Global Village Idiot: What world needs right now is leaders who put people first
He’s my little cousin brother. We speak maybe once a year. Sometimes, once in two years. A medical transcriptionist by profession, Shubhankar Banerjee has a 69-year-old mother, a 30-something wife and a 13-year-old son. He has lost colleagues, friends and acquaintances to Covid-19, but doesn’t think twice when someone calls asking for assistance.
Night or day, he responds to every call.
Shubhankar lives in a quaint society called Nivedita Enclave in Paschim Vihar, New Delhi. There are 195 flats in that society, and everyone knows everybody else. Covid-19 has hit the society hard. Between April 25 and May 6, the society lost one person every day to the pandemic. They are families that have grown together for three generations in the past four decades - parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, children, grandparents.
Now, many of the younger generation are working in other cities or in foreign countries.
Shubhankar is one of the younger generation who has stayed back in Nivedita. With many in the society quarantined, elders reach out to Shubhankar and others of the younger generation for help. Some days they run around to get someone to a hospital, other days for medicine, yet other days for a slot at the crematorium.
I called him last week to see how he’s doing, and ended up asking why he takes the risk. “Can’t think so much when someone calls in an emergency. If a life can be saved or if suffering can be eased, that’s the only thought. The situation has improved this week, in the sense that it has climbed back from worst to bad,” he said.
“Right now, there isn’t much we can do if one falls ill. You can’t go to a hospital because there’s no place there. If you do get a bed in a hospital, there isn’t much they can do except put you on oxygen. Doctors and healthcare staff are under extreme pressure. But, trying and getting to a hospital makes the family feel less helpless - you feel that at least I was able to get my patient to a hospital,” he says in acceptance of the current situation in Delhi.
Back home in Pune, April was somewhat similar for Sunil Gate. For those who know Sunil Gate, he’s a go-to person when you are in need. A corporate communication consultant with two decades of experience in different industries, Gate is a connector and a helpful person at heart. Even in an impossible situation, he will usually tell you, “Ruk, mai kuch karta hoon.”
Throughout the past few months, Gate has been talking to hospitals, civic officials, business people, media and people in general to try and do his bit, always in the background. April was particularly taxing, with hourly requests for help with hospital admissions, information on how to get oxygen, medicines… May has so far been all about how to get vaccine shots. I have called him for Remdesvir injections and ICU with ventilator, for family and friends.
Also in Pune, almost at the outskirts really, there’s a housing society in Kalewadi Phata, called Rhythm that is doing quite a creditable job of keeping its diverse range of cosmopolitan members informed and advised about matters related to Covid-19. There is a competent and well-informed committee led by chairperson Dr Ritu Awasthi, running the society with people from varied backgrounds bringing their expertise to the table. The society works well as a cohesive unit, marshalling resources and connections and as a result, there are sanitisation and fumigation drives regularly.
There is a daily flow of information and interaction on the WhatsApp group. The society uses Zoom effectively. For the past few weeks, everyone is busy sharing information and helping each other get vaccination slots. It’s a delight to log into the group and see the level of engagement and ownership from the committee members and residents alike.
Many agree that a good bit of the credit for the efficient dissemination of useful information, marshalling of resources, and effective execution of protocols lies with the society’s young secretary, Abhijit Garad.
A software manager at an IT firm, Abhijit is patient with opinions, focused on providing data, endeavouring to facilitate plurality of opinions, while providing actionable information. And he has a sense of humour Punekars would be proud of. Earlier this week, a society member asked him if one was allowed to cross district borders. Abhijit replied: “You can get e-pass and travel. You can mention the reason that it has been a year without Kolhapur’s tambada and pandhara rassa, so application should be considered to travel to Kolhapur. Attach a blood report showing less tambada index.”
Most of us know at least a few people like Shubhankar, Sunil, and Abhijit. I can think of many others who are quietly doing what needs to be done in cities and towns across the globe. They get on with what needs to be done and keep their sense of humour, balance and sanity intact. They get the job done and are always aware that there’s more to be done. They don’t do it for the accolade or the glory, and are always patient with the inevitable scepticism. They are content to be in the background and have the courage to be centre-stage when things are difficult.
They are constantly evaluating matters on merit in the context of the greater good, but always exercising the wisdom of discretion to address individual matters that can redefine what the greater good is.
What the world needs right now are leaders like them; leaders who put people first.
Mukherjee, author, learning-tech designer and management consultant, is founder of Mountain Walker and chief strategy advisor, Peak Pacific. He can be reached @firstname.lastname@example.org