Azhar Maqsusi is a well-known figure in Hyderabad. For the last eight years, Azhar has been waking up at 6 am. After spending some quality time with family, he steps out of his house at 10 am to get groceries from the Fateh Khan Bazaar. He and his team soon start cooking and by afternoon, hundreds of people who have not had a single meal, would be fed in Hyderabad.
Since the nationwide lockdown began, several people, including volunteers and NGOs, across various states have been pitching in to provide food to migrant labourers, homeless people and others who are stranded. For Azhar, however, this act of serving food to the needy has been a consistent one.
It has been eight years since he started feeding people under the Dabeerpura flyover in the city. Over the years, the work has expanded and Azhar and his team feed almost 1,500 people everyday at multiple areas across the city, and even in other states in India.
Azhar says that he realised the effect of hunger in his teen years, when his father passed away.
When did you first begin feeding the needy?
Today, April 10, marks the eighth year since we started our food service for the poor. It began after I saw an old lady named Lakshmi at a railway station. Her feet were amputated, she had not had any food to eat, so I gave her food that day. From the very next day, I started feeding homeless people at Dabeerpura under the banner of 'Hunger has no religion'. Since then, our programme has continued and we feed people of all religions. We do it in different locations including Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Raichur and Delhi.
What changes have you seen in the last eight years?
Earlier, free food was mostly served only in religious places, like a temple, dargah or gurudwara but that has changed now. Food is being served at hospitals and railway stations and various donors have come forward. I think of this as an achievement.
What were the challenges that you faced when you started?
When we started out, there were many financial challenges. Ours is a middle class family and we run a gypsum plaster business. We don't particularly appeal for donations. If people come forward voluntarily and donate groceries and rice, we accept it.
There were days when I had to borrow money or sell scrap material to feed people but eventually, through social media, several people came forward and started helping us.
How has the lockdown changed things?
Before the lockdown, we used to cook and serve food at different locations, and would make people sit together and eat. However, due to the lockdown, we are now packing the food and distributing it as food packets instead. We have drawn boxes for maintaining social distance; whoever is in need of food stands in a queue inside those boxes to collect the food packets.
Usually, we serve the homeless, destitute and people begging on the streets. Now, we are serving migrant laborers as well by going to various locations in our van.
What food is provided?
To make it easy for packing, we are giving tomato rice or vegetable biryani during the lockdown period.
Usually, there are cooks at the different places where we serve food. Most times, I also lend a hand. When it comes to my first dish, I have learnt cooking 'khatti dal' and whenever there is no cook available, I cook. I know how to make chicken biryani, vegetable pulao, tomato rice, etc which I learnt gradually.
What keeps you motivated?
Service to mankind is the service to god. Humanity is the most important degree that everyone should have apart from their other degrees.