World Kindness Day is celebrated on November 13 every year to promote the importance of being kind to each other, to oneself, and the world. In the last two years, as the pandemic drama unfolded, we witnessed death, starvation, mass migrant movements, job losses, and a spike in mental health illnesses. However, there was something that kept our flickering hopes and spirits alive. It was acts of kindness that touched our hearts. The pandemic scarred us at multiple levels, and the tentacles spread by a tiny virus affected every single person in some way or the other, yet the many stories of kindness encouraged us to sail through and motivated many to help those in need. The Good Story Project has documented some of these stories.
Lakshmi Ajay, a former journalist and a communications professional based in Bangalore, and her husband fell sick with Covid-19 as the second wave encompassed India in its deadly grip in April 2021. As they battled its manifold symptoms and sought help – the one thing that really made a difference came from strangers.
A relative stranger they were supposed to work with for a project volunteered and fed them home-cooked meals for the first two weeks of their illness. As they both battled fever, tiredness, aches, and pains – her food became the only uplifting thing that they looked forward to in their days.
Another stranger who responded to their enquiry for meals on Facebook sent them meal boxes with short handwritten notes stuck on them reminding them to eat healthy and get better while they recovered from the Covid-19 virus.
As Ajay rightly says: “Kindness is a panacea for the pandemic.” Click here to read Ajay’s story.
Ayanti Guha, who lives in a gated community in Hyderabad, shared her story and recounted how the gated community rose to the challenges of Covid-19.
A group of ladies (about 60 and counting) got together and formed a group that would cater to the dietary needs of the Covid+ individuals and their families who would be under quarantine. The plan was simple – instead of running a communal kitchen, each one would make a bit extra of the meals that day in their own home and put that information on a WhatsApp group created expressly for that purpose. Each day this information would be shared with the families who were under quarantine or in need of this dabba service. They in turn would indicate what they would want for their meals, and it would be shared with them at the time specified. The only requirements would be that the food be fresh, in tune with the taste buds and food habits a particular family is used to and voila, a dynamic, healthy and fresh food service cropped up in no time at all.
Rishabh Lalani shared his story and revisited the numerous acts of generosity and kindness he received when his entire family, including his younger brother, mother, and father tested positive for Covid-19. For Lalani (second from right in the photograph accompanying the story), who works as an independent consultant to the not-for-profit sector, the pandemic was an opportunity to reflect on why people are inspired to offer unconditional support and help in a time of great distress.
In his own words:
“Throughout the 30-odd days of this ordeal, nutritious food could have been a challenge. I can’t cook much and my parents, who manage the kitchen jointly, were down with fever. My elderly grandmother needed to be fed as well. Through sheer coincidence, we figured out that one of the Jain temples nearby was sending food for families affected by Covid-19, free of cost. They sent lunch and dinner for our entire family for one whole month. No questions asked. In fact, when they were winding down their kitchen, they called us, checked-in on our situation and continued sending food for three more days so that we had enough time to figure out an alternative. Given the fragile nature of everyone’s health during Covid-19, we also needed breakfast. My mother’s best friend kept sending breakfast for a full two weeks so that all of us had enough energy to power through the day. Every morning at 8.30 am, I would get a call asking me to send someone to pick up the food packet. No questions asked, no thank-yous and no frills. Just pure love.”
““Positive”. I was not surprised. I had started showing symptoms. So, one evening, while returning from work, I bought basics like an oximeter, a few specific medicines and isolated myself. The initial few days were tough, but the recovery phase was tougher. I experienced “collective grief”. The images and heart-breaking stories flashing on my TV screen and mobile feed were having a devastating effect on me. However, the comforting presence of Covid warriors who took to social media to help people desperately looking for hospitals, beds, oxygen, plasma, ventilators, medicines, or Remdisivir injections was extremely reassuring. Though I was in isolation in a city I had moved into just two years back, and did not have a solid support system in place, I was confident that if I needed help, it would arrive through social media.”
Click here to read a first-person account by Swati Subhedar, co-founder, The Good Story Project.
