| This is the 535th story of Our Life Logs |
Let me start with an introduction. I am Kedar, a man in his 40s who has a loving wife and son. The only thing that brings as much to my life as they do is my drive to help others. So, when COVID-19 reached India is my city Pune, I knew I had a duty to my people.
I remember March 25, 2020, like it was yesterday. I was watching the news with my son, Aadit, while my wife, Ketki, was preparing dinner in the kitchen. This was when the first lockdown was announced for India. Ketki came out from the kitchen and we just looked at each other. Questions ran through my mind. What is happening? Am I supposed to close my business? For how long? How will we manage our expenses? If Aadit cannot go to school, won’t his studies suffer? So many questions but no definite answers. We did not know who to call and what to ask. It seemed that within a blink of an eye, the world had become a stranger.
Meanwhile, while we were panicking, Aadit was overjoyed with this unexpected holiday. He started making plans for picnics, visiting grandparents—everything that filled his daydreams while inside the walls of his school. He was shocked when we told him he couldn’t do any of that. “Can I go tomorrow then?” he asked. We had no answer. We had no idea.
And so, the next day, I got ready as usual and stepped out of the house. The streets were deserted, and as I tried to walk, the police asked me to return home and stay there. I walked back in despair, realizing things must be very, very wrong.
To understand what was happening, I decided to visit my brother-in-law who is a doctor for his nearby hospital. I learned new phrases that day— “PPE kit,” “isolation ward,” “wear a mask,” and “use sanitizer.” Once I learned the facts, I understood the gravity of the situation. All around me, people were fighting this virus. There were two fronts. One part being the people who stayed at home to help contain the spread of the virus. The other part being the COVID Warriors—the doctors, health workers, paramedical, and pharmacists.
As I looked around the manic hospital, I realized who required more support at the time. In a war, each of us must play a part. And I knew my part couldn’t just be staying at home. I wanted to be on the front lines helping others. I wanted to look after those who were facing the maximum brunt of this pandemic – the homeless, the hungry, the destitute and the orphans. Thinking of how so many people were susceptible to the dangers of the virus due to poverty broke my heart. Here I was, a man with a roof over my head and a loving family to support me. Not everyone is as lucky as me, and I wanted to be there for those who need it, to make a difference.
I started by asking my brother-in-law what his hospital needed to effectively do their jobs. He told me they were running low on sanitizers, masks, and several other supplies. But due to high demand from the virus, the supply-chain was disrupted. I volunteered to help orchestrate help for them to get supplies they needed.
Another issue I noticed was that many people were afraid to come to hospitals either from superstition or from poverty. When I saw homeless people on the side of the roads, driven homeless before and because of the pandemic, the hunger in their eyes haunted me. I knew I had to do something beyond information. To help with people from both sides, I decided to spread proper information among the city.
I called up my friends, imploring them to aid me in helping the homeless. “We can’t leave them to die on the streets,” I said. “The government is doing its bit. So are the police and the medical field. Now it’s our turn.” Many of my friends agreed with my thoughts and offered to help.
And so, I got busy organizing daily food packets for those in need. I did not know how many people were out there, but I tried to procure as many food packets as I could. Each day, I went to the road junction and started distributing. I wasn’t sure how people were going to react to a stranger offering them food. At first, many were confused and surprised, not understanding what I had to gain. They wondered if I was with the government. But I assured them I was acting alone and just wanted to help. “I’m doing this because I care,” I’d say. “I don’t need anything in return. Just please be well.”
With so many hungry people on the roads. I was soon distributing nearly 500 packets of food a day! People on the streets began recognizing my car. Each day, they would wait for me to arrive, often rushing to form a queue as soon as I stopped my car.
Now I’m sure you are wondering, how could someone do all this without any fear of the consequences of being exposed to so many people while a virus was spreading across the world? Well, I’ll tell you that the risk was not lost on me. I was aware of the risks of helping these people. That’s why I always wore a mask, distanced when I could, and made sure to sanitize my car several times a day. Still, I knew it was what I had to do. Thankfully, my wife was very supportive of the cause. We made sure I was cautious when I returned from my days of helping. I would go to the bathroom first thing. In there, my wife would leave fresh clothes for me. I would scrub off in the shower before interacting with her or my son. Then, I would do best to maintain some distance at home. Yes, the fear of getting infected was always there, but the zeal to feed the hungry was much higher! One can keep an umbrella to himself or he can extend the umbrella to someone else who needs it.
