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Food for thought

PRIYADARSHINI PAITANDY
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OFFBEAT V. Venkatraman who runs a mess in Erode serves a one rupee meal to 20 people everyday

V. Venkatraman may be an ordinary man, but to the many underprivileged at the Erode General Hospital he’s a messiah and rightly so. For the last five years, this owner of Shri AMV Homely Mess has provided one rupee meals to 20 people everyday.

This extraordinary effort started in 2008 when a woman who had admitted her relative to the general hospital came to his mess to buy idlis for herself and another relative. When Venkat informed her that the idlis were over and suggested dosas instead she told him that since dosas were more expensive, she would not have enough money to buy food for two people and that one of them would have to go hungry. That got Venkat thinking. “I knew I had to do something. Sometimes the patient gets hospital food but it’s their caretakers and relatives who stay hungry. If you look at the profile, they are mostly daily wage labourers who have to forego work and therefore income to watch over their family members at the hospital,” says Venkatraman.

Earlier he used to go to the hospital himself and distribute 20 tokens. Sometimes a crowd would gather and it saddened him that he couldn’t provide food to all of them.

He felt bad about letting people down because given his means of income it was only possible to feed 20. So now he has requested nurses at the hospital to identify the needy and distribute tokens to them.

“Initially I had planned to give them a free meal. But then I felt they might be embarrassed, and perceive it as charity. They may also worry about the quality of the food since it is free of cost. Therefore I decided to charge a token amount of Re. 1,” he explains.

The menu in his mess comprises idli, dosa and meals and costs about Rs. 45- Rs. 55 for customers who walk in. Those with tokens get served a regular meal that consists of rice, sambar, rasam…Given the rise in food prices how does he manage? “ With the steep increase in the cost of ingredients it has become a challenge to keep this going,” he says and adds, “However, I cannot stop what I have started.”

Apart from serving a social cause, Venkatraman also has another responsibility, that of his family. His wife is a freelance yoga teacher. He has two daughters, one of whom is still studying in school while the other works for a software firm. He has managed to educate his daughters even though he couldn’t study beyond school. He is happy that his family is supportive of his endeavours. His work is getting recognised and what touches him the most is that even poor people sometimes donate Rs. 5 or Rs. 10. “There are donors from America. People celebrating birthdays or other special occasions can sponsor food,” says the 48-year-old. “Even if 50 hotels give just five people free food, it means they are helping 250 people everyday.”

His real reward, he believes, comes from seeing the big impact caused by small gestures.

Venkatraman can be reached on 96290 94020.

PRIYADARSHINI PAITANDY

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