Dr. Deepti Naik

I didn’t think much of the fact that I was a newbie in the city. I just took my car and, with the help of a fellow volunteer and Google maps, started distributing food to the needy, five days a week.

I hail from a family of doctors from a village called Baghera, in Chattisgarh. After my MD in Radiology, I worked for fourteen years as a consultant Radiologist in Bangalore. I moved to Mumbai only four months back and started working at a clinic in Marine Lines. As the lockdown began, I had to cut down my work to only two days a week. When I was looking for ways to utilize my time, I came across Khaanachahiye.I didn’t think much of the fact that I was a newbiein the city. I just took my car and, with the help of a fellow volunteer and Google maps, started distributing food to the needy, five days a week.

At the end of my first day, a few food packets were left with me. Instead of taking it back to the kitchen, I thought of distributing it in a slum nearby. I googled and found out that there was a slum in this place called Wadala. While distributing the food, I ended up chatting with a few people. Most of them were happy with the cooked food that we were serving, but some of them wanted ration. Khaanachahiye hadn’t started ration distribution by then. So, I bought ration for around fifty families from a kirana store in the locality. I continued with my distribution-rounds for the next few days.

Things were going smooth, until April 2nd when I was suddenly down with fever and chills. Something told me this wasn’t a good sign. When it didn’t subside for the next few days, I gave my blood for testing for Malaria and Dengue. Two days later, the results came, and both were negative. My WBC count was only 500. That confirmed my worst fears. I requested for COVID1-19 testing the same day and began treatment with Hydroxychloroquine immediately. After giving throat swabs, I nervously awaited the results - The worst 24 hours of my life. All the instances when I could have caught the infection flashed before me. The images of my time in the slum in Wadala were particularly haunting. Did I let too many people come near me? How many of them were wearing masks? Did anyone cough? I was alone in a new city. How would I handle this emergency, with all my friends and family faraway? Most of all, I was worried when I will be able to see my thirteen-year-old daughter, who was in Chattisgarh, thousands of miles away.

My COVID result came on April 9th. It was negative. Uff…I’m not joking, I cried. I am a doctor, and I know that COVID-19 is not as fatal as other ailments. I feel stupid thinking about it now, but I couldn’t help. I cried my heart out. The same day, I went to a supermarket nearby, bought loads of groceries, and treated myself to my favorite dish.

The next day, I wanted to get back to food distribution. But the team at khaanachahiye insisted that I take the next few days off. I returned to my route next week.

“Weren’t you afraid to go back to food distribution after your experience?”

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t afraid. In fact, while confined to my home for one week, I felt extremely uncomfortable, as if I was in my own safe lacuna while the rest of the city was ailing. It’s funny, right? I was just four months old in this city, but I was already feeling attached.

Of course, when I went back, I took extra precautions. Not that I wasn’t careful earlier. Masks, gloves, sanitizer, etc. are a must while volunteering for khaanachahiye. But I started taking even small precautions seriously - Like always tying my hair and wearing the visor at all times.

I am thankful to my friends and family for the support that they gave me. Particularly my eldest sister, who works in the COVID-19 contact tracing team in Ahmedabad. She helped assure the rest of my family that I was safe. And my daughter too. She has been so strong and encouraging, especially during those trying times. She is an expert on COVID-19 now. She even gave a presentation in her school on precautions to be taken against COVID-19. I’m so proud of her. I have booked tickets for May 4th to meet her. But I don’t think domestic travel from Mumbai will be allowed by then. Hopefully, my city will recover soon, and I will get to see my daughter again.

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Khaana Chahiye Foundation traces its origins to a citizen-led food-relief effort during Mumbai's Covid-19 lockdown, evolving into one of the city's largest crisis management initiatives. Today, it persists in its mission to combat hunger through various relief and advocacy efforts.

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