“When I saw those migrants walking on the roads, with their kids, elders, those were the most disturbing visuals of my life. I decided I am not going to just sit at home and crib about it,” Sood said.
FOR his fans across the country, he might be the star actor who has stepped in to help thousands of migrants in need with his ‘Ghar Bhejo’ project, but to his family, Sonu Sood (47), is still a Moga boy deeply connected to his roots, his parents’ teachings of helping the underprivileged and the ideals of Punjabiyat.
While Sonu’s parents are no more, his sister said that her brother’s countless journeys home from cities where he struggled to make a career and travelled in general compartments to save money have possibly helped him understand the pain of migrants better than the others.
“When my brother was an engineering student in Nagpur, he would travel back home sleeping on the floor in vacant small spaces near toilets in the train compartments. Our father would send him money, but he would just try to save whatever he could. He always valued our father’s hard work. When he was struggling to begin his modelling career in Mumbai, he lived in rooms where there wasn’t even an inch of space to toss and turn while sleeping. He would have to stand up to turn sides…there was no space. Maybe that’s why now he can understand the pain of migrants, that longing and helplessness to just reach home,” said Malvika Sood Sachar (38), actor’s youngest sister who lives in Moga.
She added: “He never shared this with us, but after his first movie released, and he came home and said, ‘Aaj main seat pe baithke aaya hu, bada achha lag raha hai’. It was then he told us that he used to spread a sheet of paper on floor in train and travel sitting there.”
According to Malvika, Sonu was deeply attached to his parents and he is doing this to “make them proud”.
“He misses them so much that he wants to keep their good teachings alive. Whatever he is doing today, is a clear reflection of what our parents taught us and practised in their own lives. We three siblings have grown up seeing our parents helping everyone they could. Our mother was an English lecturer at DM College, Moga and she would never take fee from underprivileged students who would come home for tuition. Our father ran a cloth shop ‘Bombay Cloth House’ in Main Bazar of Moga and it is still running. Whenever bhaiya comes, he ensures he visits papa’s shop. We have around fifteen employees looking after the home and the shop and he connects with each one of them personally, taking care of their medical expenses and other issues,” she said, pointing out how his actions are also driven by his strong sense of Punjabiyat.
She said: “When he planned to start ‘Ghar Bhejo’ project and arranged the first bus, he said to me, ‘Punjabi honde hoye aapan soch vi ni sakde koi enni taklif ch hoye tey aapan madad na kariye (Being a Punjabi we can’t even imagine looking the other way when we know someone is suffering so much).”
Speaking to The Indian Express, the actor said that he empathized with the migrants after seeing visuals of them walking on foot to their homes, adding that being a Punjabi and given the way he was raised by his parents, he could not just sit and do nothing.
“I can relate to them (migrants). When I came to Mumbai, I came on a train and had no reservation. When I was doing my engineering in Nagpur, I used to travel in buses and trains without reservation. When I saw those migrants walking on the roads, with their kids, elders, those were the most disturbing visuals of my life. I decided I am not going to sit at home and crib about it. My mom used to teach kids free of cost, my dad used to organise langars outside his shop. I was raised with those values in Punjab. My mother used to says that ‘if you can’t help anyone then don’t consider yourself successful’. My background, the values my parents imbibed in me are the reason I am doing this,” said Sonu Sood.
Sood, who says that he has so far helped 18,000 migrants reach home, added: “It started with 350 migrants being sent to Karnataka in a bus and then there was no looking back. Initially, I had given my hotel in Juhu to the nurses and paramedical staff to come and rest after a hard day’s work.
Then we started a food drive. And now we are helping migrants get to their homes. This can’t stop till last migrant reaches home. Imagine the memories those kids who watch their parents walk endlessly for miles will grow up with. I don’t want those kids to grow up with such horrible memories… Imagine the pain of a father telling his kid that ‘UP jaldi aa jayega, Bihar jaldi aa jayega..and they just walk..’
The actor said that now a helpline number takes care of all calls for help, while he spends most part of his day trying to make travel arrangements for migrants.
Speaking about what he will cherish the most about his act of helping others, he added: “The best thing I heard from a migrant was that they have named their kid Sonu Sood Srivastav. It will stay with me forever. I will do everything to make my parents proud by walking the path they showed me.”
Malvika, however, clarified that Sonu had no plans of joining any political party. “He met Maharashtra Governor because he was invited. He is not joining any political party,” she said.
A computer engineer, who runs her IELTS coaching centre, Malvika too has been giving free online classes to around 90 underprivileged students since lockdown started. Their elder sister Monika Sharma, a pharmaceutical professional, is settled in the US.
While it has been nearly 28 years since Sonu left his ‘Sood House’ near Dusshera Ground in Moga to first pursue engineering in Nagpur and then to struggle for his modelling and acting career in Delhi and later in Mumbai, Malvika says that her brother’s bond with the city and their home has grown deeper after their parents — mother Saroj Bala Sood and father Shakti Sagar Sood — passed away in 2007 and 2016, respectively.
But while the world has seen his humanitarian side only now, his sister says that Sonu has always been doing his bit to help those in need.
“Last year when he came Moga, we distributed a hundred bicycles to the needy, including students who would walk to schools and labourers. Once our elderly domestic help was unwell and he travelled home especially to get her treated at Ludhiana. Initially, he had started a langar project for migrants in Mumbai feeding migrants daily. It was there that he met a migrant who started crying. He said, ‘mujhe ghar jaana hai’. He said he doesn’t want food but just wants to go home. That’s when he decided to help send them home,” revealed Malvika.
A Moga resident praised Sonu for being down-to-earth despite being a big star. He recalled: “From morning to evening, people throng his home to get photos clicked when he is here and he never refuses anyone. Once a group of underprivileged children came to see him. They didn’t have a phone to take a picture. Sonu took out his own phone and got a picture clicked with them. They were on cloud nine.”
Sonu also runs ‘Shakti Sagar Films’, a production house in his father’s name and funds education of underprivileged children in mother’s name.
“He made a mark in this film industry without any godfather. But even now the only thing that he says is: ‘Apne mummy papa ne aapan nu ehna kuch sikhaaya. Log ehni taklif ch hai, aapan apna poora zor la dena hai lokan di madad karan layi. Eh ni socha oh aapa nu jaanda ya nahi.. Log yaad rakhange aapan ohna de bachhe hain (Our parents taught us so much. People are suffering, I will do whatever I can to help them, without thinking if I know them or not. People would remember that we are our parents’ children),” Malvika mentions, quoting her brother.
“He is a proud Punjabi….. He is doing all this to make our parents proud,” the sister reiterated, puffed up with pride at her brother’s actions and for him being a real hero to countless off-screen.
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