World Food Day is observed on October 16 with an aim to eradicate hunger across the world. While, by God’s grace, we always had enough food on our plates, even during the pandemic, and most of us were in a position to help others with meals and ration during the lockdowns, there are many families who have not eaten enough since the beginning of the pandemic. Most of these families rely on daily wages or unsteady incomes and the lockdowns dealt a major blow to them. While men were out of work, it was the women who had to bear the brunt as they had to manage with less ration or the parents had to cut down on their intake, so that their children could eat enough. I spoke to five such families.
Family 1: Rachana Singh and her family
Four-year-old Archit hesitated and looked at his mother when I offered him an apple which was in my bag. His mother, Rachana Singh, 27, hesitated too. I kept it on the charpoy on which I was sitting. Archit took it and ran into the room while his mother went back to chopping onions and tomatoes. “It’s been months we have bought any fruits,” said Singh and apologized to me for not offering me tea or biscuits. I told her she was very kind to allow me into her house and wait for my journalist friend who was roaming around the village taking quotes for a story that he was working on. It was October 2020, and we were in Jata Barauli village, which is in the Barabanki district, about 30 kms from Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow. Singh and I got talking.
There are eight members in Singh’s family – two senior citizens, four adults and two children; out of these only two are earning members. The men worked as master craftsmen before the 2020 lockdown. They did not get a regular income, but it was steady and enough. They could buy a regular supply of milk fruits and vegetables, and sometimes indulged by buying fish, chicken, and eggs. The children would occasionally get their treats of cream biscuits and chocolates. The men could not earn between March and June 2020 when the nationwide lockdown was imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country. The family had to bank on their minimal savings to keep the kitchen running and later had to borrow from a relative when the savings got exhausted. The men stepped out in July 2020 to find work but in the next four months, until October, they could collectively earn only Rs 8,000. The Singh family still had to clear the dues of the local grocery store owner who let them buy groceries on credit during the lockdown.
“These days we mostly eat a curry made of onions and tomatoes and drink tea once a day, in the morning. The adults have cut down on their tea intake so that the two children could be given milk. It’s been months since we bought fruits, eggs, chicken, or fish. We buy two-three vegetables a week. That’s all we can afford presently,” said Singh.
What about their ration cards? In Uttar Pradesh, there are 3.5 crore ration cardholders who receive a monthly quota of 3 kg wheat and 2 kg of rice at subsidized rates of Rs 2 and Rs 3 per kg respectively, through 80,000 ration shops.
“Only the earning members in the family have ration cards. Our names are not mentioned in those ration cards. We have tried so many times, but because of some technical glitch, our names got omitted and the authorities have not been able to fix the error. Besides, that ration is not enough as there are eight members in the house. We still have to buy surplus wheat and rice,” said Singh.
Family 2: Ritu Gautam and her family
“Our diet has reduced to half. If the situation does not improve, we will have to eat less than this,” said Ritu Gautam, 25, who dropped by along with her toddler while I was talking to Singh. Gautams and Singhs are neighbours. There are twelve members in her family — eight adults and four children. Her husband is also a daily wage earner who had to sit at home during the entire lockdown. “It will take us a couple of months to recover from the lockdown. The men get angry at us and tell us to spend less. What they don’t understand is that vegetables, oil, spices, salt, pulses, wheat, rice, and milk are essential food items. When we were financially stable, it never pinched them, but now that money is an issue, they think we are splurging. Besides, if children demand extra milk, chocolates, and biscuits, we can’t say no to them every time,” said Gautam.
During the lockdown, all the state governments had pitched in to help daily wage earners and migrant labourers. In April 2020, the Uttar Pradesh government announced that it will provide an additional 5 kg of ration (rice/wheat) free along with the 5 kg of food grains to be distributed under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) – a government scheme — to each beneficiary in May and June 2020. As many as 14.5 million people in the state were expected to benefit from the scheme. However, both Singh and Gautam families slipped through the cracks did not receive this additional ration.
When I left the village that day, both the ladies were hopeful that the situation would improve soon so that they could eat two proper meals a day. Just a month later, in November, onion prices touched a record Rs 100/kg, and a few months later, in March 2021, came the second wave of coronavirus, more ferocious than the first one. In a short span of time, it claimed many lives and dealt a severe blow to the economy. Both the waves of the coronavirus led to severe job losses and those who took the maximum hit were the daily wage earners who suffered not just during the lockdown, but also after that.
