Image: Renjen PavithranThe first 20-30 minutes—typically at 5:30 am—with the day’s first coffee is a ritual that’s sacrosanct for Mahita Nagaraj, founder of Caremongers India. This survived through three phases of recent circumstances as the Covid-19 pandemic spread, with lockdowns in countries around the world, including India. The phases were before, during and after the lockdown. Caremongers India started with an innocuous WhatsApp message on Nagaraj’s school group, in which she offered to check on the parents of friends living overseas, if they needed help. One thing led to another and Nagaraj found herself with an initiative that she named Caremongers India—inspired by something she had read about an initiative in Canada about ‘care-mongering’. What began as a Facebook group for the effort now has some 46,000 members—both looking for help and offering to volunteer—across 14 countries. Requests for help range from just asking for someone to run a quick errand to seeking recommendations on treatment for cancer, and how one might achieve that during these times. “During the lockdown, including being part of a government task force for getting essentials out to people and handling calls from the Caremongers initiative, I was pulling 20-hour days,” Nagaraj said in a phone interview. “There was no routine.” Now, life is getting back to routine dictated by the new normal of having to live with the virus. In the pre-Covid days, 38-year-old Nagaraj’s day worked around the needs of her 12-year-old son, who is a keen athlete at a reputable school in Bengaluru, and passionate about swimming. Nagaraj, a single mom, lives with her own mum, but had isolated herself at a friend’s place for over two weeks during the lockdown when she was stepping out for the task force-related and other work. Her mother and son stayed at home. Nagaraj wanted to ensure that in the event that she contracted the virus, she wouldn’t bring it home to her mother and son. Now, they are back together and have even begun to make time for movies on television together. In general, “my son and I are early-to-bed and early-to-rise people,” Nagaraj said. In pre-Covid days, she would drive him to school by 6:45 a.m. for his daily athletics training. These days, he has online classes. With her mother also at home, Nagaraj has begun to get back to work as a digital marketing and branding freelancer. However, managing the Caremongers India effort—including now handling a dedicated helpline—continues to be a big part of her day. “We are seriously brainstorming about what to do next with it,” she says.
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