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Home, but not alone

Youth organisations and sensitive neighbours are rushing to the aid of senior citizens, left stranded in the face of the lockdown.

Aakash Shah’s initiative for seniors in Pune.

Sunder Hingorani, 79, resident of a co-operative housing society in Bandra, had little inkling of the challenges that lay ahead after undergoing a knee-replacement surgery last month. Hingorani, whose daughter is settled in the US and son works in Australia, was advised by doctors not to step out of his house to avoid any serious injury to his knees permanently. With his cook and cleaner not turning up at his doorstep since Sunday after the Prime Minister announced the Janata Curfew, followed by a lockdown, he is among the many elderly living alone, now left on their own to face the lockdown. He possesses no cooking skills (his wife passed away five years ago), and with the neighbouring food outlets not being allowed to deliver, getting his daily meals has been a struggle for him for the past few days.

Sakshi Kapoor delivering meals in Delhi.

He called Vishal Mirpuri, a volunteer at the Mumbai-based group Round Table India, to bring him home-cooked food every day, and serving others like him with essential groceries and medicines, without any delivery charges, in Bandra (West). Mirpuri’s name and number appears in WhatsApp forwards along with the names of 12 other volunteers, assigned area-wise in places like Vile Parle and Santa Cruz. These forwards have turned into a lifeline of sorts for many stranded senior citizens, whose children live in different cities or are settled abroad. “If Vishal had not come to my help, I cannot imagine my condition. I would have been starving. If my daughter hadn’t informed me about the helpline, I wouldn’t have got to know about this,” says Hingorani, a former Air India employee who worked at the Mumbai airport for 39 years.

Now receiving a hundred calls every day, for help Mirpuri says, “I can’t even recall the number of times old people have said ‘god bless you’ to me in the past few days.”

Lavanya Tagra and her mother cooking for the elderly in Gurgaon.

Gurgaon-based homemaker Lavanya Tagra, 37, residing at Vatika City apartments, Sector 49, is supporting senior citizens in the neighbouring apartments. Each day since the lockdown, she has been dropping dalia, poha, roti, vegetable curry and dal at their doorstep, free of cost, keeping social distancing in mind. After posting about her initiative on the Gurgaon Network page of Facebook, comprising over 50,000 members, she has been serving 20 families on a daily basis with the help of her mother. Tagra says, “I cook elderly-friendly food, that’s softer on the gums.” Volunteers wishing to cater to other seniors in other parts of Gurgaon often come with their requests and pick her home-cooked meals. Tagra hopes more people embark on similar initiatives in their localities.

After receiving calls from her panic-stricken school friends settled in the US and the UK to help their parents stock up groceries for a month, Mahita Nagaraj from Bengaluru took up the cause. She has been helping the senior population — including the bedridden and the specially-abled — through her Facebook page Caremongers India. The digital marketing professional spearheads its operation in all states through the page that has over 10,000 members, most of them volunteers. “We came up with a pan-India helpline number after realising people don’t want to ask for help publicly,” says Nagaraj, 38. Distress messages from people like Annu Durga, currently stuck in Mumbai, explain how the two helps looking after her mother — a wheelchair-bound dementia patient — have been stopped from coming to work by cops. Volunteers can join the group, find out those in need in their neighbourhood, and help out by delivering medicines or groceries.

In Delhi, Sakshi Kapoor, President of the NGO Save Girl and Senior Citizens Organisation, is helping the elderly in Vasant Kunj. Along with her husband, she dishes out home-cooked lunch and dinner for senior citizens in the C1, C2 and C3 apartments for Rs 80 and Rs 70 respectively on a no-profit-no-loss model. Kapoor says she came up with the initiative after seeing an elderly citizen in the flat above hers struggle for food as the cook did not turn up. Speaking about the 18 orders she delivered last Tuesday, Kapoor says, “I wear gloves and a mask so that I don’t touch anything and the food is not contaminated. We are also not taking cash but charging only through Paytm or weekly and monthly payments.” She ensures that the food she cooks is made using less spices (masalas) and oil, so that the elderly face no digestion problems.
Eighty four-year-old Naresh Chandra Jain is one of Kapoor’s patrons, living in C1 apartments. He chooses not to have food from restaurants for a reason: “I have digestion problems. One can’t say how the food is there and hence I don’t prefer it. My daughter living nearby suggested Sakshi to me after getting to know about her initiative.”

Aakash Shah, 24, is reaching out to those in Pune aged 70 and above, through his youth organisation Action for Pune Development, through Twitter and Facebook. A resident of Adinath Society on Pune-Satara Road, Shah and his team of 60 volunteers have received calls from 350 senior citizens in the last five days, and requests from their respective children residing in other cities are pouring in.

Acknowledging that senior citizens are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and advised to stay at home, Shah says, “Pune has a lot of people settling here after retirement. Many, who are diabetic, have hypertension or thyroid issues, are completely dependent on medicines on a daily basis. Another major demand is for adult diapers. I have never seen a situation where people have called me and said even if I could get rice, that would be enough. Then there are demands for toor dal, Parle G and salt.”

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