Dr Alka Chaudhari: When she’s not treating patients, the ‘doktarni’ at Delhi’s first mohalla clinic feeds families of 35 daily-wagers
Dr Alka Chaudhary, 48, has been working in the city’s first mohalla clinic in Peera Garhi since it started five years ago. In that time, she has grown to know each and every family in the neighbourhood, where she is referred to as ‘doktarni’. Her patients visit her with all their problems, which range from fever, cough and cold, to family disputes.
So it was natural for them to come to her when the government first announced the biggest lockdown in the world to control the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in March.
“Soon after the lockdown in March, this boy Imtiaz came to me and said, Doktarni, help me get to my village. He said, there is no work and why should we stay here and go hungry? This is a slum area and most people are daily wagers – some are rickshaw pullers, others carpenters and plumbers – all their livelihoods have been severely impacted. But I told him it wasn’t safe to travel and the government was making arrangements for food,” said Chaudhary.
However, after speaking to the families in the area and the ASHA workers under her, she realised there was a problem. They were getting food twice a day through the government’s food distribution drive, but most did not get any dry ration as they did not have Delhi ration cards.
“I realised two meals a day are just not enough when there are children in the house. Children, especially the very young ones, asked for food during the day. So, I thought I should give whatever I can,” she said.
Dr Chaudhary got some grocery from her house to give the first family in March, and has since taken 35 families under her wing. One of the families is of Karn, who had come to her two weeks ago looking emaciated.
“He was this tall guy, but weighed no more than 30 kg. He was collapsing; he had no strength. A test report he had got from some private clinic showed that his blood sugar levels were 406 (normal levels are about 140 mg/dL after eating),” said Alka.
She immediately went to the local police station and asked for their help to hire an e-rickshaw to get the man to a hospital. On Thursday, he came to meet her and thank her for her help.
“I have made packets of weekly supplies. I have also fixed a milkman for some of these families that have very young children. I pay the man at the end of the month. I cannot do this on my own and I have asked my family to help out. I have told those in corporate jobs to give me some money, anything that they would donate to temples or other causes. I have told them that it would go to the needy,” she said. She has also been helping people with filling out the ration coupon forms on her phone.
Her family understands what she does, but is still bothered by her routine. Every afternoon, after finishing up at her clinic, she goes to the nearby areas to speak to the people and check how they are doing.
“My mother asks me whether I would get an award for doing this, she asks me to wear the neela thaila as she refers to the PPE kits. She is very disappointed that I do not get it. My sister says that she prays that I get wise and my niece tells me that I should get a room in the jugghi itself. One of the nurses jokes that we should just put Fevicol on madam’s chair so she can’t leave,” said Dr Chaudhry. Adding to the worries of her family, she is a diabetic herself.
She moved out of the house where her elderly in-laws live since the Covid-19 outbreak started. She lives with her husband. Her in-laws still do not know that she goes to the slum area after her clinic.
Whenever someone comes to her, she tells them about the invisible enemy and explains why they should remain indoors. “But they live in small houses without much ventilation. It is not possible to stay indoors throughout the day. So I tell them when you feel like stepping out, at least cover your nose and mouth with a dupatta and sit at a distance from your friends,” she said. She took the help of some of the local boys to put on a small skit, where they dressed up as ‘Yamraaj’ and explained how people will die if social distancing was not followed.
“If I did not tell them what social distancing was and why they needed to follow it, who would? Because they do not see people dropping dead, they do not understand why there should be a lockdown and why they should stay at home” she said.