Digital concerts, veshti masks & quarantine art plates: These people show us the key to positivity in a lockdown is giving

Kindness meets creativity as isolation brings the need to come together more than ever before

Sonali Shenoy Published :  17th April 2020 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  17th April 2020 06:00 AM

Andrea Jeremiah

Pandemic pandemonium continues. But even in the midst of a nationwide lockdown, which now stands 
extended, it seems like the extra time at hand is unlocking philanthropy among people in creative and unconventional ways. And isn’t that the need of the hour? In the burgeoning sea of news alerts, quarantine memes, recipe videos and mass relief initiatives — if you look a little closer, you might spot a glimmer of kindness via a ‘remote’ platform or person you just met. Understandably, crisis delivers heartwarming stories because good people step up. When the rules  of social  distancing demand that we can’t step out anywhere, all we can do indoors, is ‘in’novate.

This week, we went goodwill hunting to show you what kindness and generosity looks like as we step up by staying put.

Anil Srinivasan

Play it forward
Andrea Jeremiah singing to you in your home. Arya dishing out insider fitness tips while you do push-ups. Or how about a living room performance by maestro on the keys, Stephen Devassy, over dinner? The #playitforward campaign, curated by Chennai-based pianist Anil Srinivasan, recently featured 11 days of digital performances, as a star-studded effort to raise funds for the elderly, actioned through the NGO Bhoomika. Every evening, a different artiste would greet you over Twitter, Instagram Live, Facebook and Periscope. And the initiative, as can be told from donations on crowdfunding platform Milaap, attracted audiences from all over the country as well as Singapore, the Middle East and the US. 

Anil Srinivasan, who also helmed the day-long Janata Curfew Online Festival tells us, “Between the cooking and cleaning, it gave all of us artistes something to look forward to every day.” Among others on the list, Anil included of course (check out his beautiful rendition of Heal the World 
on his Facebook page) were actor Prasanna, singers Shakthisree Gopalan, Sikkil Gurucharan and Vedanth Bharadwaj, lyricist Madhan Karky and storytellers Janaki Sabesh and Vikram Sridhar.

Will there be a part two, given the lockdown extension? “Let’s see,” Anil responds with a laugh. For now, the initiative has reached its goal of raising INR 10 lakh. While the performances are on pause for the moment, the donation page remains open.


Stepping up to the plate
During testing times, we all need a beacon of hope. And that’s exactly what The Plated Project, a social impact initiative, based out of Mumbai is brought us. Over 21 days of the nation-wide lockdown in India, the team used art as a narrative for 40 inspiring quarantine stories from around the world.
Chitresh Sinha (36), the man behind the initiative told us that his team has been co-ordinating with artists from UK, Japan, Brazil, USA, Korea and of course India to meet the challenge they set themselves, of limited edition art plates a day. “We had a theme for each day,” he explains, their in-house template, “farmers as a theme for one day, doctors on the frontlines another...”

Our personal favourite was a story from Italy. one of the most affected nations by COVID-19 as part of of their #21daysofhope campaign. A vibrant artwork captures Italians locked inside their homes coming out to their windows and balconies to sing together so people feel just a little less lonely. The funds raised from the purchase of these limited edition art plates will go toward charities relevant to the theme. Follow The Plated Project on Instagram.


Thumb print cookies from Valparai

Cook to cope
Cooking = coping. And that’s what inspired Isolation Cooks  — a social media project chronicling our collective food journey in times of global isolation. The initiative was birthed over two friends having a chat in the kitchen. Kavita Kishore, a freelance journalist (36) shares with us, “My friend Avinash has been staying over during the lockdown, and we’ve been taking turns cooking. Avinash and I have been wanting to start a project documenting recipes across the country for a while now, and we were talking about it, and then one of us commented that everyone was suddenly sharing recipes during the lockdown. A lot of these people had never cooked before, and others were trying to make dishes they would ordinarily order, because they were either not available, or people were too scared to order in. That's when we realised that documenting what’s happening in people's kitchens could give us a different insight into how people were coping during this stressful period.”


Kavita Kishore, Avinash Chandrashekar & Nivya Vijayan

This realisation quickly led to Kavita and friend Avinash Chandrashekar, freelance software developer (30) based out of Chennai to reach out to more friends — Mihir Ranganathan, a graphic designer and illustrator (39) also in the same city and Nivya Vijayan, a freelance social media marketer (22) who lives in Pune. Over a short span of time, of putting the word out - the four-member team now has submissions from multiple cities within India like Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Bengaluru and union territory, Puducherry, as well a growing list from parts of the US and UK.

