Covid-19: Bengal’s very own Santa Claus secretly providing food packets to poor
For the past two weeks, Shyamal Maji, a private tutor in Benal’s Bolpur town, and his flock of students, have been providing food to poor people in the area affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
For the past two weeks, something strange has been happening every night, in villages on the fringes of Santiniketan in Bolpur town of Bengal’s Birbhum district.
Somebody has been leaving packets of food items and other essentials, at the doorsteps of some huts and shanties. And the recipients are always those who have lost their livelihoods in the lockdown, and now count among the poorest of the poor in those villages.
So who is this ‘Santa Claus’ and how is he able to identify the dwellings of the neediest? Until recently, no one had a clue. Then one day, somebody spotted the Good Samaritan on his rounds of distributing food and - Shyamal Maji’s cover was blown.
Thirty-six- year- old Maji is a private tutor in Bolpur, a man of modest income and hardly well-off himself. Yet for the past two weeks, Maji and his flock of students - all from Bolpur and its environs - have been providing food to helpless people amid the ongoing lockdown due to Covid-19 disease across the nation.
But why at night, when nobody can see them?
Maji is a reluctant speaker and initially refused to be photographed.
“Look, I don’t want any fame and would rather remain behind the wings. These people were mainly wage labourers who are jobless now. They still go out every day in search of work and are home at nightfall. But not all of them would like to stand in a queue for food, as some feel ashamed to seek help from others and would rather go hungry,” Maji said.
Maji has been giving tuition since 2006, and gets almost 200 – 250 students each year at his coaching centre. His network of students runs into a few thousands, and since he only teaches high school students and undergraduates, most are adults and many already employed.
“I have formed a 10-man team to accompany me on this job every night,” Majji says. “Since my students live scattered all over the area we operate in, they identify the neediest in their respective hamlets. Help pours in from the students themselves. Some are employed, others come from well-to-do-families and they all donate generously. Yet others chip in with whatever they can - sometimes with packets of puffed rice,” he added.
The recipients of Maji’s kindness are too poor to afford mobiles themselves, but have told their neighbours that Maji’s food packets are like godsends.
“Seventy-year-old Balai Kisku of my village, received a packet one night. He was so elated that we could actually see happiness and a sense of relief writ large on his face. He used to make thatched roofs for huts in the village but has been idle since the lockdown,” said Uttam Das of Bolpur’s Bondanga village. Das discovered only later, that the man behind the generous deed was none other than his own son’s tutor, Shyamal Maji. “It was good to know that Maji helped Kisku and others, without blowing his own trumpet,” Das added.
Sixty-year-old mason, Paru Murmu, of the same village was initially reluctant to accept Maji’s packets but once he did, the aid came as a great relief to him too.
“The people whom we choose to help are the poorest of the poor. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to do so, but we would prefer to remain in the shadows and work from behind the wings,” said Taraknath Das, a student on Maji’s team.
Each packet that he leaves on doorsteps contains around two kilos of rice, potatoes, some vegetables, cooking oil, salt, puffed rice and a soap.
“Sometimes I see people clicking photos while providing relief to poor people. One poor, needy man gets one kilo of rice and 15 persons gather around to click a photo. Is that what you are providing relief for?” Das asked.
Shyamal Maji, the tutor setting a worthy example for hundreds of young wards, is himself the father of a four-year-old daughter. He says that it is his wife’s cooperation and encouragement alone, that has given him the courage to help others less fortunate then his own family.