The clown who is helping Mumbai’s slum kids battle COVID | Condé Nast Traveller India

The clown who is helping Mumbai’s slum kids battle COVID | Condé Nast Traveller India

June 5, 2021 0 By admin


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Ashok Kurmi has been sanitising public spaces, distributing masks and spreading awareness about COVID since March 2020. Photo: Fariha Farooqui / Stringer / Getty Images

Not all heroes wear capes. Ever since the lockdown began in March 2020, social worker Ashok Kurmi has been helping kids in Mumbai’s slums fight COVID. His choice of costume? A clown suit.

The 37-year-old dons his rainbow-coloured wig, paints his face and sets out to sanitise public spaces, distribute masks and spread awareness about COVID. Why did he decide to become a clown? “Because the children would often get scared when I wore a PPE suit. They’d think I was coming to take a patient away. But, I was just trying to create awareness,” says Kurmi, who works in the pharmaceutical industry.

Ashok Kurmi dressed in a clown costume. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / Contributor / Getty Images

Starting with Dharavi, Kurmi has worked across areas such as CST, Fort, Lower Parel, Dadar and Sion, sanitising 1.5 to 2 lakh homes for free, with a 20-litre sanitisation machine he bought himself. He creates awareness about three main things—wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and washing one’s hands.

While at it, Kurmi has played many characters to avoid scaring children off. He has dressed as Santa Claus, Spiderman, Doraemon and Mickey Mouse. The pandemic was not the first time he put on a mask, though. During his college days, he often dressed as Santa through December, distributing chocolates to children. Last Christmas, he couldn’t distribute gifts, so he dressed up and gave surgical masks instead. “The children listened to me patiently. They weren’t afraid of me anymore. So, I decided to use this method to spread awareness.”

Ashok Kurmi sanitises the area around CST in Mumbai dressed as Spiderman. Photo: Imtiyaz Shaikh / Anadolu Agency / Contributor / Getty Images
Ashok (dressed as Doraemon) and his friend give children a haircut during the pandemic. Photo: Sujit Jaiswal / Contributor / Getty Images
Ashok (dressed as Doraemon) and his friend give children a haircut during the pandemic. Photo: Sujit Jaiswal / Contributor / Getty Images

 

 

The costumes aren’t just for fun, he adds. They also protected Kurmi just like a PPE would. He also wants to get the right message across. “When I dressed as the Joker, I painted a teardrop on my face to let the children know that the crisis is not over yet,” he says.

How does he manage his time while working a full-time job? He visits these areas post work for two to three hours and on weekends. It also takes him a lot of effort, time and money to put his look together. It takes about two hours to put on the costume and make-up, and a little over an hour to take it off. His monthly expenditure to facilitate this self-funded initiative is Rs15,000. But it all feels worth it at the end of the day, he says. “There was a major lack of awareness earlier. But now when I visit these areas, I see children wearing masks and following social distancing. These small actions can go a long way in fighting the disease.”

Ashok getting ready. Photo: Fariha Farooqui / Stringer / Getty Images
Ashok Kurmi getting his face painted. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / Contributor / Getty Images
Ashok puts on his clown nose before stepping out. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / Contributor / Getty Images
Adjusting his clown costume as he prepares to leave his home. Photo: Fariha Farooqui / Stringer / Getty Images
Ashok Kurmi getting dressed as a clown. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / Contributor / Getty Images
Social worker Ashok Kurmi commuting on a scooter. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / Contributor / Getty Images
Ashok Kurmi commuting while dressed in a clown costume. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / Contributor / Getty Images
Ashok spraying disinfectant in a slum. Photo: Fariha Farooqui / Stringer / Getty Images

 

Ashok spraying disinfectant in a slum. Photo: Fariha Farooqui / Stringer / Getty Images
Ashok Kurmi teaching children how to follow the Covid-19 protocols. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / Contributor / Getty Images
Ashok spraying hand sanitiser. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee / Getty Images