As India continues to battle the devastating coronavirus wave, home chefs have emerged as unlikely heroes. The debilitating second wave has rendered entire families unable to access the much needed freshly-cooked meals. Divya Uppal and Akanksha Sharma report on these home chefs with hearts of gold.
On 3 May, 50-year-old Mousumi Chakraborty received a desperate call from Swati, a Bangalore resident, who was seven months pregnant. Her husband was COVID-positive, isolating in a separate flat and unable to procure food for himself. Panic-stricken, Swati reached out to Chakraborty, after reading about her free food service on Facebook. Chakraborty, a former teacher, had been helping out several Covid patients for over a year, and swiftly came to Swati’s rescue.
“Throughout my journey as a teacher, I have instructed my students and co-workers to participate in community services, and lend a helping hand to those in need”, said Mousumi Chakraborty in a telephonic conversation with India Ahead on May 9.
As the novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc, accessing freshly cooked meals has become quite a challenge for those affected by the virus. Extreme fatigue, a common factor in most cases, hampers their will and ability to cook. It becomes even more challenging when entire families contract the virus at the same time and nobody is able to whip up healthy meals. In such cases, home chefs have emerged as saviours. They deliver healthy meals and often don’t charge anything at all for them.
When I got the opportunity to put my own teachings into action, I gladly took it up.
Chakraborty took to social media to post about her idea of delivering free home-cooked meals to Covid affected families on March 22. Little did she know that 31 women, from different walks of life, in the age group of 28 to 63 years, would reach out and offer their own services in Chakraborty’s venture.
Today, Chakraborty and her team have been able to serve food to hospitals, police personnel on duty and hundreds of home quarantined Covid patients in the city of Bangalore. Each day, they serve food to over 65 virus-hit families.
Chakraborty told us that all the women supporting her have developed a system of portioning out food for the cause, from the dishes cooked for their own families every day. Rice, dal, one sabzi, roti and salad are consistent items on the menu with fruits and curd as customised options.
Damayanti Bhadra, a 19-year-old student of Presidency University, Kolkata paired up with her mother to feed Covid-19 patients in Baruipur.
While speaking with India Ahead on the phone, Bhadra recalled her first delivery request. “It was a doctor from Bombay. He was panicking because both of his parents were Covid positive and hadn’t eaten anything for three days. There was no one to provide food. I keep getting such calls”, she said.
Bhadra got in touch with film director Srijit Mukherjee who amplified her initiative through his social media platforms. Serving meals to almost 20 people each day, the mother-daughter duo take due precautions while cooking. The majority of the dishes on the menu are Bengali so that the food feels like it’s been cooked at home. They try to make the food less oily and full of nutrition. Fish gravy, eggs, chicken stew, fries, soya chunks and mixed vegetables are some of the items on the menu. Since Covid positive patients are recommended to consume Vitamin C in their diet, Bhadra ensures she puts lemon-based items too.
I understand the pain of not being able to get healthy food while having Covid
“Four of my friends succumbed to the virus. My entire family and I have survived the Covid ordeal too.”, said Bhadra.
Vinayak Vyas, a 26-year-old lawyer extended a helping hand to local covid patients by teaming up with his 62-year-old mother and their housemaid.
“These are trying times. I have several senior citizens in my family who are not well with using new-age technology. It is almost impossible for the old Covid patients to order food online. I have even come across some elders who don’t have their children with them at home,” said Vyas, in a conversation with India Ahead.
It was the plight of the elderly that prompted Vyas to step in.
It melts my heart when senior citizens call me and break down while thanking me.
Vyas and his mother prepare lunch and dinner for about 25-30 people each day. On some days, he takes it upon himself to deliver the food he prepares, and on others, does it through Swiggy genie, a service on the food delivery app Swiggy.
Between stirring the dishes with her maid and working from home, Prachi Pathak, a 31-year-old Chartered Accountant tries to make home-cooked meals for three to five families every day.
Juggling her profession and preparing meals is a tough task. To be able to meet deadlines at work and meal requirements in the kitchen, Pathak plans time and resources in advance.
As soon as she recovered from Covid in April, Pathak began serving people around her. She feels that food ordered online can be extremely spicy, and thus not suited for patients.
People insist on paying Pathak for the food she prepares. However, Pathak replies saying,“ I ask them if they wish to pay me then help someone else after you get recovered. This way the chain will continue and that will be my payment”.