Legend has it; there is a Good Samaritan on the loose on the central line of the Mumbai local. Armed with a guitar, a modest sense of music, and an exuberantly golden heart, he is trying to unite the frequenters of the Dadar–Ambernath local on grounds other than their equally sweat-soaked polyester-cotton shirts, strugglesome lives and weary minds.
This 23-year-old has been singing and strumming his notes with all his heart, day after day, month after month, to rattle us self-absorbed folk until we are all overcome by humanity and earnestness as pure as his. He has been cashing in on his talent on the local trains of Mumbai, albeit not for himself, but for the under-resourced families of cancer patients.
Merry-maker by birth
“I like to entertain right from my childhood. During college, my friends and I, along with my guitar, would sing in trains while going home. People even joined us a lot of times,” says Saurabh.
Spreading cheer comes naturally to the Dombivali resident, who happens to be a B.Sc. in biotech and M. Sc. in bioanalytical sciences and works in a Pharma company called Inventia Healthcare Pvt. Ltd. Despite being in these initial and crucial stages of his ripe career, one would find him barely standing yet wildly jamming in local train compartments bursting at their seams, more than three to times a week, for over three months now. But why is it that he chooses to shed his young blood doing this rather than the usual shenanigans any 23-year-old would be up to?
The maestro – although the term always finds him utterly embarrassed
Having nursed a crush on music since he was little, he taught himself some notes while in college and then pursued his love more seriously by training with a guru. However, he never took that lusciously fluid voice to a stage, until one day in 2013. It all began at his mum’s bedside, when she was living the last few months of her life, fighting a losing battle to cancer at the King Edward Memorial Hospital.
“I don’t know what came into me that I carried my guitar to the hospital.” He would observe the stress and anxiety people endure, while their loved one undergoes long and extensive treatment. The crowd-pleaser in him was convinced that he wouldn’t let this keep up.
“I decided to sing for all patients just like that – and all of them lit up at once! Their happiness in turn gave me pure joy. Later, I even told my mom about it – and it made her equally happy!”
The turning point
A year hence (and exactly a year ago, incidentally), in September of 2014, Saurabh lost his dear reason to visit the hospital – his mother left them. But in that duration he had come to learn a great deal about her fellow patients and their distressed families.
“Our society discriminates between the rich and the poor for everything, all the wrong things, in fact. But unfortunately, it doesn’t do so in a place where it might actually be needed – in billing people for the treatment of cancer.”
Belonging to economically weaker backgrounds, all these families were experiencing hellish times in trying to meet the costs of sustaining through the period of treatment. “Though the medicinal needs of the patient are taken care of by many trusts, his family has many more needs to be looked after. Like hygienic food for the relatives staying with the patient. The cost of treatment for cancer is approximately 3–4 lakhs, but the actual expenditures exceed to another 2–3 lakhs. At least in my case, they did,” Saurabh points out. And in those moments of pained pondering, Saurabh had identified his cause.
“But the question remained – what should I do to take it to a larger scale?”
The beggar with better clothes and a guitar
“It suddenly dawned on me that I can do exactly what I did during my college days – entertain people on trains, but from now on ask for donations in return! I knew I wanted to help, but the next big question was – would people trust me? How would I prove my honesty to them? After all, had I been in their place, I wouldn’t have believed something like this, either!
Evaluating all these possible hurdles, he decided to associate with an NGO to legitimise his noble intentions – and even found a small one – called Bright Future Association – who finally allowed him to work on a train, just like he had planned – and on his own terms.
The real challenge, though, lay waiting for him at ground zero, where he had to work his way up right from the rock-bottom of tempers and tolerance levels of the typical central line commuter. But against all odds, the response was beyond good – heck, it was hysterical! It went on to prove that everyone is really just looking for a means to escape from their own troubles, even if it just lasts a train-ride, or even a mere song – their favorite Bollywood song, in this case!
“People love it when their stress is relieved a bit – while many show the spirit and start requesting their favorite numbers, some do criticise. To many, I am like a beggar with better clothes and a guitar in the hand. But most of them love it, so it helps to simply focus on them. In fact, if anyone tries to stop me, the others would stop him from doing so and urge me to continue playing – which is so encouraging.”
On a good day, he raises anywhere between 800 and 1000 through multiple donations in denominations, which range from Rs 10 to Rs 500. Multiply that by 15, and with that amount – Saurabh manages to help an entire family, all in a month’s work!
The more grilling trials are associated with the nitty-gritties of his plan. For starters, in Bombay, one doesn’t really get to choose what kind of journey they would like to have from a pleasing buffet. It mostly comes in three notches of dangerous – there’s pressed up against a stranger’s armpits, then there is suffocating till a stray wind revives you, and finally – death-defying to the extent of seeing the light above a sea of heads.
“I cannot just board any train because I won’t get space to play. I cannot roam freely in the train because of the mad rush. And I cannot board a local with less rush because I want to reach maximum people. Thus, all the funds I collect are from the same spot I find for myself to sit in at the start of the journey. If I somehow find a way to work around that then the collection would grow, so I am working out a solution!”
Saurabh really hopes we would all do our bit
As this sincere soul scurries to round up more and more ways to expand his reach, one can’t help but wonder why people can’t find it in themselves to do even the bare minimum.
“There’s this thought that everyone has some or the other talent. Although I have a very little amount of music in me, but the way I use it defines me. Imagine people coming out with numerous such ideas. Wouldn’t that be just perfect? And if not that, I feel each person should donate least 1% of his monthly earnings to whichever cause they feel for – to any genuine organisation in their locality. This is very difficult to implement, but not impossible,” muses Saurabh.
His selflessness is definitely not going unnoticed and the word has gotten out. In return, suggestions have flooded in, with many people asking him why he doesn’t start a band to raise more money.
“But, my whole idea is to tell people what they can do even in an individual capacity, to help someone in need. If I performed with a band, suddenly, what I do becomes complicated in the eyes of the public. Right now, people have started thinking what they can do alone when they see my efforts. Besides that, as part of a band, I wouldn’t have been able to bring forward the conditions of people out there in hospitals – until I become someone big and famous! So, I’m happy I chose this way.”
As far as his band goes, he is confident it will form sooner or later!