This hero doesn’t have a cape, he has an auto rickshaw. Ajayan, an auto driver in Kerala’s Kottayam district, made it his own business to help the people who needed daily essential items but could not step out of their houses due to the nationwide lockdown in India. The 43-year-old spoke to Gulf News about how he has provided the service for free, every day during the ongoing lockdown.
He said: “I live in Kottayam’s Kumarakom area. People call me on my phone to give me their list of items needed, I buy and deliver these items to their doorsteps. They have to pay me only for the items they purchase, nothing for the trip or the delivery are completely free of charge.”
It is mainly the old or the sick, who call Ajayan for help. He added: “I sometimes even get calls from people in Dubai and America, they call me and request to deliver food or medicines to their parents or families here in Kumarakom. They feel relieved that they can trust someone to help them since it is hard to get transport and permits here right now.”
“Some who call me are old mothers who live alone. Many are patients, who suffer from blood pressure or heart issues and I take them to medical facilities for free. It makes me happy to see that they can trust me at a time they need help the most,” he added.
Ajayan also needed a permit to travel within the town. On 24 March, the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, in which autos and transport services were also stopped. When the lockdown was announced Ajayan went to the nearest police station in town and told them that he wanted to help people. The police made him a photo ID card that gave him the required access to go around the city and perform this act of kindness.
He started moving around the town and the number of calls started increasing daily. He recalled: “On April 14, I had 17 calls. The number of calls increased to 20-25, and now seem to be decreasing slightly.”
Ajayan who lives with his wife and two children has not been able to earn a single penny in the last 26 days, but looks forward to returning to work, as India slowly eases movement restrictions. He said: “When I work, I start my day at around 8:30am after dropping my children to school. I work till about 7:30pm and manage to earn Rs800-1000 (Dh35-48) on a daily basis. Since I was not earning, some families that I helped, offered to pay me for diesel or for food, but I denied. I am not doing this to get anything in return, I am only giving back to society.”
Talking about how he manages food and other essentials in the lockdown, he said: “I am part of an auto driver’s association called the Chengathi Kootam, this association gives me Rs200-300 (Dh9-14) for my daily food and other needs,” Ajayan said.
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It was the emotional experience during the perilous floods in Kerala in the last two years, which motivated Ajayan to help his neighbours. He said: “During the floods, I helped my friends to get out of their houses before the floods hit their houses but I was not expecting water to hit my home as we live on higher ground. But, unexpectedly, water reached my small home too, I watched my neighbours helping my children and my wife, it really touched me. And, I decided I have to do something in return. I am only an auto driver, this is what I can do to help.”
Out of India’s 16,263 registered positive COVID-19 cases, only 401 are from Kerala. Out of this 270 people have recovered and two died. The state is now easing lockdown in phases starting with Kottayam and Idukki, which have been declared green zones in the state. Starting April 20, Ajayan will be allowed to go out and earn his daily bread, but he said: “I will continue to help people as long as I can. This is also what I want to say to others, we should find our little ways to help others, otherwise, what is the point in being blessed with a life?”