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Making a difference: Food to the lonely

There are numerous people like Kanthimathi who are silently rendering selfless service to humanity

January 01, 2014 05:11 pm | Updated May 13, 2016 06:35 am IST - MADURAI:

Kanthimathi can't let people go hungry. Photo: Soma Basu

Kanthimathi can't let people go hungry. Photo: Soma Basu

The night the world partied to ring in the new year, Kanthimathi threw a small party on the dusty pavement opposite an oil store on East Masi Street. The menu was simple – veg biryani and butter milk. At noon, it put the guests on a high. None of them was invited. Yet 90 of them battling hunger, poverty and diseases turned up. Kanthimathi fed each of them with love and attention.

Kanthimathi’s gesture was not part of any new year resolution. People like her do not wait for new years to make resolutions. One often wonders what is the big deal about making new year resolutions? Out there are many unknown faces but extraordinary souls who need no resolutions to better their thoughts and make life better for others. Kanthimathi, for instance, prides herself on providing a good meal to the destitute. "Once you get a person to smile as they eat my homely cooked food,” she says, “my day is fulfilled.”

The 64-year-old wife of an ailing tailor, who ran out of business a few years ago, has always been at life’s receiving end. Yet, she goes on giving. It has become a daily routine for her for the last 12 years. She wakes up early to cook minimum 10 kilos of rice and to go with it, sambar, poriyal and butter milk. And if it happens to be a special or festive occasion, she also prepares an extra sweet dish.

Though she has two assistants to wash, peel and cut the vegetables, her hands and legs ache now. “I have to constantly stand and keep mixing the ingredients,” she points out.

Kanthimathi does not have the means to feed the poor. “Yet,” she smiles, “when I need something, I ask God and it comes.”

It was 12 winters ago when she got attracted to this spot in front of the BSNL Exchange office where she spotted social worker Siva Anbanandan serving food to beggars, street urchins, mentally and physically challenged individuals, the poor and the abandoned. She returned to the spot on few occasions later and unmistakably found the giver and the hungry. As it turned out Siva Anbanandan was looking for a cook. Kanthimathi volunteered instantly. Since then, she hasn’t taken a day’s break.

Even during illness she prepares the meal and ensures that it reaches the people on time. “Even if it rains, these people turn up and there is no way that I can let them go hungry,” she says.

She recalls with sadness how on the day Siva Anbanandan died a year ago, he arranged for rice, sambar and curd. “I served the meal here before going to the cremation ground,” she says.

The best part in this noble act is that nobody knows anybody. Kanthimathi does not know anything about the people who turn up to eat the midday meal. She only sees the hunger in their eyes and knows they can’t fetch themselves two square meals a day. Neither did Siva Anbanandan bother about who was eating as long as they came to satiate their hunger, say some of the nearby shopkeepers, who over a period of time have been pooling in resources and donating ingredients.

Somebody buys the vegetables, somebody donates rice and oil. And it keeps flowing to meet each day’s requirement. Kanthimathi believes there is God’s hand in arranging the items uninterrupted for so many years. She has taken a house on rent nearby where all the items are stored and cooked. She brings the food in two large containers in an auto-rickshaw. The auto driver and two young boys help her because they also feel happy to serve others in some way.

There is an unusual bonding among all the people who gather on the platform under a thatched roof at noon everyday. “Many times,” says Kanthimathi, even passers-by stop to see what is happening and spontaneously donate sweets and fruits to even plates, tumblers and sitting mats.

New Year Resolutions, often from outrageous to challenging, stereotypical to boring, essentially revolve around our selves. But there are seemingly insignificant decisions and countless acts of faceless people that go unnoticed but keep the world going. Nothing is impossible for those who believe in making all those happy who cannot return a favour. In the new year, this column will continue to bring many more such unsung heroes and heroines in the limelight.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to tell her about someone you know who is making a difference)

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