Social worker Nitai Das Mukherjee, 52, who battled death for 42 long days in a private hospital in Kolkata after he was infected by the deadly coronavirus in March last year, is back on the roads of the city in his quest to give shelter to the homeless and life to ailing.
“I saw death from up close and so I know how painful it is to die and I don’t want anyone in this city to die without food, shelter or medicine. I know my resources are limited but there are many people who want to contribute to the society. I only work as a middleman mediating between the people who want to help and the people who need the help,” Mukherjee, who is still not able to walk or stand for a long time because of Covid’s after-effects, said.
Mukherjee who for the last 25 years has been reaching out to the people on the streets of Kolkata providing them food, shelter, clothing and medicine with the help of Kolkata police and the state health department. On March 29 he complained of high fever and respiratory distress. Next morning, he was put on the ventilator awaiting his coronavirus test report.
As the results came in, he was tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. His subsequent tests also came positive that kept him on the ventilator for 38 days. But Nitai da – as he is fondly called by his neighbours- did not give up, he fought back along with the team of doctors and nurses by his side. After 42 days he was tested negative and was released from the hospital.
When asked whether he is scared now, the soft-spoken person smiled and said, “I cannot sit back at home because of death. I will die then. This has been my ordeal for the last 25 years and it has gone into my veins. My close ones told me not to get involved now but how can I not? In a country where the social security network is so fragile, people like us can create a bridge between the administration and the needy. I have developed this for long and I cannot let it go only because I had covid”.
Mukherjee is not exaggerating. The one-time businessman switched professions to propagate a cause a quarter of a century ago. The person who began with taking an ailing unknown boy to the doctor with less than 5 rupees in the pocket is now heading HIVE (India), the NGO that works with 65 police stations across a 210 sq km footprint.
What started out as an initiative to provide free medicines on a narrow pavement has extended to picking dead bodies off streets, driving the dying to hospital, rescuing trafficked children and women, providing relief to those affected by fires and getting the abandoned/disoriented/lost back home. Covid cannot stop the man whose credo is: No one should be allowed to die on the streets of Calcutta.