Running through the Isolation Cooks Instagram grid, we discover that comfort via food and cooking it comes in so many different forms. @supersterr in New York prepares South-Indian style Lemon rice and vendakkai (okra) poriyal for a taste of home. Meanwhile, @captain_catpain in Chennai draws a sense of calm from the heady aroma of onions being slow-cooked and caramelised in ghee.
Now, sharing cooking stories and recipes is not new. We’ve all seen the increased number of recipes popping up across the Internet with the need for Do It Yourself meals, while living in quarantine. But the hope with this project is to go beyond the practical how-tos, stocking tips and instructional videos. And instead whip up a melting pot of shared kitchen experiences, in the very real daily struggle of isolation. Kavita says, “Food is something that always brings people together. Everyone needs to eat, and everyone is cooking. Maybe by putting it all together, it's possible that people feel a little less lonely.”

Follow @Isolationcooks on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Share recipes, anecdotes or funny images on WhatsApp  +919345213613, email or simply #isolationcooks on your next social media food post.



Monkey business
Since the lockdown, a resort General Manager, an engineer and a security guard have begun coming together for an unconventional morning staff meeting. The agenda? To serve up a breakfast buffet for a tribe of 60 monkeys. The menu usually comprises a variety laden spread of “ripe tomatoes, custard apples, bread and biscuits,” Uma Maheshwari, the GM of Great Trails Yercaud by GRT Hotels, informs us. The effort began when the staff of the resort began hearing squealing and quick triggered spats between their hairy neighbours, which they quickly realised was a result of starvation. “There are usually tourists feeding them through the year, leaving behind scraps... but now, of course, that isn’t the case,” she explains. It doesn’t stop with leaving bags of fruit, about 100 metres beyond the resort’s entrance. Given squabbles and powerplay over who gets the most to eat, this group of three makes it a point to queue their morning guests into groups of two (much like dual buffet stations for faster plating). They then proceed to wait on them for a good 30 minutes — to ensure the whole party leaves with happy burps and full bellies. Now, that’s good hospitality!


Mask Crusaders



The Veshti Mission 
Jayanthi Murugesh (54) and her son Tarun (30) are spending their days in lockdown with a room full of veshtis!  Here’s why. What started as a goodwill gesture to tailor reusable cloth masks — to give out to their domestic help, driver and gardener — has now turned into a mini production unit. After 200 masks since the janatha curfew, “We now have a strict schedule,” shares Jayanthi, who is based in Chennai. “He washes and cuts, and I sew the parts together,” shares the kolam artist, who is also the vice president of the All Women’s Life Saving Centre (AWLS).


Tarun & Jayanthi Murugesh

Fun fact: you can make 50 masks out of a single veshti. We’re told that apart from making a South Indian fashion statement, these masks are breathable and extremely soft on the skin. If you’re concerned about hygiene, given that the veshtis used are upcycled — Tarun tells us, “We soak them for over eight hours in hot water, detergent and disinfectant for hygiene purposes.” Reach out on Jayanthi’s Facebook page.


Karan Berry & Leon Vaz

Humanity by design 
Mumbai-based designers Karan Berry (37) and Leon Vaz (32) have joined hands with Mumbai’s civic body, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for the project ‘Masks for Humanity’. Under this project, the designer duo behind the label Karleo are manufacturing and distributing 5,000 non-surgical masks for those who need them the most — BMC’s sweepers, garbage-pickers and other employees who are working on a daily basis even in the lockdown. And, since operations are shut across the country, Karleo is using this opportunity to give employment to work-from-home clusters of ladies who are being paid for the same. The idea is to use leftover or unused pieces of fabric that are breathable in nature like cotton and linen, so that these masks can be reused after washing and ironing.

