Anchal Sharma does not wear a cape. But, for a few hundred children in the slums of Rangpuri, Delhi, Anchal ‘Didi’ is a superhero.
Donning vibrant headscarves and armed with packets of steaming food, Anchal steps into these dingy alleys straight from her chemotherapy sessions. Every day, an army of ecstatic kids swarm around her with excitement in their eyes, and in those moments, Anchal admits to feeling a rush of happiness.
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From starvation to domestic violence, from being defrauded of lakhs to her younger sister’s murder—Anchal has battled a relentless series of traumatic experiences from her very childhood.
Her indomitable zeal was put to the ultimate test in 2017 when she was diagnosed with third stage breast cancer.
But, Delhi’s little-known Wonder Woman refuses to give in to any curveball that life throws her way. Today, she feeds around 100-200 underprivileged kids every day, mostly from her savings and her inspiring life story is every bit worth a million shares.
Anchal was born into a lower-middle-class family of five. Her father was an auto driver who staked all his savings to invest in a van, only to lose his work to unscrupulous people.
“Helpless and desperate, my father resorted to alcoholism. He often abused my mother in an inebriated state,” recalls Anchal, in a conversation with The Better India.
The plight of her three young children compelled Anchal’s mother to take up the job as a labourer in a factory. Her work demanded her to stand the whole day, yet she never hesitated to work extra hours. But, as luck would have it, she soon lost her job to an unannounced lay-off.
“Our food supplies ran out soon, and there were times when we starved for days on end. On better days, we could afford a chapati or two with chilli powder,” narrates Anchal.
Both she and her brother, who were in Class 8 and 9 respectively, had to drop out of school. While her brother found work as a mechanic in a motor garage, Anchal secured the job of a receptionist at a trading firm, fetching a paltry salary of Rs 4000 per month.
The lack of a school degree did not stand in the way of her career growth as Anchal was a fast learner and incredibly hard-working.
“As a fresher, I knew close to nothing. Whatever I have learnt today is entirely due to my own efforts,” she expresses in fluent English.
Anchal prospered quickly in her career and found herself in the real estate domain soon. The struggles of her personal life kept on hindering her ambitions, but she overcame all of it. Her earnings kept on increasing steadily.
During her tenure as a real estate agent at her friend’s company, she was duped of over 2.5 lakh rupees worth of salary incentives. Her family’s distress and dwindling finances did not permit her to lament. Within days, she found herself back to square one, joining another firm as a receptionist.
Anchal’s prior experience paid off, and she was promoted to be a broker with the same agency. Finally, she was able to afford a rented flat for her family.
Meanwhile, Anchal supported her younger sister, against the family’s wishes, so that she could get married to the man she loved. Five months later, her sister’s photo was featured in the news after her husband murdered her.
A devastated Anchal gathered every bit of her strength to ensure justice. Due to her sole persistence in the face of threats and warnings, the accused was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The incident shook her family to the very core. Coerced by relatives, her parents got Anchal married to the first man they could find. The marriage was unhappy, and Anchal was at the receiving end of continuous mental and even physical harassment for money. Within three months, she divorced her husband and retraced her focus on her career. She also started her very own real estate firm.
She single-handedly provided for her mother’s treatment of a rare brain ailment and her father’s tuberculosis. In the meantime, the dream house she started constructing ended up being demolished by a municipality order.
Amid all this, she had little time to take care of her well-being, and that took an extreme toll on her health. She ignored a festering lump in her breast and continued taking care of her parents.
Then, in 2017, she was diagnosed with third stage breast cancer.
“Even heroes in movies would give up at this point, but I did not,” Anchal expresses with an iron grit in her voice. Initially, she had little idea that something beautiful was actually awaiting her. She persevered through all the pain with a newfound zeal of living. “I even used to dress up in fashionable clothes for my chemotherapy sessions, because why not?” she reiterates.
During this tiresome and expensive treatment period, one day, a bunch of slum children approached Anchal at a traffic signal, begging for money. She refused to give money and instead took them to a nearby dhaba for lunch.
The owner of the spick-and-span food joint outright refused to serve meals to kids in tattered frocks and torn sandals. At another fast-food stall, well-dressed ‘gentlemen’ left as soon as the group of kids settled on the chairs.
The stark reality of society scarred Anchal deeply. “I promised myself that I would try to feed them every day.”
It started with five or six meal boxes of home-cooked food that she brought for the kids in Rangpuri slums. Exhausting her savings, she started bringing more and more food with each passing day.
Within a few months, the initiative garnered so much popularity among the kids that she registered her NGO ‘Meals Of Happiness’ to propagate the endeavour. Though donations started flowing in, Anchal could not rely on them due to their irregularity.
“For instance, many people make donations on their birthdays or anniversaries, and then I can feed as many as 2,000 kids. On normal days, my own funds allow me to feed around 200 kids,” she reveals. So far, she claims that has served over one lakh meals to these kids as well as other needy people.
At present, Anchal is crowdfunding to fulfil her dream of feeding as many as 5000 kids daily. She also wants to go green by adopting non-plastic packaging for the meals.
Her doctors at the Max Hospital have honoured her with the ‘Nidar Hamesha’ award for her extraordinary efforts. In fact, some of the physicians even joined her in many of her visits to the slums.
Anchal still has to undergo four more years of treatment to be completely cured of cancer. But, her personal setbacks have taken a backseat in her priority list.
“According to reports, Delhi-NCR has one of the highest number of malnourished children. If I can do a little bit for at least a few of them, then there will be no greater meaning to my life than that,” she signs off.
If you wish to donate for these kids or volunteer with Meals of Happiness, contact Anchal Sharma at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)