Food

A morsel for everyone

V G Ravindrakumar Agasthiyar Annadhanam Trust in Tiruchi joins volunteers to distribute free food for poor people in Puthur, Tiruchi.

V G Ravindrakumar Agasthiyar Annadhanam Trust in Tiruchi joins volunteers to distribute free food for poor people in Puthur, Tiruchi.   | Photo Credit: M.MOORTHY

“Hunger is hunger; it knows no religion. All of God’s creatures, from the ant to the elephant, are slaves to hunger. So we serve this food to anyone who comes to us,” says V G Ravindrakumar, whose charitable organisation Agasthiyar Annadhanam Trust has been feeding the needy in Tiruchi and Samayapuram for 26 years now.

On a recent weekday afternoon, as men and women queue up for their free lunch in a yard in Puthur, Ravindrakumar joins 10 volunteers in personally ladling out the dishes of the day — tomato and lime rice.

The lunch is cooked by Ravindrakumar’s wife Revathi at their home in Ex-Servicemen’s Colony, Ponmalai. Ravindrakumar prepares the breakfast of gruel (kanji) or pongal.

Those who want to eat on the spot are given melamine plates covered with a banana leaf to hold the rice. The others, who want to pack up the food, are asked to queue up separately with their vessels.

The rules are simple: two generous ladles of piping hot rice and a small spoon of pickle per person. No food in vessel lids or plastic packets. Diners must wash their plates and stack them back. And no queue jumping!

In about 40 minutes, the mass lunch is over. Over 400 people have been fed. Ravindrakumar will be going back to start work for the next day’s meals.

Helping hands

Ask him how it feels to feed at least 600 people on a daily basis, and Ravindrakumar replies, “It is said that God can be glimpsed in the smile of a poor person. I feel gratified to be able to satisfy the hunger of so many people. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

Ravindrakumar remains inspired by his father, V Govindaraj, a retired Railways employee, who started charity in 1991 by supplying hot water to patients in the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Government Hospital. Six months later, the retiree and his friends started serving gruel. After his father’s demise five years ago, Ravindrakumar, also a Railways worker, took voluntary retirement from his job to devote himself to the food charity. “I earn a pension of ₹19,000, which is enough for me and my wife and for the food preparation,” says Ravindrakumar.

The rice is sourced from Ravindrakumar’s fields in Mangathenapatti village, Keeranur, where the couple hosts a mass lunch every Sunday.

“During my father’s days, the money used to be tight, but this is slowly changing as more people come forward to sponsor meals on their special occasions,” says Ravindrakumar. Sri Agathiar Sanmaarga Sangam of Ongarakudil, Thuraiyur aided the charity during its initial years.

Special calling

Agasthiyar Annadhanam Trust (which functions under the Rangaraja Desika Swamigal Trust), has 22 permanent sponsors every month. Expenses for the rest of the days are made up by the trust’s funds. “We have never stopped serving food because of the lack of sponsors,” says Ravindrakumar.

The amount of rice used varies according to the meal: 25 kilos for kanji, and 15 for pongal in the morning and 35 kilos for lunch. “I get up at 3 am to make the breakfast and despatch it by 6am. If we get a sponsor, I make kanji. Otherwise it is pongal,” says Ravindrakumar. “My wife takes over the lunch preparation from 10am. We have to be in Puthur by noon. The lunch menu is changed every day, because we want people to enjoy a balanced diet when they eat our food.”

A permanent location would help them to serve dinner too, feels Ravindrakumar, though this has yet to materialise.

The charity has 30 volunteers and also maintains a website. Besides Puthur, the trust distributes food in selected temples and schools. Ravindrakumar doesn’t know who will take over the food mission after him. “One needs to have a special calling to carry this forward. I didn’t expect to follow my father in this. Similarly, if someone is to follow me, it should be ordained by God,” he says.

More information on www.agasthiyarannadhanam.org/

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2020 7:11:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/v-g-ravindrakumar-agasthiyar-annadhanam-trust-nahla-nainar-interview/article20103806.ece

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