Covid, job losses and hunger
As per the latest report by Center for Monitoring India Economy (CMIE), during the first wave of Covid, India lost 6.3 million jobs. As per the same agency, when the devastating second wave halted the Indian economy, we lost an additional 13.3 million jobs. The impact of these job losses was also felt by the women who had to curtail their food budgets as a result of which most families were not eating enough.
In order to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, every year, World Food Day is celebrated across the globe on October 16. This day aims at tackling global hunger and striving to eradicate hunger across the world. In a research report published in June 2020, Oxfam had mentioned that COVID-19 was deepening the hunger crisis in the world’s hunger hotspots and creating new epicenters of hunger across the globe, and had predicted that by the end of 2020, 12,000 people per day could die from hunger linked to COVID-19, potentially more than will die from the disease itself. Unfortunately, India made to its list of countries and regions where the food crisis had worsened because of the pandemic.
While we belong to the privileged class that always had enough food on our plates, pandemic, or no pandemic, and by God’s grace, most of us were in a position to help others during both the lockdowns, there are many families who have not eaten enough food since the beginning of the pandemic.
Family 3: Rachana Devi and her family
It’s October 2021 and people are shelling out Rs 80 to buy one kg tomatoes. “I bought basics like onions, potatoes tomatoes and a few vegetables two days back and paid Rs 350. There are four members in the family, including two children aged 11 and 14. They are not kids anymore and corresponding to their ages, their diet has also increased. While we have not curtailed our food budget, myself and my husband have cut down on our diet so that our children could eat how much ever they want to,” said Rachana Devi who lives in Lucknow’s Gwari village.
Her husband does two jobs – he works on a contract basis with a local real estate contractor and his job is to arrange for labourers, he is also a priest who visits the homes of people and performs religious ceremonies. Both the jobs took a hit during the first and the second lockdowns. In fact, the family was still coming to terms with the losses incurred during the first lockdown, when the second wave struck. “During the second wave, people were talking about the third wave in October-November. Is that true? I don’t think we are in a position to deal with more financial losses as we are rebuilding for scratch,” said Singh.
Covid leads to India’s fall in hunger index
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) report 2020 released on October 14, 2021, mentions that India has slipped to the 101st position among 116 countries in the GHI ranking from its 2020 ranking (94), to be placed behind Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The report also mentions that “people have been severely hit by covid and by pandemic related restrictions in India, the country with highest child wasting rate worldwide.” The government, however, was quick to react and claimed that the methodology used to calculate India’s ranking was unscientific. Both the lockdowns undoubtedly worsened the food crisis, and the below case study is the perfect example of this.
Family 4: “Manoj ki mata ji” (Manoj’s mother) and her family
“Sab Manoj ki mata ji hi bulate hai,” (everyone calls me Manoj’s mother) said this woman in her sixties, when I asked her name. Brothers Manoj and Rakesh Singh, along with their families, lived in Gwari village in Lucknow until October 2020. Eight family members – the two brothers, their wives, their mother and two children – lived in a one-room house. Both brothers worked as rickshaw pullers and earned daily wages. During the first lockdown, the family had to depend on food packets that were distributed daily in the locality as in the absence of daily wages, it was difficult to buy groceries, milk, and vegetables. In the wake of a severe financial crunch, Manoj and his wife moved to their village in Sandila, a town two hours from Lucknow, where they have a small farm.
Rakesh started earning again in August 2020, however, a few months later, the second wave struck. This time, however, there were no food packets to bank on.
“We went hungry on some days, but thankfully, after a few weeks, we could go to our village home. We have a small farm there and we sow potatoes in it. Every month, my brother and his wife send a sack full of potatoes. In case of a third covid wave, this time we will at least have potatoes. That was our learning from the last two lockdowns. It was tough to go hungry on some days,” said Rakesh.
