Live and let live

Millions of people the world over can’t afford one square meal a day. They don’t know even know where their next meal is coming from. This is the pitiable condition in most of the developed and developing countries. A country of over one billion people, India’s condition is no different. We may talk of technological advancement in many areas, but when it comes to ‘food for all’, India is found wanting. Thousands of people dying of hunger every other day is no news these days. It is the order of the day.

To imagine millions of those hungry faces in every nook and corner of every city and the lurking danger of shortage of food can be a heart-rending story. How many of us have ever thought of going to bed without a meal. Whether one likes it or not, this is the fate of millions. We do not know what the statistics are but it is better not to dig deep… it could be saddening.   

If this is the plight of scores of people who are struggling for food, the flip side is even more disheartening. The affluent and the elite class of the society who can afford everything are often found guilty of wasting food without giving it a second thought. Be it marriages or birthday bashes or big occasions, the scene is quite common.  Piles of half-eaten food on paper plates or banana leaves thrown indiscreetly, is something one can’t digest.

Good Samaritans are not born but made. It has come true in the case of H R Rajendra and his wife M K Swetha. The satisfaction he or she gets a chance to share food is beyond explanation. A down-to-earth person with no rich history behind, Rajendra is a firm believer in this concept. The 42-year-old Mysurean, who works as a care-taker in Regional Museum of Natural History, happened to attend a wedding in Bengaluru four years back.

The food had been prepared for 1500 people, but only 500 turned up. A little later, Rajendra got to see lesser privileged children rummaging through a dustbin filled with plates filled with half-eaten plates. It was a heart-touching scene for Rajendra.  “This made a huge impact on me and I spent many sleepless nights without knowing what to do.”

There is always a solution for any problem. Though he had little money to realise his dream, Rajendra was determined to make it happen. “When I thought of so much of food going waste, I told myself: ‘Why not collect it and distribute it to those who are in need of it.’ Soon I gave shape to this new concept in the form of Akshaya Aahara Foundation in 2012.

There were initial hiccups like paucity of funds, but Rajendra and Swetha were not to be perturbed. Soon they started visiting marriage halls, restaurants and places where they thought food was going waste. Couple’s ‘Aahara Jolige’ received appreciation from all quarters and soon their empty ‘food basket’ started to fill little by little.

The first of its kind in the city, Aahara Jolige boasts of feeding 1000-4000 people on a daily basis. Of course, there are days when the number drops for obvious reasons. “There is no question of off-season.  It could be a marriage, birthday party, house warming ceremony or some other function, we are there in anticipation. We also get help from Lions Club and Rotary Club. There is not even a single day when we go home empty-handed,” Rajendra explains.

Those were the days when Rajendra and his wife would frequent marriage halls to explain their concept. Now that Aahara Jolige has become a familiar NGO in the heritage city, Rajendra’s future plans seem to be falling in place. All those in the know do call up Rajendra or his wife with a request to collect excess food.

Whatever food they get to collect on a daily basis, volunteers at Aahara Jolige go to various spots in the city and distribute it. Rajendra proudly reveals they are able to concentrate on 71 slums and 19 orphanges in Mysuru. They also make it a point to distribute food at railway station, KSRTC bus stand and suburban bus stand periodically.

The vision of Aahara Jolige is not pretentious. It does not claim to feed hundreds every day either. All they believe is collecting that ‘excess’ food which otherwise would have gone waste, separate them in hygienic containers and distribute it to those people for whom special feast is a rarity.

Though Rajendra and his wife are happy the way Aahara Jolige is shaping, their gut feeling is they could do better if more and more like-minded people join hands.  As concerned citizens, is it not our responsibility to joins hands with Aahara Jolige? After all, it is for a noble cause.  

Mission

  • To collect excess and wasted food from weddings and other celebratory functions and distribute it to the needy
  • To ensure that this participatory endeavour becomes an all-inclusive  local community initiative
  • To connect with similar initiatives across the state
  • To culminate in becoming an all-India self-sustaining mission
  • To educate people to set aside a portion of their meal for those who need a meal most
  • To impress on those who have lavish feasts that a small portion of that feast would feed several hungry mouths
  • To establish a ‘hot food ‘ kitchen that would cook simple but nourishing meals for the needy

Action plan

  1. To build a network of managers/owners of marriage  and festive halls, PROs /GMs of leading hotel groups who will initiate collection of excess food at the source, i.e., weddings, naming ceremony and other feasts and festivities in and around Mysuru
  2. To create awareness about the mission in all educational institutions, NGOs and socio-religious organisations through talks and AV presentations
  3. To actively involve electronic & print as well as social media like Facebook, Blogs,  Twitter and so on
  4. To give wide publicity to such locations where food would be distributed and the time of distribution through the active involvement of neighbourhood volunteers and the local media
  5. Positive word-of-mouth endorsements of the mission to be encouraged. For e.g., ‘Likes’ on Facebook

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