As the month of fasting—Ramzaan, draws to a close, a sense of humility serenades me. Ramzaan is a month when one is called upon to abstain from not just food, but anything that corrupts the mind and soul. However, when one goes without food and water for 14+ hours a day for 30 days, in the least, it reminds one how blessed we are to be able to afford a basic meal. It is ‘hunger’ that teaches one the value of ‘food’.
About a month ago, over a quiet meal, my husband Manivannan and I were deliberating on general issues, as we usually do. Hunger is one such subject that we talked about that day. Incidentally, we both had come across a very simple and engaging initiative by Prashanth Nair, a young IAS officer who is the District Collector of Kozhikode.
The simple initiative has the capacity to eradicate hunger without entailing capital investments on infrastructure or subsequent recurring costs. It is transparent and scalable. It simply draws upon the goodness of the common people who want to share a meal with another fellow citizen without the air of charity and without compromising on another individual’s sense of dignity. It was subtly named ‘Operation Sulaimani’—a local flavour of tea in their land.
The ‘Óp Su’ model as it’s popularly called, is based on the concept of ‘Food on the Wall’ that exists in some countries. People pay for extra meals which are displayed as a coupon on a wall in restaurants. Since it has already been paid for, the coupon can be used by anyone who needs a meal. The simplicity of the model has captured the imagination of many. Indeed, if we look around us, we will find a lot of people helping out at a personal level for our less fortunate brethren. Feed Your Neighbour and Food Bank – Chennai come to mind immediately.
When an idea hits him, Mani goes from start to top gear in matter of seconds. And so came the Facebook post exhorting Bengalureans to open their hearts to feed the hungry.
He wrote, “The idea is simple. No government. No big sponsors. Ordinary people donate boxes kept at restaurants. The money is converted into ‘food coupons’. Such coupons are made available at select outlets/petty shops in the railway stations, bus stands, etc. Hungry person can take the coupon and present it in any of the designated restaurants in the city, and get a free meal. The whole system is managed by volunteers. They convert the money into food, effortlessly. I feel this is the most efficient way of feeding the poor. No new kitchens, or government tinterventions! The existing kitchens in the restaurants feed few more! I don’t think we can have a better system than this!”
The result of this post is a team of dedicated volunteers from various walks of life putting their heads and resources together to ensure that by August 15th 2016, we have a system in place to ensure that if a person wants food but has no money in his pocket, he still has an option to have a full meal, without any questions asked! We are calling it ‘Bengaluru Meals’.
Bengaluru Meals will be a citizen’s initiative run for the people, by the people themselves! Here lies our strength.
The team behind the scene believes that this is a project to ensure ‘food with dignity’ to whom so ever is in need. The project will need a strong volunteer base for its initial roll out in an identified part of Bengaluru. For this an NGO named ‘Samanya Kannadiga’ is working with the team.
Still, we need hotels to partner with us. We need funds to launch the 1st meal coupon. We need to spread the word. We need to work towards sustainability and accountability.
When every morning we are being greeted by horrific news of violence and killing, let’s work towards rekindling hope in humanity. Let’s do our bit.
About Salma Fahim
Salma Fahim is a civil servant and volunteer with Bengaluru Meals.