Mayank succumbed to COVID-19 at the end of April. His legacy and memory live on through his brother Varun, and mother Purnima, who raise money to cover hospital treatment costs for low-income families.
“He would never hesitate to help people in need. Once, he gave the office boy at his workplace Rs 10,000, just like that. If he saw someone on the street in need for money, he would not hesitate. He loved to go on drives to feed people who are homeless or in need,” says Varun, speaking about his younger brother, Mayank, who passed away due to COVID-19 at the end of April this year. He was 29. “When we went to scatter his ashes, the pandit told us that the best way to remember someone is to do what they loved. That is why we started the Mayank Agarwal Memorial Fund,” Varun adds.
In around 50 days since Varun and his mother Purnima Agarwal started the fund, they say they have managed to help 23 low-income families with their COVID-19 treatment costs in Bengaluru. Using crowdfunding platforms like Ketto and Milaap, Varun and Purnima have raised a total of Rs 50 lakh so far, collecting an average of Rs 2.5 lakh per family. Besides this, the family also collaborated with Project Seva between May 15 and May 25, and provided 12,000 meals to the needy. They have also distributed sanitary pads for an entire year to 1,500 girls from marginalised communities, in collaboration with the NGO, Collective Consciousness.
Varun and Purnima’s next project is to distribute ration to auto drivers and their families to help them in light of the lockdown-induced loss of income, and a programme to feed stray dogs in Bengaluru. All of these are things that Mayank liked to do too, Varun says. “He wanted to have a daughter after he got married. He never got a chance to do that. So, when we heard of these girls from marginalised health and an opportunity to help them access menstrual hygiene, we had to take it.”
Purnima Agarwal and her sons Varun and Mayank
Varun has a team of 15 people who works on identifying families who are in need of financial help due to mounting COVID-19 treatment bills. The 35-year-old entrepreneur explains that due to the paucity of beds, many were forced to avail treatment at private hospitals, which was unaffordable for them. Many families found themselves in greater peril when the earning member was the one who had to be admitted to the hospital. Through the ‘Mayank for Bangalore’ initiative, Varun, Purnima and their team come and tell hospitals to not stop treatment on account of money.
The family’s bank statements, income, and hospital records of the treatment being are verified, and a crowdfunding campaign is started on a platform. In some cases, the memorial fund helps raise money for clearing debts, or allowing a disadvantaged family have a fresh start. “The beauty of it is that we have managed to meet the targets of every campaign through my Instagram community,” says Varun, who has around over 58.3k followers on Instagram.
“If all of us just take care of the disadvantaged people we see around us, it will help immensely. Help your domestic worker, driver, other staff get health insurance. Rs 2-3 lakh is a big amount, but unlike middle-class and upper middle-class families, it can push marginalised people into debt and poverty overnight. A lot of fundraisers we saw were for middle class families, who are also struggling. But we have access to crowdfunding, Instagram, social media. This is why we decided to particularly help low-income families because they really have nothing to fall back on,” Varun explains.
Varun and Purnima also hope that the authorities learn from this harrowing second wave of COVID-19 and prepare the system for the future. “A third wave will happen and we need to be ready. We also have to think about how to uplift all those who have been pushed into poverty due to the pandemic.”
While Varun had taken a 45-day break to help set up the memorial fund in Mayank’s name, he plans to hand it over to his team, who will continue to help people through it. For Varun and Purnima, the Mayank Agarwal Memorial Fund has become a way to channel their grief too. “I don’t know what I would have done if not for this. Grieving in the lockdown is hard – we sit at home, surrounded by memories. This is all that has kept me going, and it has been healing for my mother and I too,” Varun says.