Chennai

‘Medical student’ turns tea seller

K. Rajeev and his staff distribute gruel to family members of patients outside Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital. Photo: R. Ragu

K. Rajeev and his staff distribute gruel to family members of patients outside Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital. Photo: R. Ragu   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

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After he dropped out of a medical course, he set up a herbal tea shop in front of the MMC hostel in Park Town

K. Rajeev’s life story is a bit out of the ordinary.

In 1997, he joined the Madras Medical College (MMC) with a noble goal in sight. He wanted to return to his native town of Palakad in neighbouring Kerala as a doctor and serve rural communities in the region.

His plans however did not come to fruition. Though he had received admission to MMC on merit, he could not cope with the demands of the course and dropped out of it.

Life is indeed stranger than fiction. For, Rajeev, 37-years-old now, has set up a business opposite the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, which is cheek by jowl with the MMC campus. A resident of Broadway, he runs Diya Snacks on Mint Street in Park Town.

Since September, he is serving a large number patients visiting this Government General Hospital, by offering them free gruel every day. He has been doing this service for a few years now, but has now scaled it up.

“I gave up the thought of returning to my home town as the city gave me a livelihood after I dropped out of college two decades ago. I have always wanted to help poor people. I am not doing it in a small way,” he says.

After he dropped out of the medical course, he was without a job for a while, and on the persuasion of some of his friends from the college, set up a herbal tea shop in front of the MMC hostel in Park Town.

Six years ago, he moved his business to the spot near Gate – 4 of Southern Railway headquarters on Mint Street.

Following this move, he would often come in contact with the relatives of those undergoing treatment at the Chennai GH.

He would find these relatives looking for people who could turn boiled rice, which they would have brought from home, into gruel. For, after surgeries, patients have to be fed only liquid food such as gruel for easy digestion.

Many tea sellers on narrow Mint Street would refuse to use their fruit mixers for the purpose. Rajeev decided to put his fruit to an additional use — that of grinding for grinding boiled rice. People would offer him to pay a token fee for what he did, but would refuse to accept it.

“Back then, it was around 10 people, who used to visit my shop for the grinding purpose every day. I never felt like taking money for that,” he says.

Slowly, the number of requests to make gruel climbed. As a result, Rajeev bought more mixers. But the task of grinding boiled rice began to eat into the time he had to devote to running his shop. So, in September 2017, he decided to distribute free gruel to all for an hour, mainly in the afternoon.

Every day, on an average, around 25 kilograms of broken rice of high quality, water and salt are being used to make gruel.

The gruel recipe is partly based on inputs from his doctor-friends at MMC.

He even rented a small shop opposite Diya Snacks on Mint Street for making the gruel because timely delivery of the food is important. Many patients the hospital now wait for the gruel.

With the help of his staff, he distributes the gruel near the entrance of the hospital.

Initially, he spent entirely from his pocket to make the gruel. Later, many people offered to sponsor the gruel as part of their birthdays celebration or any other special occasion. Now, the Confederation of Tamil Nadu Malayali Association (CTMA) is sponsoring the distribution for an year. “We give gruel to everyone who comes seeking it. But relatives of patients are our first preference, because it is for them that we started this initiative. We also give utensils to carry the gruel as many people come from faraway districts and don’t have the money to buy utensils,” Rajeev says.

(‘Be the changemaker’ is a series that puts the spotlight on someone who uses an innovative method to address a civic issue. If you know such changemakers, write in to us at downtownfeedback@thehindu.co.in.)

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An earlier version of this article said K. Rajeev belonged to the 1977 batch. It has now been corrected.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 4:45:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/mmc-medical-student-turns-tea-seller/article22917894.ece

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