Family 5: Putli Devi and her family
In September 2020, just after the first lockdown, the price of one LPG cylinder was hovering around Rs 632. Presently, in October 2021, one LPG cylinder is priced at Rs 922.50. The constantly rising prices of LPG cylinders has burnt a hole in the pockets of even middle-class families, poor families don’t even have the means to refill these cylinders. A few families I met at Mehmudpur village in Barabanki district in September 2021 have gone back to cooking on chulha (wood stove). When I met Putli Devi at her house, the first thing I noticed that the ceiling of the house was covered with black soot. I wondered what cooking on the stove must be doing to her lungs. “Do we have an option? Everything is so expensive. But one must eat basic meals. We can’t cut down on the meals, we have to buy vegetables, oil, spices, wheat, rice and pulses. That can’t be done away with, so we have to cut down on other expenses. Why would I get the cylinder refilled when it costs Rs 800-900?” she asked. Her husband is a farm labourer, who was out of work during both the lockdowns, and she has two children aged 6 and 8.
“Is there going to be a third covid wave?” asked Putli Devi, while I was leaving her house.
SaysAyanti Guha as she recounts how her gated community in Hyderabad rose to the challenges of Covid-19, with a group of over 60 women coming together to provide home-made, healthy and delicious meals to those affected by the virus. This story, is a part of our series on Covid-19 and compassion. This particular series invited people to share any experiences of goodness and kindness that they had come across as the pandemic raged in India, especially those that they had encountered first-hand.
A year and a half ago our lives changed. It’s definitely not been for the better in toto, but I cannot honestly say it’s been entirely downhill either.
I live in a gated community of 400+ units. That’s rather small in a place like Hyderabad where massive gated communities with apartment units in four digits have been popping up like mushrooms.
But when one thinks about it, there are about 2000 people living and using the same amenities 24/7, 365 days of the year and this has led to our butting heads over issues – big and small and I have contemplated whether being in a villa would be a better option for us as a family because we would get the benefit of a community and yet have more privacy for ourselves and maintain a greater sense of space between our neighbors.
At the start of the pandemic, I exited a few WhatsApp groups that were community-based. It seemed to me that rumor mongering, blind faith and paranoia was gradually taking over and clear and concise thought, empathy was getting relegated to the back burner by most.
All that started to change when Covid visited our doorsteps. Till then we were quite happy to sit back and be armchair critics about the state of the world, what the politicians ought to do better, and it was an unending list.
Once the afflictions came into our homes, it was in a no-holds barred manner. We were ill-prepared for the fear, the anxiety and the sheer helplessness that spread- whether we were affected or not. We were all impacted.
When my son tested positive for Covid last year (something he skated through with the abandon only a child is capable of) we saw the generosity of spirit of the community shine through. There was not only concern for his welfare but for ours as well. People would call, message and just reach out in case any of us wanted to vent or express our angst. And that often meant more than medical help did at times.
Over time the helping mechanism became a well-oiled machine! A group of ladies (about 60 and counting) got together and formed a group that would cater to the dietary needs of the Covid+ individuals and their families who would be under quarantine. The plan was simple – instead of running a communal kitchen, each one would make a bit extra of the meals that day in their own home and put that information on a WhatsApp group created expressly for that purpose. Each day this information would be shared with the families who were under quarantine or in need of this dabba service. They in turn would indicate what they would want for their meals, and it would be shared with them at the time specified. The only requirements would be that the food be fresh, in tune with the taste buds and food habits a particular family is used to and voila, a dynamic, healthy and fresh food service cropped up in no time at all.
Bringing together a plethora of pan-Indian cuisine and often going the extra mile in making food in special shape for kids or giving them something that appealed to their taste buds as well as sense of fun; this group became a mainstay for those who were wondering how they would navigate these tough times till the all-clear was sounded.
Soon there seemed to be a seamless way of functioning. There were no differences between the different parts of the country we came from. A South Indian breakfast one day combined with a North Indian lunch and a dinner with Eastern Indian elements was just one of the things we experienced. Handwritten notes expressing concern, personal follow-ups asking for individual food preferences were some of the other kindnesses shown. And shown freely.
