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Akshay Kothawale’s wedding date had been fixed on May 25 in Pune. The 30-year-old auto-rickshaw driver had been saving money for this special occasion for a very long time. But the date was not meant to be. On March 9, a couple returning from Dubai tested positive for COVID-19 – the first cases in the city. Since then, Pune has seen a dramatic rise in the number of cases- triggering a strict lockdown. Kothawale’s wedding was postponed until things got better.
“There was no point in going ahead with the ceremony during the pandemic with limited family members. Therefore, my fiance and I decided to postpone the event,” he told Pune Mirror.
For most of us, that’s where the story would have ended. But not for Kothawale. When he saw the struggle that the underprivileged and migrant labourers were going through, he decided to spend his wedding fund – nearly Rs 2 lakh- for their wellbeing.
For the workers of Pune:
The Better India (TBI) spoke with Akshay about his decision. He says that giving help during difficult times is not new to him.
“I have mobilised help in Sangli when it was ravaged by floods and I also arrange for meals for devotees during the Pandharpur wari (procession). Owing to such experiences, my fiance, Rupali, wasn’t surprised that I wanted to spend my savings on labourers and the underprivileged. In fact, she helps me out morally and financially whenever I fall short.” he said.
So, with those savings, Akshay prepares meals for 350-400 people every single day. “Three of my friends and I do it together. We get together early in the morning and cook khichdi, pulao or sambar rice. We try to use few spices and whenever possible, add vegetables like carrots, potatoes, brinjal and cabbage. Then, I take my auto and drive to 4-5 designated spots. We have been doing this since 23rd March,” he says.
The people know Akshay and his auto by now. They assemble at the designated places every day.
“In these difficult times, people should preserve humanity. Look at the people around you closely. If you are eating out of a gold plate and they are dying of hunger, how is that fair?” he says. He hopes to continue with this service till May 31.
And that’s not all:
Akshay is still driving his auto-rickshaw in Pune, even during the lockdown. Speaking to NDTV, he said, “Amid the lockdown, I am offering free rides in the auto-rickshaw to senior citizens and pregnant women who need to visit a doctor.”
This is a generous offer, considering how susceptible everyone is to Coronavirus. One meeting with a positive person and Akshay himself could be infected. But of course, to ensure his safety, he dons a mask and gloves at all times. In fact, the loudspeaker on his vehicle enables him to spread awareness en route and whenever he meets any roadside dwellers who are at a higher risk of infection, Akshay distributes masks and sanitizers to them.
“I met a lady who was seven months pregnant. She halted my rickshaw and asked for help. How unfortunate is it that she had to walk nearly five km from her home to a clinic and when I met her, she was walking back home. There was no doubt that I would help her. And since then, I am trying to help other pregnant women who need to go for check-ups but don’t have transportation,” he shares with TBI.
With such gestures, Akshay has shown that it takes a huge heart, not deep pockets, to help out those in need.
Today, he has spent all of the money he had saved for his wedding and more. His friends and Rupali have contributed their funds as well.
Although he never asked for anything in return, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all pitch in and help out Akshay? If you would like to, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)
All images courtesy of Akshay Kothawale.
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