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In the early days of June, 180 people working in a Pune canteen lost their jobs when the facility closed down. They had no option but to go back to their hometowns in Assam. The group reached Mumbai on getting to know that a train was likely to ply to Assam on 3 June, but the service got suspended during the lockdown. They were stuck in the city with no money for shelter, finally seeking refuge under the Tilak Bridge. There, they got to know that actor Sonu Sood had been helping migrant workers find a safe passage home. When they reached out to him, Sood found them shelter and food and also began to look for ways to reunite them with their families in Assam. With no other option than to airlift them from Mumbai, he and his team contacted several airlines and finally arranged a flight for them on 10 June.

It is several such stories of his rescue missions during the lockdown, in the wake of Covid-19, that will form part of Sood’s debut book, untitled so far, to be published later this year by Penguin Random House India’s Ebury Press Imprint.

In a statement about the book, Milee Ashwarya, publisher, Ebury Publishing and Vintage Publishing, Penguin Random House India, mentions: “While most of us in our lifetimes wish to work to help others in need, only a few actually make it our life’s mission. Sonu Sood is one such person... . The book will bring together the story of this amazing journey."

The actor hired buses to ensure that migrants working in Mumbai have a safe passage to their native places.
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The actor hired buses to ensure that migrants working in Mumbai have a safe passage to their native places. (Photo: PTI)

While he continues his work of helping migrant workers stranded in the big cities, Sood is excited and nervous about the book. “For me, this journey started when I started seeing visuals of lakhs of migrant workers walking on the road with little kids during the lockdown," says the actor. “It pained me that these children will continue to be haunted by these memories when they grow up." He was contemplating ways of easing this passage for migrant workers when he came across a group of 350 people during a food distribution drive at Kalwa Chowk. “They requested for food to be packed for 10 days to last during their long walk to their hometown in Karnataka. That really impacted me, and I managed to get permissions to transport them back," he elaborates.

On realising that this mirrored the story of lakhs of people across India, Sood decided to make social media a platform for connecting with them and getting information. He also reached out to likeminded people such as his childhood friend, restaurateur Neeti Goel. “I roped in chartered accountants and lawyers to help out with technicalities. From within this group of 20 people, including volunteers, one lot would take care of the Bihar list, another of the UP list, so on and so forth," says Sood. The actor also began to reach out to authorities in the various cities for permissions. Since then he has arranged buses, trains and flights for over a lakh stranded migrant workers and children, while also launching a toll-free helpline for those in need of assistance.

“I have barely been sleeping, spending 16-17 hours taking requests and spending time on the field. But I think it is the wishes of the migrant workers and their families that has given me the zeal to work. Their faith in me has been inspiring – that if Sonu has committed, he will make us reach home for sure," he adds.

Sood continues to be in touch with the various migrant workers that he has been transported back home over the past few months. “I now feel that a part of me lives in the villages of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Uttarakhand, and more. They have become my extended family," he says. The actor is also working on a platform, which could provide livelihood to these migrant workers in their hometown itself, in case they don’t wish to move out. “It will be challenging but this endeavour will not end. I wanted to put these experiences and stories, embedded in my soul, in a book and share with everyone. Later, when people go through it, they will get to know of these families from all across India and be part of their journey," he says.

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