Still, the risk caught up with me eventually. I had been visiting COVID-19 isolation wards at hospitals regularly to see if anyone needed help or company. It was only a matter of time. Still, knowing the fatality rate was so low made me feel confident I would make it through if I contracted it. In May, I developed a fever. I could make out that it was not the flu and got a COVID test.
I had no other symptoms except fever, but I knew that I had contracted the virus before I received the positive test affirming it. Still, I was in high spirits. I had mild fever only with no other symptoms. The funny thing was, even though I was sick, one of my first thoughts went to the homeless folk who needed my help. I didn’t want my work to come to a stop because I was out of commission. So, I asked some friends to continue looking after those in need. Although my fever subsided after three days, I stayed isolated for the suggested seven days before going back out to continue my work.
With time to think of how I could expand my volunteering, I thought of the students. Since Pune is an educational hub, students from all around the country come to the city to study. With their canteens and restaurants closed, food was a big concern for them. On top of that, many middle-class homes were suffering from their shops being closed. So, I decided to increase the number of food packets to be distributed through the city.
COVID grabbed a hold of me again in June, but much like the first time, it was just a fever. I maintained a positive mindset. I had won once; I would win again! I kept thinking about the people waiting for my car to arrive with the food packets. How disappointed they would be! That was my motivation to rest up and get well again. After the mandatory seven days of home isolation, I was back out on the streets!
After “beating” the virus twice, I was not worried about getting it again. Except when I contracted a fever again in July, it felt more intense this time. This time, I had to go to an isolation facility after experiencing severe body pain and fatigue along with a fever. As I was resting, I got shocking news that broke me completely. Four of my friends who had been helping had lost their fight against the coronavirus. Suddenly, I felt that it was a message for me. Nothing is promised. Beating it twice didn’t mean I would this time, either.
My condition worsened with each passing day. Soon, I lost my sensation of taste and smell. I was convinced then, COVID-19 had come to take me. I just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the inevitable to happen. And then my friend called me.
“People are still outside on the streets waiting for you,” he told me. On top of that, more volunteers were joining the cause and pooling in their resources to tide over this pandemic. “You’re an inspiration, Kedar. Don’t give up yet.” Hearing all of this changed my mindset completely. Even if I was sicker than ever before, I had to fight. I had to get back out there. There was so much more I needed to do. My wife and son needed me. The fight was not yet over.
I do not know whether it was my positive mindset or the blessings of those I served, or the love of my family that helped me recover, but I made it through. I recovered after 10 days then stayed in isolation for 14 days to ensure I was completely rid of the virus. When my time in isolation ended, I felt a new sense of power and purpose. Because I had survived didn’t mean others would. I had to keep going.
When I returned to helping others, I decided to expand the people we helped even further. We started visiting orphanages, old-age homes, and destitute centers to supply them whatever they need during this crisis. We continued to help the homeless and students. Seeing the relieved look on peoples’ faces made me feel all that I’d been through was worth it.
One must extend a hand to others if they ever want to be given the same courtesy in their time of need. I’m not sure how long this pandemic will go on, but I will keep going out there and doing my part as long as it takes.
This is the story of Kedar Kulkarni
Kedar, born in 1976 in Aurangabad, India and later moved to Pune at age 12, is a humanitarian that was propelled into action after the COVID-19 pandemic spread through to his country. Aside from his volunteering, Kedar is also in the business of Land Development and Commercial Waterproofing. He lives in Pune with his wife, Ketki and son, Aadit. When things begin to go back to normal, he hopes to continue volunteering in other ways.
Kedar and his family celebrating the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, 2019.
This story first touched our hearts on August 17, 2020.
| Writer: Yukti Chawla | Editor: Colleen Walker |