The success of the scheme at the Nigam Pratibha Kanya Vidyalaya in Malviya Nagar depends on which day of the week it is. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are winners simply because there is poori-aloo or halwa on the menu. The rest of the days, the girls are either indifferent or make faces when a plate of rajma and rice is placed in front of them.
“Some children eat the food, some bring from home and some just don’t eat at all,” observes Saroj Dua, the school Principal. “Just like they behave at home, they behave here…‘we will have poori-sabzi , not rajma-chawal . We will have halwa ’” laughs Ms. Dua.
If the girls haven’t already memorised the predictable menu supplied by the ISKCON Food Relief Foundation each week, all they have to do is walk into the Principal’s office and stare up at the blue chart paper. The school does its best in reaching the food to the students, whether they eat it or not. “If we get the kids to come down to the ground and stand in a line we won’t finish distributing the food before noon,” says Ms. Dua.
Last year, the school had more than 700 students enrolled; the admission season is just beginning this year. To avoid long queues, the distributors (hired by the school but paid for by the supplier) mix the food in buckets – one for each class – and send it the classrooms so the teachers can serve. “If we don’t mix dal or rajma into rice, the children don’t eat rice,” says Saroj Gautham, a teacher.
Ms. Gautham and her colleague Seema Pawar also check the weight of the food delivered by the supplier every morning between 8.15 - 8.30 a.m. Last Wednesday when The Hindu visited the school, there were seven containers of rajma, each weighing roughly 9 kilograms and an equal number containing rice. By 10.20 a.m., the food is mixed and ready to be served and by 10.30 a.m. awkwardly heaped on plates.
By the time, the supplier completes the long journey from Aali Village where the food is cooked for the 15 schools under the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, it is in violation of the Supreme Court ruling that only hot cooked mid-day meal be served. Add to this a child’s fussy palate and only a few things on the menu that are desired.
“I find only the halwa and chhole tasty,” says Shifa Sayed, a student of Class V, when asked where her plate was. Thirteen-year-old Muzhgan Murad made faces and said “I like to eat only poori-sabzi ”.
And there were others who brought their own food after having previously found stones in the rice or fallen ill after consuming the meal.
As for this reporter, given the husks in the rice and the discoloured rajma , she wished she had chosen to visit the school either on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.