Coronavirus Pandemic

India's Covid warriors: This Good Samaritan is on call '24x7' for the people of Kolkata

Sanchita Guha/Kolkata
Filed on May 17, 2021
Photo: Supplied

Pradip Chakraborty responds to frantic appeals for hospital beds, medicines, and oxygen at any time of the day or night.

It was about 1.30am when Pradip Chakraborty got the call: a very polite and apologetic voice requesting help with oxygen, the most precious commodity in India right now — abundant in the air, but hard to draw into lungs affected by Covid-19 without the concentrated flow from a cylinder.

Chakraborty, whose phone is on 24x7 for such frantic calls, immediately shifted into total wakefulness, despite a long day balancing professional and social work. First, though, he asked: how did the caller, a stranger, get his number? Social media was the prompt answer.


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The next few minutes saw Chakraborty, a resident of the eastern Indian metropolis of Kolkata, waking up his brother-in-law, an oxygen dealer in another part of the city, getting his dealership outlet opened right then in the middle of the night, and having the lifeline for Covid-19 patients delivered by the dealership employees to the person in dire need of it.

Another time, he was out till almost 2am, helping a 76-year-old woman in her desperate search for a hospital bed for her 78-year-old husband, who was in the twilight zone of being with Covid-19 symptoms but without a positive test result.

Does this leave him drained? Not at all. “This work energises me and propels me towards doing more. Helping people was always my passion,” said Chakraborty.

Always looking to do more, he has now teamed up with a friend’s charitable trust to set up a 25-bed ‘safe home’ in Kolkata for Covid-19 patients in urgent need of care and oxygen before finding a hospital bed.

Despite all the financial hurdles, they’ve made it happen, and they plan to expand the safe home capacity to combat the 2021 second wave. “I’m ready to take the thorns with the flowers,” he said, “but for every two thorns I get, I also get eight flowers.”

His work as a Covid-19 warrior defies the notion that there are only so many hours in the day. From about 6am on an average day, the calls for help start coming — hospital beds, oxygen, medicines, blood — and they go on well past midnight, occasionally spilling over into the early hours of the morning.

Chakraborty doesn’t mind at all; he considers his Good Samaritan role a “stress-buster” even, a way to unwind from the pressures of his job as the regional manager of a pharmaceutical company. His career proximity to medicines dovetails with his humanitarian outreach.

“One day, during the first lockdown of 2020, I got a call from a member of the Bengali Dubai Society around 9.30pm. The caller needed urgent help as his elderly parents, who live in Kolkata, hadn’t been able to get their medicines for two days and were feeling sick — they needed medicines that very night,” recalled Chakraborty.

The social worker made calls, got a drugstore opened, rode his motorbike about 12km that night, and handed over the medicines to the Dubai expat’s parents. His reward was heartfelt blessings from the senior citizens and a warm feeling that he had been able to honour what his own parents had taught him.

The unwavering support of his wife and son makes it possible for him to reach out to so many people. “They are fantastically cooperative,” he said, with the happy smile of a man who knows that his family has got his back.

“During the lockdown, I delivered medicines and food to my mathematics and physics teachers from school — Rana Sir and Sujit Sir, respectively — and when they blessed me, I felt a deep sense of self-worth as a human being,” said Chakraborty, an alumnus of South Point High School, which was, at one point, the largest institution in Asia. He has kept in touch with many retired teachers and regularly keeps track of their needs.


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These are the highs of a Covid-19 warrior, but there are lows as well, such as the sight of a friend sobbing after the death of his father on the verge of hospital admission, a life snuffed out, despite getting an ICU bed that Chakraborty had secured using all his pharmaceutical and social connections. (Quite a few of those connections come from the world of sport, where Chakraborty, a staunch supporter of the legendary East Bengal club, has made many influential friends, including former India cricket captain and Bengal icon Sourav Ganguly.)

After every such moment of tragedy, Chakraborty shakes off despair and moves on, ready to help the next person, armed with knowledge. His spirituality, based on the guidance of his guru Thakur Anukul Chandra, has a practical aspect: to perform in a better way, to do it every day, and to find God through service to the people.

The essence of the teachings is “being and becoming”, a way of life that nurtures collective welfare aligned with the environment rather than focus on only individual advancement. Learning is a part of this life. “My difficulties shouldn’t be repeated. I upgrade myself,” he said, adding, “My passion for helping [others] shouldn’t be affected by things that are not in my control.”

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