This endeavor not only served to bring comfort and solace to over 80 families but it also brought these women closer together as they partook in the act of reaching out and taking care of their neighbours; many of them they had nary shared a passing glance with earlier.
As the Covid cases decreased in the community, many of the women in the food group felt a void because cooking up something for a person in need had often been the high point in their day. In fact, a sense of confidence and positivity has also crept in – that this is possibly the best place we could hope to be in during a time of crisis.
Covid will eventually become one of the crosses we will need to bear as a community.Over time, we might even become habituated to it and these harrowing days will be a thing of the past (knock wood) but the way a group of people banded together to bring some solace, peace and healing is something that will stay with us forever.
About the author: Ayanti Guha, describes herself as “a total bookworm. Semi-sloth. Part-time author, full-time mom. An occasional insomniac and dabbler in amateur clicks. Also podcasts when she runs out of people who will listen to her.
You can read also Lakshmi Ajay’s story here. In Ajay’s experience of kindness during the pandemic, food has played a central part as well.
If you have a story to share, please get in touch with us and we will be happy to publish your account in your own words.
A lot of us find ourselves turning to food, not just during the long hours of isolation during the pandemic lockdowns, but also as a part of our everyday lives. There’s also something intrinsic about wanting to share what we have cooked. Is that the reason so many of us find joy in our digital food lives?
The food groups on Facebook are a riot of colours – an alluring deep purple of yam tikkis, the virgin white of a thalissari biryani, a mellow yellow of an orange cake, a dreamy rosy-pink of a strawberry and banana milkshake in which little pistachios float like fairies on a magical ride.
And the stories! So many recipes and photographs are accompanied with anecdotes and snippets about how the dish came to, or beautiful, evocative memories associated with the particular recipes.
So you would not only have a recipe for the quintessential Tamil dish pongal, but a delightful little story on how the dish and the festival came to be. (It involves a confused Nandi, the sacred bull calf, who mixes up the instructions given by Lord Shiva and has to be sent down on earth to help people grow more food!) Or the recipe for Kara-ma-khechadi (a dish prepared with rice, lentils and vegetables) and offered to Lord Jagannath along with an endearing story of how the Lord would in the guise of a child ask for this dish from an old woman every day!
Delightful, isn’t it? Perhaps it is this mix of recipes, storytelling, sharing, and a sense of community that draws people to these food groups, some of which are more than 50,000 plus members strong and growing every single day.
A safe space, a creative space
Atul Sikand is the admin of a group on Facebook called ‘Sikandalous Cuisine.’ Sikand is also an influencer in the food industry and the director of Asian Hawkers Market Pvt. Ltd.
He says that he created the group — its name a pun on his name and the fact that his opinions can be shocking or scandalous at times — when a journalist friend asked him to do so. “I was always posting recipes about food on my personal Facebook page and that page had a lot of other things as well. My friend said that there must be a dedicated space for food and food alone, and that is how this group came to be. We are now going to be about 50,000 or so members strong and this group is India’s biggest tried and tested recipe group.”
“I am extremely strict about who gets to be a member of the group. There are strictly no business promotions or posting links or just photographs. There has to be a detailed recipe, and members often write feedback posts with accompanying pictures if they have tried out a recipe posted by a member,” explains Sikand.
Sikand himself contributes a lot to the group. “I have over 2,000 recipes now, but I won’t post something that is done to death. Like, matar paneer. I would post a recipe for hariyali kabab instead, but a recipe where I have added basil and lemongrass to give it a pan-Asia flavour and hence is a twist on the actual recipe,” he said.
Tonoya Barua is a banker-turned-qualified-chef and an alumnus of Le Cordon Bleu London. She has been running The Common Table in London, an artisan catering company, and also a pop-up restaurant at Walworth road for over a year now.
She also is the admin and founder of ‘The East West Kitchen’, a food group on Facebook with over 6000 members. From methi kumro, a Bengali-styled pumpkin with fenugreek leaves curry, Italian chicken biryani to steamed bao buns stuffed with sticky chicken and pickled vegetables, you can find a variety of recipes that combine the flavours of the eastern and western world on her group.
