Skip to main content

Indian techie's site helps blast victims

By Moni Basu, CNN
  • Nitin Sagar learned of the Mumbai blasts on Twitter
  • He set up a Google docs database of people willing to help
  • Within hours, hundreds volunteered
  • Sagar was dubbed a hero for his efforts to help

(CNN) -- Nitin Sagar was at his New Delhi office, tweeting about needing a girl to fondly run her fingers through his hair, when he saw the posts about three deadly blasts many miles away in Mumbai.

He noticed many people were tweeting offers to help victims and knew that in no time, they would go viral.

"Someone in Bombay please create a Google Doc with numbers/addresses of people willing to help," he posted on Twitter, using the old name for Mumbai.

He thought aggregate information could help a person bleeding on the street or a relative desperately searching for a loved one.

Before he left the office, Sagar created a Google docs spreadsheet. He inserted five names and phone numbers. That was about 8 p.m., an hour after the attacks.

"Have compiled numbers and areas where help is available from the time," he tweeted. "Add and share please."

By the time Sagar reached home a half hour later, the site had compounded to hundreds of names of people who wanted to donate blood, provide shelter, help transport people or help in any way they could.

Mumbai bomb blasts kill 21
India: 'Coordinated terror attack'
Heightened security after Mumbai blasts
  • India
  • Terrorism

"You have no idea how fast it grew," he said. "I still don't know why I did it. It was all happening so fast."

With a few swift clicks of the mouse, Sagar, a 26-year-old Indian techie, had become an accidental hero of the Mumbai tragedy.

The spreadsheet was viewed by thousands. Tweeted by even more. And used by people who finally found an avenue to help.

Mumbai architecture student Pranali Patel inserted her phone number and said she was willing to donate O+ blood.

"I was looking for a way to help but I thought I would just be adding to the chaos," she said.

Then her sister told her about the spreadsheet. With memories of the 2008 terrorist siege on Mumbai still painfully raw in her mind, Patel thought the least she could do would be to donate blood.

"I forwarded the link to a lot of my friends and they added their names to the list," she said.

In the same vein, Anirubh Sharma, a tech worker in Bangalore, saw the spreadsheet link on Twitter. A friend's relative was killed at the luxury Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel when it came under attack in 2008. Sharma thought he should step up and offered an airline coupon for a free ticket to anyone who needed to travel in or out of Mumbai.

In the middle of the madness, he received a call from a man who wanted to take him up on the offer.

"It's easy to make noise," he said. "But instead of just ranting on Facebook and Twitter, why not do something good?"

Sagar said thousands of people accessed the spreadsheet. He does not know exactly what came of it all but he didn't think there had been such a centrally organized online disaster effort before in India.

He took the site down Thursday once emergency needs dissipated. But the last 24 hours have shaped his future goals.

Sagar, who works at a digital mapping firm, said he plans to keep working on establishing such databases. If and when the need arises again, maybe there will already be a relief database in place.

"So I've the go ahead to build a disaster relief management system from bosses. You have inputs?" he tweeted Thursday.

In the meantime, he said he wanted to try and shed the good Samaritan label.

"Let's face it, I was not there on the ground," he said. "I did not lift a single dead person or an injured person. All I did was make a few clicks. It was convenient. There was no effort at all."

He was not liking the hero worship. And as he does most everything else, he posted it on Twitter.

"Dear new followers gained in the wake of a truly delusional momentary Twitter glory, good luck. I am genuinely annoying on most days."