Published: 04th June 2020
How this 26-year-old meme-maker went on to counsel COVID patients in Mumbai
Balram Vishwakarma, who was born and brought up in the City of Dreams and studied at Mumbai University, felt like the best way he can give back was to help people talk about how they are feeling
Being tested positive for COVID-19 is literally the worst thing that can happen to you right now. The rest of us can only imagine that it would be difficult to manage one's emotion, forget assuring your family that you will be okay. But here's Balram Vishwakarma, a 26-year-old who put aside his own worries about his asymptomatic COVID-19 positive mother and put on a smile to cheer others up while he was at COVID Care Centre 2 (CCC2) at Laxmi Industrial Estate, Mumbai. And this is more to the story than just this.
The chosen one
After being tested positive, Balram entered CCC2 on May 6. This youngster is the brains behind the popular Instagram meme page Andheri West Shit Posting, which has now also turned into a source for Corona-related information. This is where we must add that the page has a whopping 41.2k followers. The word eventually got around about his work and even reached the ears of Dr Kusum Gupta, head of the quarantine facility. "She deduced that because I run a popular meme page, I would be good at communication. So she approached me with the request of talking to a few patients on the third floor, who were anxious and were panicking," shares Balram. Her reasoning was absolutely right. Not only was Balram in NSS (National Service Scheme) during his college days which taught him the value of service and imbibed in him a certain rigour, he was also a call centre employee and hence, had ample experience in striking a conversation with strangers. "Also, I am an extrovert, I love talking to people," says the jolly youngster.
Balram Vishwakarma | (Pic: Balram Vishwakarma)
So with confidence that he did not feel, at least initially, Balram walked up to the first patient, a 65-year-old man who was at his wit's end, worried about his 14-year-old COVID positive grandson who was at another facility because CCC2 is for asymptomatic patients alone. Balram started conversing in his easy style and assured the old man that his grandson will be fine. "It was a bold promise for me to make, but I decided, then and there, that I will do anything that I can in my personal capacity to ensure that all is well," he says. Eventually, Balram even used to call up the grandson to personally check on him. And this is how his counselling stint began.
The plan of action while talking to any patient was as follows, Balram would introduce himself and clarify that he is not from BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) so that they open up to him and talk after asking the patients of they have the time. "I would ask about their family members, share a little about myself, clarify any queries they might have and assure them that everything will be fine, or as fine as it can be," he informs. He counselled for five days out of six that he spent there, after which, he was shifted to Cooper Hospital and discharged from there on May 14. After being discharged and while self-quarantining himself, he received several calls from doctors who would call to check up on him and his heart kept filling up with gratitude. It was at this point when Dr Kusum called and requested his help for counselling again. "With a grateful heart and the need to give back, I agreed," shares the youngster. This was on May 29. Since then, he has been counselling in-person and over the phone and has heard the woes of over 100 people who just want to be heard. In his head, he divided all queries into three parts — first one which he could immediately resolve by talking; second was resolving with the help of doctors around, like the one where one patient wanted to make sure that he can take typhoid tablets along with the ones he was prescribed at the centre, and the third was absurd or hopeless.
The facility | (Pic: Balram Vishwakarma)
Finding the connection
Shopkeepers, labourers, nurses and ward boys — Balram, who is an Animation Writer with Pocket Aces Pictures, a digital entertainment company, spoke to COVID positive people from different walks of life. There was a small scale businessman who wasn't doing financially well and had taken a loan against his wife's jewellery, "who I tried and assure by saying that he needs to keep his entrepreneurial spirit alive and empathised with him on all fronts," he shares. There was even a 75-year-old cheerful man who just needed someone to speak.
Balram continues to visit the centre and in the near future, wants to print a 20-page adult colouring book with mandalas. So that the patients remain occupied throughout their stay. What a thoughtful idea!