A 74-year-old-man who was infected by the coronavirus last year stepped out of his home despite his age and vulnerability and distributed masks, sanitisers and chocolates among strangers in market areas near his home on Wednesday.
Parimal Dey, who lives with his wife in their home in Ganguly Bagan in south Calcutta, said he was ostracised and his supplies were cut off for a week by some of his neighbours when he had contracted the virus last year — an experience that bolstered his determination to help people and create awareness against the stigma associated with the infection, he said.
“We were boycotted despite following all quarantine rules in July last year. The grocery shop and the fruit vendor in our neighbourhood were threatened by some of my neighbours to not deliver anything at our home while we were in quarantine. I realised, I needed to do something about creating awareness once I get cured,” Dey shared his experience.
Dey, who runs a business, had started distributing masks last year.
“There were very few takers in the beginning. Then I started distributing chips packets to lure the people who came at least for the chips if not the masks,” he said.
After a pause of a few months, Dey resumed distribution of masks and sanitisers and chocolates on Wednesday despite objections from his wife who feels “uneasy” every time the elderly man steps out of the house when most of the Calcuttans his age have been advised to stay indoors in the security of their homes.
“I understand that my wife feels extremely uneasy and anxious about me going out in market places. But someone has to do the work. Even yesterday I found so many people either without masks or not wearing them properly. Although people were collecting the masks like freebies, the biggest challenge is to make them wear that,” he said.
Several people Dey found without masks only had a “sheepish smile” in response to the question why he/she was not wearing a mask.
“Some even said: ‘o-amar kichu hobe na (nothing will happen to me)’,” said a youth who was helping Dey in the distribution.
On Wednesday, Dey walked around Ramgarh market between Ganguly Bagan and Ramgarh to distribute around 3,000 masks.
He aims to carry out similar drives to cover all the marketplaces around his neighbourhood.
“I wash my hands, feet and face once I am back home. I inhale vapour with menthol and take vitamins as prescribed by my doctors. I am trying my best to be safe as well as help others at this hour of crisis,” Dey said.