Duragpur has successfully set up a Walls of Kindness in Vashi
There is the idea of a wall in America that is divisive. And then, there is one right here in Mumbai that brings people together, the haves and have-nots. Inspired by an idea that originated in Iran and found its way to Kazakhstan, Russia, 62-year-old Mumbaikar Rajesh Dugarkar has set up the Wall of Kindness at Nerul, Vashi and Nagpur.
The first wall he set up was in Nagpur, reincarnated as 'Neki Ki Deewar' or Manuskichi Bhinta. He hopes to replicate the idea across more locations in the city, and eventually, across India.
Here, donors are encouraged to leave behind old but intact clothes, footwear, toys and anything they wish to pass on, that the needy can pick up without feeling beholden.
Duragkar, an ex-Bharat Petroleum Corporation employee, had hoped to involve himself in social service after he retired in 2015. First, he set up Ankush Health Centre in Nerul, a medical outpost for the underprivileged, but that was not enough.
"At the Centre, we had visitors ask for essentials and it would sadden me," he says. So, even as he shuttled between Nagpur, Pune and Mumbai, in October 2016, he decided to spin off an Indian version of the Wall of Kindness -- reincarnated as Neki Ki Deewar and Manuskichi Bhinta -- in Nagpur. "Most of us have things in excess, but not the heart to donate. Hence, I thought why not start an initiative where people can voluntarily leave behind whatever they like at a set location," he adds.
Rajesh Dugarkar outside the Wall in Nagpur
What's the response?
While the idea took a while to gain traction with people from the concerned neighbourhoods, once word about the Nagpur wall spread, the Nerul wall began to see a rise in donations. Within a few months, he has managed to set up walls in five locations in Nagpur, one in Pune, Vashi, Seawoods and Belapur. "I started in three cities because I have homes there. I travel between them every 10 days to monitor the response," Duragkar says.
From clothes to utensils, donors have been contributing a variety of valuables. While most items are picked by residents of nearby slums or street dwellers, items that continue to left behind are handed over to ashrams and schools.
But nothing positive is ever achieved without a hurdle. The seemingly simple initiative takes a lot to get it going, he admits. The hard part, obviously, is not painting and readying the wall. It's the permits and police clearances that prove to be a challenge. "After we settle on an area, we write to the civic corporation seeking permission to paint the wall. Once that is done, we have to approach the area police for a clearance,” Duragkar says.
The wall at Nerul
Thankfully, he has now found a collaborator. Vibhuti Prasad, a mobile store owner from Vashi has agreed to share Dugarkar's responsibilities. "When Rajeshji told me about his initiative, I couldn't resist helping him," says Prasad.
The road ahead
Duragkar looks forward to setting up a chain of walls across Mumbai. Additionally, to effectively streamline the initiative in future, he has aligned his cause with Action Group, an NGO run by Duragkar's sister [do we have her full name?]. "I want it spread across the city, and eventually all of India," Duragkar says.