BHOPAL: In the summer of last year, people remained indoors. The villages and cities were as silent as forests at night. The hillocks stood behind the mask of that bizarre stillness. The fear of corona pandemic turned each place into ghostly sites. In such a situation, thousands of migrant workers set out of their dwellings to reach their hometowns. The corona-induced lockdown rendered them jobless. They went by the houses, markets and down the thoroughfares. The dust the dry hot wind raised settled on their sweaty bodies.
Vehicles were not available. Children were crying for food, water and rest. The sun was beating down on them with fiery intensity. Many of them dangled to trucks, buses or any kind of vehicles they found on the way. Many were on bicycles. But most of them were on foot. Many people came to help those workers risking their own lives. And a social worker Javed Khan in the city was one of them.
Khan says he and his team initially dished out food to the migrant workers on the highway and in slums. Collecting rations for preparing food was more than difficult. That did not stop Khan and his team. The extreme heat was melting away the asphalt roads. Khan says when they were distributing food among the migrant workers the team members found many of those migrant workers were barefoot. Their shoes were in tatters because of continuous walking. Their feet swelled up and sores developed. Many of them, especially children, could barely hobble. Khan could hardly put up with that sight.
No sooner had they come across that sight than they took off their footwear and gave to those workers. Khan says he thought for them footwear was as important as food and water. As the shops were shut, getting footwear in bulk was an uphill task. But that could hardly deter Khan and his team. Immediately after that, they embarked on collecting footwear from wherever they could find. Khan says, initially, he told his family members, neighbours and friends to give their old footwear.
Many people did not open their doors for fright of corona. Therefore, they would keep the shoes outside their doors and Khan and his team collected them from there. Still, their efforts to get enough footwear fell through. He told his team members to deepen their efforts to get more footwear.
They posted a few photographs of barefoot workers on social media and appealed to people to help. That worked. Help came streaming. One fine morning, a few footwear traders contacted the team members. They agreed to open their shops, though for a while.
Those traders were godsend for Khan. They provided the team with a bagful of footwear. The distribution of food, however, did not stop. Apart from providing food to the workers, the team distributed food among slum dwellers.
As Ramzan was going on, Khan began his work at dawn and continued till sunset. It sometimes went on till late in the night. Khan says collecting old footwear and segregating them the usable ones was an arduous task. All of them, however, maintained corona protocols, that nobody might fall ill. That task, too, was no less than challenging. Khan says they distributed around 4, 000 footwear. As help came from all corners, scarcity of resources wore off.
He says, at times, he had to give his own food to others. The happiness that he draws by wiping away the tears of others is the real joy that helps him to deal with any difficult situation. He says it was because of the lockdown that he could serve the needy. Yet, he prays to God that there may not be another lockdown. He then smiles with tears of joy.