I consider myself extremely lucky, for I have everything essential for a content life. I have a successful interior design and construction company and a salon that does well and I am robustly healthy. When I reflect on my life, I feel gratitude and this pushes me to give back to society- a philosophy that has been engrained in me. Thus, I constantly try to find ways to contribute to my society and community.
For two to three hours a day, I work with Wealthy Volunteers United, a helpline for mental health, where I talk to people about problems like anxiety and other mental health related concerns. I also run a small, private charitable organization where we take care of the education of underprivileged children and help out at old age homes. When I came across Project Mumbai and their work in an article online, I knew I had to join. And so, I’ve been volunteering with them since their first week of inception. Due to the lockdown, my businesses are shut. Thus, I considered volunteering with Project Mumbai a wonderful way to spend my lockdown days. I can guarantee that it is more productive and gratifying than lazing around and watching Netflix.
My work with Project Mumbai involves delivering packages or grocery kits to anyone in need across South Bombay. I cover the entire area, from Dadar and Byculla to Parel and Colaba. These packages have gone to senior citizens, handicapped people, those in quarantined buildings and many more. Every day I set out on my bike and drive to the D-Mart, collect one package, deliver it to the person in need and go back and repeat the process.
Volunteering with Project Mumbai and interacting with such a diverse range of people has been an immensely incredible experience, coupled with many moments of fear and sadness. I remember going to deliver a package to an old couple living in Mazgaon. For some reason, their house refused to show up on Google Maps. After a while of unfruitful wandering around, my irritation began increasing exponentially. Why couldn’t people give proper addresses and instructions? Finally, after taking a few rounds of the neighbouring area, I found them. It turned out that the old couple consisted of two blind people living in a chawl. They wouldn’t have been able to type properly and a chawl wouldn’t show up on Google Maps either. I immediately felt guilty, for my feelings of annoyance. As I handed their 15kg package with groceries to them, the woman started feeling the items, to understand what they had been given. She thumbed a small packet and asked me what it was.
“Maggi,” I answered.
“Acha!” she said. “I’ve heard about it but I’ve never eaten it.”
This simple statement left me astounded. We consider Maggi a staple, something that everyone must have had, and take such things for granted. This pierced me with sadness, as I realized that there are too many with too little. The woman thanked me profusely and spoke about how those that help are rare.
Over the course of our small interaction that probably lasted minutes, I felt a plethora of emotions. Amongst fear, irritation and guilt, two other simple, paradoxical emotions stood out: happiness that I could help and that there are so many people and organizations helping and making a small difference, and sadness at witnessing how destitute some people are and how widespread it is. Seeing two such polarities, such as this old couple and myself, together was simply beautiful.
The entire experience of volunteering has been remarkable and, at the risk of using a cliché, eye opening. I hope to continue doing such work and making a difference in people’s lives, no matter how small or big.