought. “I put myself in the place of the people I help and think how I would feel if I ran out of food and had no money. What if I lost my job? After all, this can happen to any one of us.” That empathy with those facing a crisis became the catalyst of the spontaneous initiative that Nandi vows will carry on till the need lasts. “We collect smiles with our work,” he says happily.