Today, Babu Rao has a swanky car and an iPhone, but 40 years ago, he was a sweeper at the cafe he now owns.

Once a cleaner at Hyderabads famous Niloufer cafe this man now owns it
news Journeys Of Triumph Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 16:26

This story is part of The News Minute's 'Journeys Of Triumph' series. Read other stories in the series below.

At 6 am every morning, a crowd begins to gather outside the MNJ Institute of Oncology and Regional Cancer Centre in Hyderabad. It keeps swelling for the next one-and-a-half hours. Men form a neat line on one side near the entrance, while women form another line on the other side. They wait patiently.

“They don't push and shove, but just wait patiently,” says a security guard of the hospital which is situated in Red Hills in Lakdi-Ka-Pul.

Ten minutes before 7.30 am, two large containers filled with 'upma' are placed on two tables in front of the two lines.

At 7.30 am sharp, a man dressed in white arrives and nods at his volunteers. The lines start moving, as the women and men take their share of food and move ahead.

Babu Rao, the owner of Niloufer Cafe nearby, has been feeding hundreds of poor people at least two meals a day for the past 10 years.

"It shows you how many people go hungry every day in the city. In so many years, there's not one day when people haven't lined up. Feeding someone is the best social service that one can do," he says, as he scoops up some upma personally and helps out with serving the people.

Today, Babu Rao has a swanky car and an iPhone, but 40 years ago, he was a sweeper at the cafe he now owns.

Babu was born into a poor family in a small village in Telangana's Adilabad district. During his schooling in Maharashtra, he also worked at his uncle's shop to help out.

“I completed my Class 10 (in Maharashtra) with great difficulty. I didn't have money to buy books, and I asked my father, but where would he go for the money?" Rao asks. 

Babu’s father sold their cow to ensure that he could buy books for his son. This was a turning point in Rao's life.  "I learnt later from my neighbours that my father had sold our cow in the night. It really hurt me because I knew what the cow meant to him, and understood the value of the sacrifice he had made," Rao says, tearing up.

Rao then decided to shape his own destiny. He left home after completing school and came to Hyderabad. For days, he slept on the platform at the Secunderabad railway station.

"I started out doing odd jobs and then figured that working at a cafe would at least ensure that I get some food to eat. In 1976, I started sweeping and cleaning the floor at the Niloufer Cafe," he says. 

Rao was soon promoted to the position of waiter, then promoted again, after which he began preparing tea and Osmania biscuits. 

By 1978, Rao had signed an agreement to run the cafe.

Initially, Rao could take home the profits but had to pay the owners a fixed amount every month. As the fanbase for his 'special' tea and biscuits grew, so did his profits. 

"My concept was very simple. I should enjoy the taste of whatever I serve in this cafe, only then can I do justice and serve it to my customers," Rao adds.

 By 1993, he had saved up enough profits to acquire the cafe, and has been running it ever since.

"That doesn't mean I can't make a good cup of tea or wait tables anymore," Rao quips, adding that "we should all be willing to work hard and never forget our beginnings."

Eight months ago, Rao opened up another posh A/C cafe near the old cafe which now serves the same recipe of his locally famous Osmania biscuits and tea besides an array of other items.

The employees of the new cafe are from the 'Yashoda Foundation' and are usually rescued and rehabilitated street kids who have completed their intermediate education.

"The kids are always great. We train them in certain skills including how to use a computer and they go back after a while and a new batch arrives," Rao adds. 

Rao still gets up every morning and ensures that grocery and other pre-requisite items are available for volunteers at the hospital to cook the food and serve it.

"Nowadays, I get offers from other people saying that they would like to pitch in to supply groceries and feed the people for one meal so I let them pay. But even if no one offers, I always will," Rao says. 

Rao also helped establish a temple opposite the hospital. "The priests at the temple get a fixed salary, and funds from the 'Hundi' go to pay for poor people in the hospital who have travelled to Hyderabad from various parts of Telangana, and cannot afford to take the body back once their relative dies," Rao adds.

Rao also says "One of the things about hunger, is that people forget all their differences, especially things like caste and religion. I could've set up this same program at a temple or a masjid but it would not be the same. It is humanity that matters at the end of the day."  

When asked how much all the social service costs him, Rao shrugs his shoulders and smiles. 

"It's irrelevant. All the money in the world couldn't give me the joy I get from a single person smiling because he/she doesn't have to go hungry. I also hope that people continue doing this after I'm gone," he adds.


Also read our other stories from the series - 

From selling 5-paise sweets as a kid to running a multi-crore idly-dosa batter empire

From a single pushcart to TN's trusted greengrocer, Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayam's phenomenal rise


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