“Four years ago, I was crossing the streets near Dumdum Cantonment in Kolkata when a dishevelled teenager boy came running and fell at my feet. He started begging desperately for money. I thought that he was heavily drug addicted and wanted money to waste on cheap, harmful drugs. I tried to dissuade him, but his desperation was so wild and pathetic that I slapped him and he broke down. That’s where my story begins. And it has a delicious, fulfilling ending with happy bellies and unadulterated smiles.
To the rest of Kolkata, I am a food delivery guy with Zomato. But to a group of budding youngsters in Dumdum Cantonment and across Bengal, I am an elder brother they can always confide in.
The story dates back four years
Four years ago, after slapping the boy, I had comforted him, and he opened up to me. He vented that he was not drug-addicted but that his mother forces him to bring money by begging. He said if he goes home without any money at the end of the day, his mother will kill him. When the boy got down with dengue a while later, and the hospital asked for his personal details, his mother could not even properly remember his father’s name, who has deserted them probably before his birth.
This boy was not the only one with a similar life story. I found out numerous other homeless kids around the same railway station have a dark past and an even darker future ahead of them. None of them had ever stepped inside a school. The older ones were into drug abuse, begging and even petty criminal activities, while the younger ones would just play and laze around all day, soon to grow up and join their predecessors.
Soon, I started an evening school with 17 kids. Every evening, we would sit on a mat on platform number 3 and teach the basics to these kids. Today, the number of kids in our class has reached 27. Many of them have joined government schools.
My initiatives all over Bengal
Most of them have never known the love and care of a home, a family. Some are orphans, and some come from broken families with estranged fathers and mothers. I strongly advocate the importance of education to them. But, the reality is that they need money to run their families. So, I have arranged small stalls and ventures for some of these kids. They earn quite some amount by selling juice, lemonade, water bottles etc. after school hours. It is not much strenuous physical labour for them, and they enjoy it as well.
Over the course of four years, I have replicated my initiatives all over Bengal, in tribal villages like Belpahari or Totopara, which make headlines for the high poverty rates. I have been to rural Sunderbans among forest-dependent communities as well as Naxalbari, Alipurduar in North Bengal. Everywhere, my emphasis has always been on education. We organise drives twice or thrice a year to these places and help hundreds of helpless kids to get enrolled in schools. We also provide stationery, uniforms and medicine kits to them.
Distributing the cancelled orders and excess food among my kids
However, there is more to my story. Earlier, I used to work at Kolkata Municipal Corporation, but I quit my job to devote my entire time to the kids. But, I have to run my family as well, so last year around July, I started working as a delivery executive with Zomato. This is when I befriended a kind-hearted restaurant owner in Dumdum, who stepped into my team after learning about my kids. Now, some of the cancelled orders from Zomato and all the excess food from his restaurant come to my kids as their evening snacks, sometimes dinner. Addressed fondly by the kids as ‘Roll Kaku’ (Roll Uncle), he daily provides egg rolls, fried rice and all other items whose orders get cancelled. On occasions, he even arranges feasts for my kids. The gentleman wishes to stay away from the limelight, so he has made me swore to never mention his name or his restaurant to the public.
How other delivery guys and restaurant owners can feed a hungry India
Generally, when a customer cancels an order on a food delivery app, the restaurant which has already prepared the food gets the refund. Most of the times, the restaurant owners give away the food to the delivery guys. If the food is already en route, the Zomato customer care instructs the delivery men to take it home or give it to the poor.
Zomato has recently partnered with NGO Feeding India to divert all the cancelled orders to local shelter homes, orphanages, old age homes, centres for the specially-abled and similar institutions. We, the delivery boys are instructed to donate accordingly. For instance, in my area, we have been instructed to donate to St. Mary’s orphanage which we do.
I wish the endeavour continues on a larger scale and resonates all over India. So much food is wasted from restaurants every day, and not even 1% of it reaches these hungry kids. I appeal to all restaurant owners, food delivery guys and of course, the food delivery companies to take this into account and reach out to the helpless and hungry in their neighbourhood.”
– Pathikrit Saha, Zomato Delivery Executive
Recently, Pathikrit’s non-profit venture Help Foundation received its formal registration. Though he has always favoured such social work as a more informal and personal endeavour, he believes the registration will indeed help my kids receive more support and empathy. Any willing donors can reach out to him at 9804788406/9123348301.