Barua says she started the group because she wanted to motivate people to speak about their love for food and what really inspires them. "It also gives so many people a platform to showcase their talent and creativity and to rejoice in finding a community and appreciation for their craft. Small businesses benefit as well. I do not let anyone spam my group with promotional activities, but I do have a day for home chefs and businesses run from home. It gives these home chefs goodwill and branding, and if it helps their business grow, I consider it a good thing,” she said.
Shalini Ramachandran, who is based in the US, is the founder and co-admin of ‘Euphoric Delights,’ which is a food group and more, and believe it or not, has over 150,000 members, with new members requesting to join in every day!
“I started the group (which, in the beginning, was named as Epicurean Delights) because I saw that there was a lot of genuine joy and pride to be had in sharing your food, recipes, and tips and tricks to make food better, with other people. I learnt cooking the hard way and I realised that it is a life skill. However, if you cook day in and day out, it can get boring. How do you inspire and keep yourself interested in jump-starting the cooking process every day? For me, that inspiration came from being able to see what other people were cooking and it was truly rewarding in terms of the diversity of recipes and talent out there,” says Ramachandran.
Even though the group is primarily about food, it does allow ‘off-topic’ posts. Ramachandran explains, “The group started really small. When it grew, I also took into account the needs of the community. While I did not want that members took undue advantage and posted commercial links or ‘vote for this’ or ‘share my link’ in the lure of the viewership of 150,000 people, I also realised that members trusted the community rather than the algorithm of a search engine. If they were going through a situation, they wanted solutions anonymously and turned to the group for these. I, therefore, allow off-topic posts but these are deleted within 24 hours so that those who come to the group for recipes and food, don’t see a plethora of off- topic posts.”
Ramachandran does not allow any posts that seek medical opinions or the like, but along with posts on Onam sadya recipes, bride and bridegroom cupcakes, and chilli guava ice cream, there are also posts which are strictly not about food or recipes.
Like a post showcasing festive celebrations, or handmade birthday decor for a child’s first birthday, and the anonymous ones wherein a member has reached out to the admin team to post a query on dealing with a non-communicative spouse, a break in career, tricky situations with the in-laws, or dealing with a sense of loss or loneliness. One look at these posts and you would see hundreds of replies, with the members reaching out with support, advice, or just chiming in to say, that they are there if the member needs someone to talk to.
Food as ‘digital’ therapy
During the lockdowns in the Covid-19 crisis, as the yeast flew off the shelves and baking products disappeared, you could see the food groups brimming with even more posts – people trying out heirloom recipes, or their hand at techniques and treats that they had never considered before.
Ramachandran believes that her online interactions with her food group gave her a sense of being connected and that was very important during the Covid crisis.
"During these times, I have not felt alone. This is because I have been in touch with a lot of people online. When I discuss food, a recipe, a missing ingredient or simply chip in with a suggestion or answer a query, I know I am interacting with people, even though it is not in a physical space. I keep thinking how lonely we would all have been if a crisis of this magnitude had happened some forty years or so ago, when we were less connected digitally."
Barua says, food, and digital groups like hers were really a source of comfort during the lockdown. “These groups did a lot of things. They kept people busy, sane, and entertained. There were so many of us, who had to shut down our small businesses, whether temporary or not, and cooking, sharing, and finding support of like-minded members was something that most of us turned to. And this was witnessed world-over, no matter where you lived.”
“It also gave a lot of people the confidence to talk about what they were doing. Sometimes their skills in the kitchen went unnoticed at home, lost in the busyness of everyday life. When they posted their recipes and the likes multiplied, followed by comments for tips and appreciation, it gave them a sense of pride and accomplishment. And that is very important, Covid or not,” elaborates Barua.
Barua’s sentiments are echoed by Sarikar Sarkar, a special needs teacher, and an educator who is based in Hyderabad and who is also a founding member of the The East West Kitchen. “People turned to food during Covid because they realised that cooking as a skill, as a mood enhancer never loses its essence. It was like falling in love with cooking all over again. Digital food groups have actually helped revive and regenerate interest in recipes that were either forgotten or lost, and it is with this sharing that conversations, friendships, and a sense of community builds up, connecting people from across the world.”
