“A Jain temple sent us lunch and dinner for a month, free of cost. No questions asked”

says Rishabh Lalani, who revisits 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. 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.

As I start writing this piece, I remember going to back to a question one of my friends asked on social media – Is there a Hindi word for kindness? As we chew on this question, I am transported to the months of May, June and July 2021. I live and work in Bangalore, but during these months, I was in Kolkata where the rest of my family resides. On 21st May, my younger brother tested positive for Covid-19. Subsequently, on 27th May, my father tested positive and on 29th May, my mother also tested positive. Suddenly, my whole world had unraveled. My entire support system was at stake; my mind was struggling to make sense of what had happened, and life had come to a standstill.

A few calls to some of the doctors, who had treated us over the years resulted in no responses. My brother called up the mother of one of his students. She was a general physician and she agreed to do regular consultations for him. While she was treating him, my father was next in line, and she took up his case as well. She would enquire with us every day and check up on both my brother and father periodically. Sometimes she would scold me for my absent mindedness but was always alert to our needs. When my mother’s infection took a turn for the worse, she stepped up to the occasion, helped us access a critical care specialist and kept checking in on her as well. Her reassurances kept me going. At the end of it all, when we offered her fees for all her trouble, she refused. She said it meant the world to her that she could help. I don’t know yet how to thank her.

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.

With the events unfolding as they were, my friends kept me steady. It’s hard to write without taking names, but let’s say that one beautiful soul was there with me throughout the whole episode – making calls to hospitals, checking in on ambulances, helping me decide on backup plans and connecting me to her doctor friend for seeking second opinions and advice. All my friends were available to me – some helped me cry, others gave me alternative suggestions, discussed pros and cons of decisions, connected me to doctors…  All of them were present to me in any way or form that I needed them. Without them, I would have sunk without a trace.

And finally, I want to talk about family. My brother-in-law, my sisters, my maami (the Indian term commonly used for your maternal uncle’s wife) – all of them were constantly giving me strength. My sisters arranged for fruits, and daily consumables that I needed, while my brother-in-law helped me decipher medical advice and kept constant vigil on everyone through WhatsApp. My sister in the UK spoke to us every day even though she was down with fever herself.

Which brings me back to the original question – is there a Hindi word for kindness? Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t. It doesn’t matter. From the doctor who treated my family for free to the folks in the Jain mandir who gave us nutritious meals – it is our common humanity, our innate kindness that held us together. There was no reason for people to open their hearts at a time when all of us were stretched, but everyone still did. Why? One final story may have the answer.

Every night, I would go to the dumpster near our home to dispose off of our daily household garbage, that is, to empty our bins. For the first couple of nights that I did so, I noticed a few homeless people in the vicinity. One day, I resolved to be more mindful in how I was serving my family their food. I knew exactly how much they needed for a meal at a time and would carefully put in the required portions in their plates. The rest of the food, I saved and packed in clean containers, taking utmost care to follow the Covid-19 protocols.

From that day onwards, every night, I would go down and distribute the food that I had saved and hygienically packed and preserved to the people who seemed to be hungry and homeless. I realised that we had plenty of food, the portions sent out to us were generous, and we were in a position to offer food to others as well. One of them happened to be a diabetic and he sought my help to buy some medicines. I agreed and bought him a month’s worth of supplies. Every night with my heart heavy with thoughts about what the next day would bring, this was the one thing that gave me peace. I asked myself why? My heart’s answer was “Acha lagta hai (It feels good).”

Maybe that is the answer to why kindness exists. Maybe it’s about acha lagta hai.

About the author: Rishabh Lalani loves connecting with people, is a great believer in the power of connection and is learning to live in the moment. He tells stories and contributes to people’s well-being through fundraising.

You can read the previous stories in this series here: Hyderabad-based Ayanti Guha’s experience of finding a sense of community during Covid and Bangalore-based Lakshmi Ajay’s experience of receiving kindness from complete strangers during the pandemic.

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.