'Everything has been washed or blown away. I had to park my car far away and the civic police escorted us to the locals and when they spotted us it was like they had struck gold, so eager to grab a few packets of basic necessities.'
Cut off from sport due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian archer Rahul Banerjee has busied himself with relief work for victims of cyclone Amphan, travelling to the affected areas with friends to help those in need.
As if the pandemic was not enough, West Bengal was ravaged by the fiercest cyclone to have hit the state in 100 years, on May 20.
Moved by the plight of those affected by the natural calamity, the former Commonwealth Games gold medallist decided to do his bit.
He called up a couple of his friends and they set out on their own in a car loaded with tarpaulin, food packets and sanitary napkins. They headed straight to the affected areas in South 24 Parganas on the morning of May 25.
"As our car went into a village (Kultuli), people started running after our car. They were so desperate for relief materials. We had about 200 packets and 150 tarpaulin but the demand was much higher," Banerjee told PTI.
"All the farmlands had turned into large lakes. There was water everywhere and roofs of all the houses were damaged. We felt so helpless and devastated. We felt this was not enough."
Banerjee, along with his friends Niloy Das (a tattoo artist) and Priyam Middey (a dance teacher), returned with a resolve to give more and engage more people from their respective fraternities.
They made their next trip to Sandeshkhali and then to Sunderban, and the picture was the same everywhere.
"Everything has been washed or blown away. I had to park my car far away and the civic police escorted us to the locals and when they spotted us it was like they had struck gold, so eager to grab a few packets of basic necessities. The smiles on their faces when they thanked us were worth the effort," he added.
Since then, Banerjee and his friends' relief work has grown and they have already made four trips in a mini-van loaded with food packets and tarpaulins.
"We are also now helped by an NGO and many of our friends have started chipping in with funds, dry foods, tarpaulins, old clothes etc.," Banerjee, who visited Bakkhali on Sunday, said.
They have taken all measures to distribute the items, wearing protective gears to combat the spread of the pandemic, but Banerjee fears a spike in cases as the Amphan-affected people are running around for help without maintaining social distancing.
"All they want is relief material as they do not have food and shelter and they care least about COVID-19. No one was wearing a mask and everywhere there were scores of people waiting for help. Such has been the devastation," he concluded.