I've been a journalist for over a decade, working across newspapers and magazines. At Forbes India, I write and edit stories on varied themes. I am a sports buff — turning to the back pages of the newspaper first— and keenly follow current affairs, pop culture and new trends at the intersection of politics, business and culture. Being an inveterate foodie, I often end up writing about it.
Saransh Goila, founder, Goila Butter ChickenA week or so ago, chef Saransh Goila received a direct message on Instagram from the relatives of a young girl in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh. The girl had lost her immediate family to Covid-19 and was quarantining at home. “Could I help with organising meals for her, they asked me,” says the founder of Goila Butter Chicken (GBC). “It’s heartbreaking. When you are stressed about finding hospital beds or oxygen for your near and dear ones, or even grieving deaths in families, the last thing you want to worry about is what am I going to eat. There was a big gap here and I knew I had to step in.” While leveraging his million-plus following on social media (Instagram and Twitter combined) helped him resolve the problem for the Eluru girl, Goila also started to crowdsource data on organisations and individuals willing to provide meals to Covid-19 patients, who are isolating at home. “Since most of these leads were coming directly to me, they were verified to a certain extent, unlike social media at large where a lot of data float around and you don’t know which ones to rely on,” he says. On the first day itself, the list added up to 200 providers across 10 to 12 cities, and in another four, to 1,000 providers across 40 cities. “Such a large volume was difficult to manoeuvre on a Google sheet, and Covid-19 patients can’t possibly keep scrolling endlessly to zero in on their location,” says Goila. When Karan Sood, the co-founder of Fastor, a technology platform, reached out to him with a solution to streamline the search, he latched on to it. “They said they could convert this sheet into a website in 48 hours and turn all future registrations seamless.” On April 25, Goila launched covidmealsforindia.com, a listings portal that connects Covid-affected individuals with those willing to cook a meal for them. The website functions as a JustDial of sorts, where a search of locations throws up a list of local service providers with their WhatsApp details—patients can directly forward requests to the inboxes of these listees to thrash out meal and delivery modalities. “This ensures that even if I’ve missed a DM or two, it shouldn’t deprive a Covid-19 patient, unable to cook on her own, a nutritious meal,” says Goila, who’s navigating chock-a-block schedules since the launch of 'Covid Meals For India' and admits he hasn’t had the time to visit the GBC kitchens since. In four days, the not-for-profit initiative has onboarded about 2,500 service providers across 52 cities, including metros like Delhi and Mumbai, smaller cities like Mysuru and even remote ones like Leh. It sends an OTP to a registrant, ensuring that a phone number is verified, and asks him/her to fill out a form with details ranging from a basic name-and-address to the specifics of the meal. “We are okay with the meal being as simple as daal-sabzi-roti, but you need to explain while signing up. Through a slightly detailed registration process, we are trying to ensure that people who sign up are genuine. The assumption is if you aren’t sincere, you won’t waste your time filling it up,” adds Goila. The registrants are split into four buckets—75 percent are homechefs, 10 percent volunteers and the rest a mix of delivery kitchens and restaurants. The overwhelming presence of homechefs means many a time a meal can be tailored to suit a specific diet, like diabetic-friendly, or accommodate special requests, like moong ki paani or cut fruits, something that a restaurant menu is unable to cater to. Kunzes Angmo, who curates experiential dining in Leh through her brand Artisanal Alchemy and has also listed for Goila’s project, delivered her first meal on Wednesday to a government officer from Kathua (in Jammu & Kashmir), posted in Leh. “Having come from outside Leh, he doesn’t know too many people here,” says Angmo, who sent out a package of rice, kaali daal, egg curry and thukpa. “My parents are senior citizens and diabetic and we make simple meals at home. I sent him such a meal, so that a Covid patient can have ghar ka khaana (home-cooked food).” Since the final loop, of meal delivery, is completed between the vendor and the user (he stays away from fulfilling the order, “as the non-profit initiative then has to be turned into a venture”), Goila doesn’t have the exact number of meals that have gone out through his website. But he claims there are 1,500-odd visitors on the portal at any given point who stay on for about 4 to 5 minutes on an average. Goila is now looking to foray into Tier-3 cities, where the reach of social media is feeble and volunteers are few. Help requests are pouring in from cities like Mirzapur, Meerut (Uttar Pradesh), Vizag (Andhra Pradesh), Jhajjar (Haryana) and many more, and Goila is amplifying such messages on his timelines to forge more connections. “Almost a lakh people by now have accessed the website,” says Goila. “If a small initiative like this is catching on because we are in dire need of help, it just goes to show how our system is really broken.” He adds: “I could feel proud about what I have created. But on most days I feel unhappy. None of us should have to be in a position that needs such drastic steps to save people. It’s a troubling feeling.”