Sajit Haridas never thought some of his best friends would end up being from the Koyambedu vegetable market.
For three years, the 37-year-old executive at Ford visited the market every morning at four or five, walking around meeting wholesalers — to 'tap their spare capacity and their goodness', and convince them to donate vegetables for orphanages.
'Some rubbished the idea, and asked me to get lost; I developed a tough skin,' he laughs in recollection. But others responded, and Sajit never let up, going back and meeting them over and over again. 'I never ignored anyone, even those who initially rejected me,' he says. 'At first, they gave a kilo here or there. It was nearly 10 months before it took off.'
Today, the wholesalers donate 1,000 to 1,200 kg of vegetables a week, distributed to 10 orphanages around the city. Sajit organises pick-ups three times a week, and he or his mother visit the orphanages regularly to ensure they’re reaching the children.
He’s looking to increase the number of orphanages, but doesn’t want to grow so fast that the initiative is no longer sustainable. 'That’s my biggest worry,' he says. 'If I’m giving today, it shouldn’t stop tomorrow.'
He’s also very clear that he wants to keep the giving cash-free — all he asks for is people’s spare time and 'their goodness', not money (he’s named the initiative ‘Tap My Goodness’). 'We’re all unequally blessed with money,' he says. 'But we’re all given 24 hours a day and a heart. That’s the great leveller.' His insistence on no cash comes from an experience in his teens, when he gave an impoverished girl money at a Mumbai train station, only to see her beaten up and robbed of the money just minutes later.
This month, he launched the first in a series of health camps at the orphanages, with two paediatricians and two dentists visiting for free and filling out health cards for the children. 'The idea is to have the same doctors visit the same orphanages three times a year, to establish continuity,' he says. The health cards will help Sajit isolate what medications the children need most frequently, and he’s in touch with pharmaceutical companies for free drugs.
Food for the mind
But, his most ambitious venture for ‘Tap My Goodness’ is still to be launched — a citywide mentoring programme for the children. Fittingly enough, the idea came during one of his early morning chats with his friends at Koyambedu. 'One of them said to me, ‘How do we reach their minds?’' he says. 'I can’t bring back their parents, but I’d like to try and help them form a relationship with a mentor, someone to inspire and guide them.'
The mentor would make a commitment to an orphan in his or her locality, to spend time with the child two or four times a month, not just drop in once a year. For this, Sajit’s reaching out for volunteers across the city, one area at a time: 'There is infinite need in this world, but also infinite goodness,' he says.
His time spent at Koyambedu has convinced him of that — whether it’s the onion sellers who’ve continued to give through steep price hikes, or the traders who’ve come back to him saying, 'what more can we do?'.
'Since we began, 1,80,000 kg of vegetables have been donated, for free,' he says. 'Most people would say it’s not possible. But I’m a great believer in the generosity of this city.'
(Want to volunteer? Mail [email protected])