This story is a part of the ongoing Mumbai Heroes initiative by Mumbai Mirror.
Among the many letters pinned on the wall in Mark D’Souza’s Borivli office is one from Grandma Angela. The letter reads, “He saw the desperate state I had reached, and He showed me the way to reach you, and get the help, kindness and warmth of heart that you so readily gave me.” Angela Fernandes, 92, is one of over 30 senior citizens who say they have found their ‘guardian angel’ in 57-yearold D’Souza. For the past three years, he has been hand-delivering dabbas to each of them at their doorstep, free of cost. Many of those he serves now live alone and have no one to care for them. Others are ill or handicapped.
D’Souza got the idea to serve the elderly while talking to his wife in 2012. “After my parents passed away, I really wanted to do something for senior citizens. I am old too. When you grow old yourself, only then can you understand the difficulties that come with it. I told my wife Yvonne that I wanted to do something for the elderly. Within seconds, she fished out Rs 5,000 that she had saved up and I remember her saying, ‘Start tomorrow’,” he reminisces.
With that money, D’Souza went shopping for dabbas the next day. He then wondered about the menu. The dabbas that go out today carry wholesome food — chapattis, rice, dal, a vegetable dish and, as D’Souza likes to add, “a dollop of love”. The food is cooked with minimal salt and spices to make it easily digestible. Sometimes D’Souza also packs ice cream or sweets. On Sundays, he includes chicken or fish. “I keep changing the menu so they don’t have to eat the same food over and over. The dabba is sufficient for three meals. It gives me peace to think that they are sleeping on a full stomach,” says D’Souza.
Within weeks of beginning service, D’Souza started receiving several calls. There were some who personally visited him. A young man working for a call centre once called on him unexpectedly. “He told me that he needed my help as his uncle and mother were disabled. To make ends meet, he had to take up extra shifts, and he was unable to afford a cook for them. He asked me how much I would charge, and I said nothing. He could not believe it. I told him to go home in peace and I would take care of them. Today, I deliver dabbas to them every day,” said D’Souza.
Sharp at noon, D’Souza sets off in his car for his door-to-door deliveries. With a bright, cheery smile on his face, he walks to each door, and hands over the dabbas personally. He does not leave without enquiring about their health and their families. The dabbas are always met with grateful smiles and countless ‘God bless yous’.
For D’Souza, this daily ritual is a duty he never misses, come hail or high water. When asked about what gives him the strength to do this every day, he points upwards. “God is giving me the strength to do it. It is because of this work that I can hold my head up high. Whoever comes to me, I always tell them, ‘Why do you worry, Mark is here.’ Some days I do feel tired, but this work makes me feel young,” he signs off with a cheery glint in his eye.