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“I saw scores of people from villages and other states waiting outside hospitals as they cannot afford hotels. After spending huge sums on treatments and medicines, they barely have anything left. In times when they are already worried, hunger worsens the circumstances,” says Syed Gulab, an insurance agent who lives in Bengaluru.
As this scene is common outside the hospitals all across India, Syed too must have seen it many times before.
However, we may look at something several times, but it is when we truly see things, do transformations happen.
The calling came to Syed one day and it marked a turning point of sorts for him.
He not only began distributing food to these people for free, but inspired many to aid him in his philanthropic venture.
From the initial 100 people, the number of beneficiaries has increased to 700. The daily initiative incurs a monthly expense of around Rs 3 lakh of which Syed pays 25 per cent and the rest is borne via donations.
And it all began with a hospital visit four years ago.
A Hospital Visit That Changed Him Forever
“My friend’s daughter was admitted in the ICU of Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health (IGICH) in Jayanagar. My visits to the area were eye-opening. I saw several families whose loved ones were admitted in the hospital living on pavements without food and water for days,” Syed tells The Better India (TBI).
Moved by the unfortunate plight of such families, Syed started a free meal service inside the premises of Rajiv Gandhi Institute of TB and Chest Diseases which is adjacent to the children’s hospital.
“The compound has four hospitals including cancer, TB, accident and children. Giving just one meal can lift their spirits and help them stay strong,” says Syed.
He distinctly remembers the first day when he served the meals. His family could not understand the need to wake up early and prepare meals for strangers outside hospitals. Meanwhile, those very strangers failed to comprehend why this man was distributing meals for free.
“After debating with my family, I came to Jayanagar and stood nervously at the junction on a Sunday. I approached a few families who looked at me with suspicion and some just ignored me. However, as soon as I opened big rice and gravy containers, there was chaos. But they all got meals to eat. Just seeing them so content encouraged me to scale the initiative,” he shares.
For the first six months, Syed served meals only on Sundays after which he registered his ‘Roti Charity Trust’ to make it a daily affair. He also sought official permission from the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of TB and Chest Diseases to set up his stall for a few hours every day.
When Syed decided to take up the service for full time, Hyderabad-based social activist Azhar Maqsusi encouraged and assured him in his endeavour.
Maqsusi has been serving free food to the destitute in Hyderabad for the last ten years. He met Syed after learning about his campaign during a visit to Bengaluru.
Help Pours In
Maqsusi not only gave useful advice to Syed he also promised to donate 30 bags of rice every month.
Likewise, many individuals and organisations came forward to donate money or food to Roti Charity. A friend even rented his house (which is close to the hospital junction) for free to prepare meals.
Soon, Syed’s noble act was picked up by news channels and papers. This not only attracted more donors but also volunteers who wanted to assist Syed.
One of them is Ramaswamy Iyer, a local, who has collaborated with Syed to provide breakfasts daily. “Iyer prepares upma or idli in his kitchen and all I have to do is distribute it,” informs Syed who has hired a cook to prepare lunch.
A Day In The Busy Life Of Syed
Syed begins his day early by 5 and after finishing his household chores, he takes the breakfast in his vehicle to the hospital and serves the long queue that starts forming as early as six.
He then goes back to his house and returns around 1.45 pm to serve lunch. While some eat the food on the spot, some parcel it in their containers to eat it for dinner. Syed wraps up his day by cleaning the kitchen and dedicates the rest of the day for his work.
Though meeting expenses every month has been challenging, the blessings, satisfaction and smiles he sees every day keep him going. In fact, even during the lockdown, he is doing his bit by distributing ration kits to the poor.
So many families wait in the sun, praying for the swift recovery of their loved ones. Hunger and thirst do not register when one is worried. But a full stomach can certainly make things a tad easy. Thanks to compassionate and selfless people like Syed, the people in their city do not have to starve.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)