The direct message (DM) had landed early morning. At 6:45am, to be precise. By the time I woke up, a few more DMs had pushed it down. It was May 2020. Those days, most of the volunteers of India Cares had a very erratic schedule. We would sleep around 3:00am and wake up late in the morning.
Like all other days, the first thing I did was to open my Twitter DMs. There was this DM from Shailja in Hyderabad. Not one but a couple of them, all peppered with short sentences.
"Sir, please save me."
"We have not eaten anything for last 6 days."
"I am from Hyderabad. I stay with my husband and in-laws."
"Sir, they are talking about committing suicide. My husband asked me. I don't want to die, sir. Please save me."
I was half asleep while scrolling through the DMs, but by the time I finished the last sentence, I was sitting up straight, wide awake.
The first thing I checked was the time. It was 9:20am. Her last DM was at 6:45am. It had already been more than two-and-a-half hours. "Am I late?," was my first thought.
"Hello, can we talk?"
"Hello, don't worry. We can help"
"Don't worry. Everything will be okay"
"Please send your number. I will call"
My DMs to her were getting delivered but she had not read them. Was I late? I could not shrug the thought off.
How do I reach her? How to alert the local authorities? What if they have done something unthinkable in the last two hours? Oh, why did I not wake up earlier? My brain was racing and the heart sinking.
On Twitter, she had no display picture, or the more colloquial 'DP'. Her 'bio' was a single word — "Housewife".
The account had been opened in May 2020. I had seen many people joining social media during the lockdown, just to seek help. All this quick investigation gave no clue that could lead to her.
Meanwhile, I kept checking my DMs to see if she had replied. There was none.
"Hello, please talk to me. All will be okay."
I kept messaging after every few minutes. After a nerve-wracking wait of more than an hour, she finally responded.
"Sorry sir, I did not check my phone."
She sent her number. I immediately called her up. She narrated the ordeal her family had been undergoing.
For the last three days, they had survived only on water. By the time the conversation got over, she was sobbing. A word of sympathy, an assurance of help melted her.
In less than an hour, two India Cares volunteers were at her gate with a ration kit. By that time, out of sheer desperation, I had already called two more contacts in Hyderabad. The family got two more bags full of ration that evening.
At 3pm, Shailja sent me picture of her kitchen. She had cooked after many days. I saw her for the first time. A frail young lady with a sheepish smile. The picture is etched into my memory permanently.
I always knew that being able to help someone is therapeutic, especially unknown souls who may never cross our path again. What I did not know is that such efforts also bring some scars. On some days, we have heartaches to heal, too.
One day, I got a call from a volunteer — a young and passionate girl. In those three months of lockdown, she must have managed to help dozens of people, almost single handedly. She was crying.
What happened? Was this another ego clash between young volunteers? But that could not have affected her so much. What was it then?
As she composed herself and started telling the story, I was moved by her empathy. She was helping a young patient, had arranged for his hospitalisation. Then, for medicines and blood. Even food for the caretakers.
For almost five-six days she was totally engrossed in taking care of this young boy. However, he could not make it through. He had expired the previous night. The young girl could not handle the trauma.
She cried and cried. And I, for once, did not know what to say to her. I just waited for her to calm down, tried to console her with some meaningless philosophy.
A month or so later, during a web meeting, it did strike me to ask her about the family of that young patient. Luckily, I refrained myself from doing so at the last minute. I would have probably scratched the wound in her soul, inadvertently.
Seva is not joyous always. There are moments of despair and loss as well. It doesn't always bring joy. At times, it brings tears. Tears that wash your soul.