Saptarshi Basu (name changed) asked his trusted domestic help to go on a month’s leave after he, along with his elderly parents and wife, tested COVID positive last week. As the family grappled to manage household chores while suffering from acute physical and mental distress, they found some solace when Shivangi Roy and her husband Nikhil Roy came forward to help by delivering fresh, home-cooked meals. Shivangi and Nikhil are among the growing breed of good Samaritans spread across the city who are stepping up in this hour of crisis to help families with COVID positive members under home isolation get timely, nutritious meals. Shivangi and Nikhil, who moved to the city from Dubai four months ago, take orders for the next day till 7 pm. After completing all the cooking by noon, they start dispatching the orders. While the couple provides meals free of cost, one has to pay for the delivery that is done through a third party. “We plan to start our own venture soon, but in these difficult times, we want to contribute in whatever little way we can. There are many families who are not in a position to do the chores due to their illness and we are happy to cook and deliver meals to them,” said Shivangi.
‘We’re indebted to Samaritans’At a time when every second or third social media post is about people requesting help for their close ones who have contracted COVID, such gestures are proving to be a big relief for affected families. “It took us days to get the test results. With symptoms manifesting fast, we were not only in physical distress, but also at our wits’ end. The meals that we are receiving, along with the kind help from our neighbours who are constantly getting us medicines and everything that we need, are such a relief. We are indebted to them,” said Saptarshi.
Roshni Baid, a gemologist, has started a similar service with her mother Venus and sister Ishika. “Seeing COVID cases rise every day, my mother thought we should do something to help the sick,” said Roshni. The women start their day at 6.30 am and cook till 4.30 in the evening, preparing pure vegetarian breakfast and lunch. “We wanted to include dinner too, but couldn’t. Cooking, packing and delivering for 100 people is a gigantic task and all three of us are constantly working either in the kitchen or packing food in the living room,” said Roshni, who has spent around Rs 60,000 on this initiative and does not charge any money for the service.
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Help for neighbours & beyond
While Shivangi, who is based in Santoshpur, caters to people around Jadavpur, Patuli and Garia, Lansdowne Road’s Roshni tries to reach out to as many neighbourhoods as she can. Anurag Saha, an ad agency employee, and his sister Asmita, an MA student, have convinced their mother, Tapashi, to cook meals for COVID patients recovering at home. “We’re based in Behala and currently delivering food to Thakurpukur, Tollygunge and localities around Jodhpur Park. Our home kitchen allows us to prepare food for 10 to 15 individuals only. But every small help counts at this time,” said Asmita.
Free meals, charges for delivery only
Most of these good Samaritans are not seasoned chefs with big kitchen set-ups. Barring a few home chefs, most of them have undertaken such tasks for the first time in their lives. Ballygunge-based Monika Poddar started an initiative four days back with her limited resources, which enable her to send food to six people every day. “I haven’t calculated the amount spent on this because making money is the last thing on my mind when the world is fighting a never-seen-before crisis,” she said. While most residents are offering their services free of cost, those who do not have arrangements for delivery are just charging for delivery.
Community workers, restros come forward to help
Help is pouring in from professional kitchens as well. Community worker Satnam Singh Ahluwalia and his team have been cooking and distributing meals since the onset of the pandemic. “Last March, when the lockdown was imposed, I got a phone call at night from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation commissioner. He asked me if we could provide langar to those living in temporary shelters from the next day. That was the beginning. With the second wave raging on, we have upped our efforts and are providing round-the-clock service. We are serving people waiting outside hospitals, praying for their loved ones. During these trying times, there are many families where all members are down with the virus and we are there to provide them with fresh meals,” he told us.
Park Street’s Oasis is one of the restaurants serving food to the needy since the first lockdown. Due to the present crisis situation, restaurant owners are not able to go out and distribute food. Every day, they cook and hand over the food to an NGO that distributes it among the relatives of COVID patients waiting outside city hospitals. “Besides, some of the food is regularly collected by Kolkata Police personnel who distribute it to street dwellers and the needy,” said owner Pratap Darianani.
Focus on a frill-free menu, packed with protein
Keeping the dietary requirements of COVID patients in mind, meal providers are keeping their menu simple. A typical meal comprises khichuri, rice, roti, dal, sabzi, fish, egg and chicken. “My mother uses less spices and oil even in our daily meals. For COVID patients, she prepares wonderful meals using just ginger, garlic and a few basic spices. My brother and I are hoping that this will help the patients increase their protein intake,” said Asmita.
Central Kolkata-based home chef M, who usually prepares gourmet meals for her clients, is offering a simple menu to COVID patients. “We all know they need protein-based diets. So, I am making a khichdi with three pulses: urad, moong and chhola. Adding chicken and veggies makes it even more nutritious. All I use is ginger, garlic and a bit of regular spices. When my family was down with COVID recently, I used to make the same dish for them,” said M, who uses biodegradable packaging.
Source: Times of India