'I had grown up seeing them and now they were not able to feed themselves. I was deeply pained to see them. They are like my extended family so I was happy to help. It was like living a new life.'
Tainted by a doping offence a year ago, Indian footballer Rana Gharami has now become a hero in his home town, by lending a helping hand to those struggling to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
The 29-year-old former Odisha FC defender hails from Garalgacha in West Bengal's Hooghly district.
In April last year, Gharami was handed a provisional suspension by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) after he tested positive for a banned substance, in a first such case involving an Indian Super League footballer.
Gharami, who was with Delhi Dynamos then, was cleared to return to his franchise after six months.
"It was a horrible past and I suffered a lot of mental turmoil. I don't want to recall anymore. There was a time when I had stopped taking phone calls," Gharami, who started in eight matches for Odisha FC last ISL season, said.
He was saddened to see the plight of hundreds of poor people, most daily wage labourers or rickshaw pullers, losing livelihood because of the pandemic-forced lockdown.
To help the needy, he contacted his childhood club, Garalgacha Junior Sporting, and organised a relief distribution camp during the first phase of the lockdown.
"I had grown up seeing them and now they were not able to feed themselves. I was deeply pained to see them. They are like my extended family so I was happy to help. It was like living a new life," said Gharami, who was tested positive for prednisone and prednisolone metabolities - both banned by NADA.
In the first phase they distributed 150 relief packets but they were not enough.
"Many more people started turning up at my doorstep and said they were deprived.
"This time I got in touch with few of my friends as we prepared another list with 100 families," Gharami, who led Bengal to a Santosh Trophy triumph in 2017, said.
They distributed tokens to the families and asked them to come and collect their packets containing rice, lentil, oil, vegetables and other essential items like soap and sanitiser.
"It was so nice to stand by them and in turn be blessed by them. There's a deep satisfaction of doing something for the society. We are looking forward to arrange another round of distribution soon," the former Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting defender said.
Gharami is yet to join a new club for the upcoming season.
"Even during my early days of playing, I always reached out to the kids of my former club and helped them with kits etc.
"I have gone through the difficult phase personally and I try my best to ensure that the local kids are not affected," Gharami said.