The label has already started delivering to BMC in batches of 1,000 masks and is up for manufacturing more masks if the need arises. It is also taking donations of fabric and accepting volunteering requests if anybody knows how to stitch, and wants to contribute to the cause. For more, check out


Fashion forward
Using its resources and textile savoir-faire, the contemporary fashion label Limerick by Abirr and Nanki Papneja has introduced designer face masks, which draw a fine balance between aesthetics and functionality. Available in 15 prints and 12  embroidered variations, featuring marbling and floral designs, these masks are constructed with multiple layers of germ-resistant filters that provide protection from over 90% germs and microbes, and its efficacy has been verified through a Bacteria Filtration Efficiency (BFE) test. “The mask is made of two active layers, melt blown fabric and antimicrobial PP SpunBonded. The melt blown is the main filtration layer responsible to keep the microorganisms out. When it is combined with an anti-microbial layer, which is manufactured by us, it gives effective protection against germs. Once the prototype was ready, we sent the mask for BFE testing to The South India Textile Research Association (SITRA) and ensured they provide the required protection,” says Abir, who also runs another business that deals with the manufacturing of non-woven fabrics that are used in healthcare products like masks and sanitary napkins. The masks are reusable and can be treated using a disinfectant wash in cold water, after being worn thrice. The label has pledged to donate cent-per-cent of the sales proceeds from these masks to The Earth Saviours Foundation, an NGO that has rescued more than 1,000 abandoned parents from the streets of Delhi and Gurgaon. Limerick has also pledged 3,000 surgical masks free of cost to Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai. Available on Price: INR 1,800 onwards.


Varshini Ramakrishnan

Illustrating hope
This same time last year, Chennai-based accessory designer and illustrator Varshini Ramakrishnan was among the scores of doodlers and visual artists from across the globe who had taken up the viral Instagram challenge, 36 Days of Type. Her entry for the 2019 challenge: creating interpretations of the alphabet that was inspired by the lives of street vendors in Chennai. Skip forward to 2020 and ground realities couldn’t be starker. The anna that once sold tea to locals in her neighbourhood no longer cycles by... The little roadside flower shop by the side of the temple is wrapped in a tarpaulin and covered with dust... “These people make up the heart and soul of the city, and to see that they are the ones worst affected by the pandemic is heartbreaking. At this point in time, there are many who struggle to feed themselves and their families — like the auto drivers, tender coconut vendors, house helps, iron waalas, florists — especially those who survive on daily wages. 


I felt it was important to come forward and help those who make our lives simpler throughout the year,” says the 25-year-old. Attempting to do her bit for those affected, the NIFT graduate has collaborated with The Chennai Task Force and The Kindness Project — a combined effort between the government, NGOs and peer groups — and is selling posters of these illustrations to help raise funds to take care of the city’s most vulnerable. “The project went live last week, offering people an A4-size print of the illustration for a minimal fee of INR 200,” offers Varshini, adding that all funds are directly credited to The Kindness Project. Follow Varshini on her Instagram handle @inihsrav


All heart
A number of hotels under the Marriott group in Bengaluru participated in the #Marriottstrong campaign over the last few weeks. Hotels such as The Ritz-Carlton and Courtyard by Marriott Bengaluru Outer Ring Road, lit up the facade of their respective buildings in the shape of a heart. Done by switching off the lights in all the rooms except a few, such that they formed a heart, this was their way of showing their appreciation for the real-life heroes who are fighting the pandemic from the front lines.

Monica Dogra

Clean out your closet
Sister duo Sana and Alfiya Khan are raising funds for the underprivileged by diving into celeb wardrobes. Their Mumbai-based thrift store, Bombay Closet Cleanse has a warehouse that is out of bounds due to the lockdown. But that didn't stop them from thinking on their feet and reaching out pop sensation and actress Monica Dogra to try a closet cleanse for the cause. “We believe that if you have a platform that can address even a small amount of people, it is your duty to use it to do some good, especially in a time like this,” says AlfiyaAnd as hoped, plenty of people from all over the country have responded with enthusiasm, eager to get their pick of fashionable ensembles from the actor’s closet. These include a Dhruv Kapoor striped dress, an Embroidered Wrap Around Dress by the label Free People, a sustainable hemp shirt from Boheco, long shirts, active wear and oversized sweaters and a sporty  Fila Skirt with pockets.  

Alfiya & Sana Khan

“If more people considered creative ways to give back, what a world we would live in!" said Monica, sharing her passion for the initiative. Her message: “Now in quarantine, we all have time to deep clean both our interior and our physical worlds.” Follow Bombay Close Cleanse on Instagram. The money raised so far has been directed toward  the Smiley Souls Foundation NGO, and was used to provide INR 600 meal kits to underprivileged families to survive the lockdown.

(With inputs from Paulami Sen, Heena Khandelwal, Rashmi Rajagopal and Rebecca Vargese.)