“Providing food to the needy is always a better option rather than helping them with money,” begins O. A. Nazar, a tea shop owner in Kochi, Kerala. “If we give them money, they may not use it for a good cause but instead use it to buy liquor. So I always ensure to fill their stomachs with my meals for free,” says Nazar.
Walking in the footsteps of his father, Nazar and his brother, O. A. Shamsudheen, provide free food to at least 10 deprived people on a daily basis and have so far provided for 180 people.
Nazar’s father had a small stationery shop on Ashoka Road near Kaloor in Kochi. As the profit of the shop was mainly used to help others, he faced a major loss and had to shut down.
Nazar adds, “After we lost our father we started a tea shop. The shop has been running since 1984. Before the free meal service, my brother and I used to give food to the needy at lesser cost. If the food costs Rs 30, then we would just collect Rs 20 from them.”
He goes on to share, “We began the free meal service just three weeks ago. One of my friends contacted me informing that a sponsor wants to pay money to provide free food from my tea shop. Till date, I don’t know who the sponsor is.”
With the help of the sponsor, Nazar and his brother OA Shamsudheen are serving free meals to the people. “A week in advance, our sponsor provides money for the free meal,” says the 52-year-old.
Everyday except Sunday, the tea shop is open from 6am to 3pm.
“The unknown sponsor had only one condition before providing the money — prevent resale of the meal and that we should not provide food packets to the customers,” adds Nazar.
Identifying the needy
Nazar says he has a special ability to identify the needy customers who come to his tea stall. “Many come to the shop, and just by looking into their eyes I can understand whether they have money or not. Once I feel they can’t afford the money for the meal, I give them free food,” says Nazar
What started out as an act of kindness from one sponsor has turned into a wide-spread movement. Nazar adds that now more sponsors approach the duo to give them money for the meals. He also believes that with new sponsors he would be able to fill more empty stomachs.
During the initial days of the lockdown, the shop was shut. Before the coronavirus pandemic, a meal was sold for the price Rs 35, but now they had to increase the price to Rs 40 to make ends meet.
“Our regular customers are drivers, who struggle for a day’s meal. We provide them the best meal including rice, three curries and some non-vegetarian fried food,” adds the tea shop owner.
However, Nazar’s brother, Shamsudheen, is currently recovering from COVID-19. Nazar shares that once he recovers, they plan to expand the shop and provide more food to more people. He says, “Why should we stop at 10 meals? If we can, we will surely help more people by providing them the best food we can serve.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)