Thirty-eight years ago, 28-year-old Abdul Khadar was one of the few Keralites who migrated to the UAE for a better living. He knew the pain of hunger, having lived in poverty, and till date, what has stayed with him are the principles of his Gandhian parents, Kunju Muhamed and Biyyu. This is perhaps the reason that Abdul, when he came back home to Thrissur’s district’s Pulloottu in October 2019, chose to open a ‘food bank’ near his house to serve lunch every day to the needy.
A counter with glass panes that can be opened, is seen near the compound wall of his house. A hoarding above the counter reads: ‘Food Bank, visakkunnavarkkoru virunnu (a feast for the hungry).’ A board on the side states, “Lunch and drinking water available.”
At the counter, free lunch packets are made available from 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm every day. When all the food packets are consumed during this time, the shelves are refilled with new packets. If someone needs a food packet even after 2.30 pm, they can enter Khadar's compound, where he has set up a table and chair next to the kitchen and food will be served to them.
Sunitha Abdul Khadar
Every day, at least 35 packets of lunch are served and on some days, it goes up to 50. Not just the poor, anyone who is hungry can take a packet. Khadar says that there is no good restaurant nearby and so his food packets are helpful to many.
"Nobody should ask for food, it is everyone's right to have food. That is why I decided to keep the food at a clean counter, so whoever needs it can take it without asking anybody," he tells TNM.
"We serve whatever we make at home — usually it is rice and curries. Everything is prepared in our kitchen under my wife Sunitha's guidance," he adds.
Abdul, who was an honorary councillor in Indian Embassy in Oman and a well-known social worker among Kerala expats in Salalah, wanted to start this venture earlier, but since he was in Oman, he couldn't do so.
"I have experienced poverty and so I had decided that I would serve food for the needy when I get money. But all these years, I couldn't do it. I was not sure as there are many risk factors involved when we keep food out in public, so I waited to return home from Oman to start this," he says.
Abdul started the counter on October 2 (Gandhi Jayanti) in 2019. He recalls that his father and mother used to donate and provide food, even at the times they were going through extreme poverty.
"I have seen my mother giving food to many, even though we were in poverty. My father was a Gandhian, who would donate whatever he could. I just wanted to follow them," he says.
He says that he also kept in mind the possible negative outcomes of this venture.
"Many people warned me that it is risky to keep food and water out in public and that I will be answerable if something happens. But I received immense support from my family," he says.
Surveillance cameras are placed around the food bank so that his wife Sunitha and other staff members can monitor the area from the kitchen. "Since they monitor the area via cameras, when the food packets are over, we refill them," he adds.
He says that some of the guests come to meet him after eating the food, to express their gratitude. "Some people used to come back, hold my hands, and express gratitude. I don't expect that... they don't have to thank me, it is their right," he says.
He adds that many others should come forward to donate food so that nobody remains hungry.