Like the tell-tale signs of the bubonic plague, every pestilence brings out the pustules of society—self-preservation is the overriding concern, siege mentality spawns selfishness that manifests itself in cruel rejections as the grim reaper increases his deadly business. Yet, when rampaging insecurity makes people lock themselves down both in body and spirit, turning away from defenceless sufferers, there are individuals who come forward in love and compassion, with a pledge to serve humanity with gestures tall and tiny. Parallel to the recoiling, unfeeling masses, theirs is a compact that runs through history and is renewed with every generation.
That unchanged rule was manifest in this national crisis of ours too: as prejudice, superstition, neglect, racism and callousness—and, lest we divagate too much, the coronavirus itself too--heaped misery on so many, these men and women exerted themselves and stepped out in the air that smelt clean but was tainted by a lurking threat. Their empathy became a natural extension of the countrywide lockdown.
With food security being the first casualty of a mass loss of livelihood, many made sure that cooked meals or ready-to-cook grains reached the deprived. Bedraggled streams of migrant workers, stranded labourers in building projects, truck drivers stuck on highways and policemen on their feet for hours were all served by this spontaneous, often inchoate, community of do-gooders--school students and housewives dipped into their reserves, factories opened up their canteens, five star hotels sent food from their kitchens for the corona warriors bearing the severest brunt of it all. Then, in a class by itself, were the needs of the aged, the infirm or the ill, bereft of support and left to fend for themselves.
Animals, who survive on the streets have, of course, their friends. “While I stocked up on food for my two dogs, I could not bear it when a dozen others on the street outside my home were going hungry. So I stepped out twice a day with dog food so that they got something to eat,” says Jaishree Chandramouli, who lives in a highrise on Chennai’s IT corridor. Across cities, volunteers fanned out to feed hungry dogs, cats and cattle. India loves it strays.
A former medical representative who used his car to ferry dialysis patients in the absence of cabs and paid ambulances gave the lie to the assumption that only doctors and health workers took care of the sick. A Srinagar resident offered his hotel as a quarantine centre when other hoteliers resisted the idea. The examples are many. In the following pages, we doff our hat to a few—self-effacing shunners of publicity, Outlook had to coax them into clicking their own photos--in honour of every kindred soul out there.