CHATLINE B. Murugan feeds as many people he can through his trust, Nizhal Maiyam. He tells Akila Kannadasan about his mission
Up almost three hours before the sun, a 16-year-old lad stepped out of his house in Choolaimedu, Chennai, book in hand. He sat under the nearest streetlamp, and studied. Sometimes, he went to a park to study. As his exams neared, he spent more and more time out on the streets. But, he didn't mind. It was better than being home where he had to deal with a drunken father who wouldn't let him as much as go near his books. Despite all his efforts, B. Murugan failed his exams. “I got into a bus and decided to end my life at the place where it took me,” says Murugan.
He got off at Sirumugai, some 500 km from his hometown. “It was about 2.30 a.m. and I was exhausted. Some beggars were sleeping along a pavement and I joined them.” That experience changed his life.
Twenty years after that night in Sirumugai, Murugan recalls, “Here I was, able-bodied, with youth on my side, planning my exit from the world. But those men on the streets had nothing and yet carried on with life.”
From a wizened old cobbler who offered him his thinnai to sleep on to kind-hearted women who made sure he had his meals on time, the people in Sirumugai's ‘Four Road' area became Murugan's family. “They called me the ‘Madraskaaran,” he smiles. He worked as a waiter in a small restaurant, rented a room and started life anew. “I vowed to do something for those in need,” he says.
And he did. After working as a courier delivery boy, a lottery salesman and a newspaper delivery boy in Sirumugai, Murugan became a goods-vehicle driver in Coimbatore in 1999. He doubled up as a gym master who trained boys in his free time. Murugan now had good friends and a job to bank on. He set out to do what he always wanted to — helping the lesser-privileged.
He bought vegetables and rice for Rs.300 from his salary of Rs.3,000, cooked them with friends in his backyard and distributed it to children in a school for the differently-abled. “Every month, we would make one variety of rice for 25 people,” he says. Years passed, Murugan changed jobs many times, but the number of people he fed only increased.
Today, Murugan is an auto-driver in a hardware store in the mornings and a taxi driver in the evenings. What started as a small initiative in his bachelor days is now a full-fledged social service trust, called ‘Nizhal Maiyam'. It was registered in 2008. They have 32 members, most of whom are students. It is easy to locate Murugan's house in Kavundampalayam on a Saturday evening. All you have to do is follow the trail of the sweet smell of ghee and sambar. “The entire area will be gama gama gama,” smiles Murugan. “After work on Saturday, I go straight to buy vegetables. At home, my family and kids from the neighbourhood cut vegetables together in the hall. We start cooking by 10 p.m. Sambar rice with plenty of vegetables is what we always make. It's nutritious, tasty and the children love it. Once done, we pack the rice at dawn. We then set out in groups to orphanages and old-age homes.”
Thanks to the encouragement of Shabbir Yacoob Imani, his boss, Murugan also plants saplings for free. The Nizhal Maiyam team goes on tree-planting expeditions after the children are fed.
Murugan has also rehabilitated beggars in the city. In 2009, he petitioned to the government to establish a shelter for beggars. The Corporation established one in R.S. Puram last year.
The 37-year-old, with the financial support of well-wishers, also organises a function annually to distribute school uniforms and stationery to students from orphanages. “This year, the event was called ‘Joy 1500' — we distributed stationery to 1,500 students. Next year, I hope to do the same for at least 1,501 kids,” he smiles.
With the help of his college student friends in Nizhal Maiyam, Murugan has set up a website (http://nizhalmaiyam.org/) through which people can learn of their activities and also contribute. Every week, he sends an SMS to his network of over 600 friends with the date, time, location and the number of people who would be fed the following Sunday. “This is to encourage people to do the same,” he says.
Murugan also routes excess food from weddings and parties to orphanages. “We wish to prevent good food from being wasted,” he says. After all, a hearty meal is a luxury for many.
Murugan can be contacted at 98650-93251.