Bringing food, dignity to a Bengal village
Maji has been running a coaching centre in Bolpur since 2006; each year, his institute receives almost 250 higher secondary and undergraduate students, who receive tuitions on everything from Bengali language to history and political science.Updated: Apr 30, 2020 05:51 IST
Each night of the past two weeks of the lockdown, 36-year-old Shyamal Maji has been making frequent trips to the villages and outskirts of Santiniketan and Bolpur town in Bengal’s Birbhum district.
His trips were meant to be a secret: he would carry food packets and other essential items like soap and masks, and leave them outside the doors of the huts and shanties of poor residents.
“These people are mainly wage labourers, who have lost their livelihoods. They still go out during the day with the hope of earning a living. But at night they return home. I don’t want to earn fame and want to remain behind the wings. I just want to help these poor people. Third, not all of these people would stand in a queue as some feel ashamed to take help. They would rather go hungry,” said Maji.
Maji has been running a coaching centre in Bolpur since 2006; each year, his institute receives almost 250 higher secondary and undergraduate students, who receive tuitions on everything from Bengali language to history and political science. It was this network that Maji turned to, in order to get both supplies and help in distributing them. By the middle of the month, Maji formed a team comprising 10 students, who would help distribute rations.
“My students, who are scattered everywhere, helped identify the neediest persons in their respective areas. Help pours in from the students itself. Some are employed, and a few come from well-to-families. All of them donate generously. Many chip in with whatever they can, even packets of puffed rice,” Maji said. Till date they have been able to distribute around 250 kilos of rice and 50 litres of cooking oil, he added.
Puffed rice is an important ingredient of a popular Bengali dish called, jhal muri, made with vegetables, spices and mustard oil.
Each packet that Maji and his students left at doorsteps contained two kilos of rice, potatoes, a few vegetables, cooking oil, salt, puffed rice and a soap.
Since the donations are made daily, the distribution team aims to reach at least 10 houses every day. As the police have stopped issuing travel passes, the team tries to arrange for as many two-wheelers as possible, as only one person can ride one vehicle. During the day, they plan out the areas they will cover at night.
“Sometimes I see people clicking photos while providing relief to poor people. They will provide one kilo of rice to a poor needy man and 15 people will gather to take a photo. Is that what you are providing the relief for?” he asked. Maji added that without his wife’s support — she helps him pack the kits, for instance — he would not have been able to do this each night. The duo has a four-year-old daughter.