Sikand says that food works as therapy, even digitally because, “The rewards are there in front of you. Instantly. It’s not like planting a sapling of an olive tree and waiting for it to fruit and flower for 13 long years! These platforms are spaces where you discover your own potential and form friendships, have conversations and indulge in banter and goodwill.” (Sikand has an olive tree at his Gurgaon home and a plentiful harvest of olives now – and that’s where the reference to the olive tree analogy comes from!)
A master course in management
The digital space can be a tricky one. These groups are thousands of members strong and growing every day. How do you manage such large groups with full-time jobs and what does one learn from this experience?
“My biggest learning, and this happens every day, is being wowed by the massive scale and diversity of our cuisine. We have always known it but to see it unfold one recipe by another, even the same ingredients and recipes taking a different form from one village and city to another, even one household to another. It is endless learning. I honestly believe there is no cuisine in the world that equals Indian in scale, diversity, wealth and palate,” says Sikand.
“We may have been limited by our techniques – in the sense, that our grandmothers or great grandmothers’ recipes did not have exact measurements, it always by andaaz – a pinch of that, a fistful of this, but now over the years, we have food bloggers and home chefs refining those recipes, trying and testing them and I see that so much on my group,” continues Sikand.
As for managing a group, Sikand says that most members think of it as a community, and if they see a post which is not in the spirit of the group, they bring it to my notice even before I have had a chance to see it. “Like there was someone posting live Tarot sessions on the group and so many members instantly reported it.”
Ramachandran echoes similar sentiments. “My group is member-run. And by that, I give all credit to the admins, who are also members of the group and put in so much work out of sheer love for the group. They help in flagging and removing promotional posts, spam, and intervene if there is something that needs admin support. And members who aren’t in the official admin team also flag up content that is contrary to the group’s ethos.”
"I can say that my biggest learning is that, one, how important it is to get a trademark for the name of the group. I learnt this when someone attempted to lay a claim over the group's previous name, and in a way, the group itself. And my second big takeaway as an admin is that people love cakes, especially cakes that don't look like cakes. A cake which looks like a puppy, a wallet, a sari! I also feel that people love food that reminds them of something - a place, nostalgia, a memory," says Ramachandran.
Food in an unequal world – plentiful pantries and food banks
As comforting and inspiring it is to share recipes and photographs on digital platforms and to receive recognition for your talent, how does one deal with the inequalities that are a harsh reality of the world around us? The fact that some of us have well-stocked pantries and even when certain ingredients were out of stock during the lockdown, there was always this assurance that these would be replenished. And in glaring contrast, those who have to depend on food banks (in the Western part of the world) and or on government subsidies and ration cards (in India) or charity (just about anywhere in the world) for their next grocery purchase.
“The inequalities are part of our daily existence, and not just limited to the Covid crisis. I think when people share what they have cooked, it is not about showing off or an attempt to showcase their privilege, it is more about exploring themselves and their skills. And so many individuals and organisations rose to the occasion when hunger was a real issue to reckon with during the lockdown. They did in so many ways – be it cooking for the security guards of their society, providing tiffin to the elderly, helping put together food kits or contributing towards making of food kits,” says Sikand.
Barua admits that it is a difficult question and that there are no easy answers, but that one does what one can do. “We all find solace in different things to get us through a crisis. We also try and help because we are aware of the inequalities around us. The cafe space that we rent for our restaurant had sprung into action quite quickly and had organised a scheme in which patrons could donate an amount for every meal that they purchased. They did so by coordinating with the church in the neighbourhood.”
Ramachandran says that she doesn’t believe in guilt-tripping people. “I understand how unequal the world is, and that it may feel that some of us have won a kind of a lottery in terms of our favourable circumstances, however I would say that we shouldn’t be quick to judge people, or finger point. More than ever we need kindness, compassion, and understanding.”
Perhaps that is the secret ingredient too — not just in our digital life, but in almost everything we do.
We loved these recipes:
Sponge rasgullas in pressure cooker – in Euphoric Delights
Dahi ke Sholey – in Sikandalous Cuisine
Pork milanese – in The East-West Kitchen
Tell us what you loved searching for and trying out!