My grandparents and parents trekked through parts of Burma to escape the advancing Japanese army during the Second World War. So we were brought up on stories of starvation and deprivation.
‘We carried gold and jewellery but there was no decent rice to be had. Not even if you had all the gold in the world,’ they told us. So the rule was, ‘take as much food as you can eat, but never waste a grain of rice, a morsel of bread. Remember, all over the world, people starve,’ they admonished us.
Some years ago, I watched my US born niece Maya, clean her plate painstakingly. A group of astonished adivasi women commented, ‘Look at that child, not a grain of rice wasted.’ It pleased me inordinately, that Maya, coming from the land of plenty had been taught well, our grandparent’s legacy continued.
My first major jolt about good food being binned came when I started my flight attendant job at the age of 21. I was horrified to see really fancy food being thrown away each time we landed in Bombay. My unpredictable schedule didn’t allow me much scope to do anything useful, so I went to some nuns I knew and asked them if they could organize collecting the food for hungry people. They were delighted with the idea. I slept better that night.
I’m a bit obsessive about food being thrown away, I must confess. I can’t abide waste. Today is the major harvest festival, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and in many parts of the country. So I was delighted to come across a campaign to channel surplus food to those who need it. Calling themselves The Robin Hood Army (RHA), they aim to become a movement, to spread to cities all over India and Pakistan. Currently the RHA covers 18 cities, including Delhi, Bangalore, Jabalpur, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabd, Pune, Mumbai and Jaipur in India and Lahore and Karachi in Pakistan.
The group is young. Professionals, friends and colleagues who decided to get together to do something to make a difference. They are refreshingly candid. Their website says, ‘On RHA’s first night of distribution, we realized that helping the less fortunate might feel good personally, but honestly feeding 50 odd people a night, once a week is not going to create any real difference in a country where millions are starving. For a problem this acute, we need to reach out to more people, more restaurants and more cities – the deadline being: yesterday.’
They ask for volunteers, colleges and restaurants to join them and begin independent chapters to cater to local areas. When you read of the group’s progress, it’s heartwarming. Starting small, Neel Ghose and Anand Sinha began the Robin Hood initiative from Delhi serving 150 homeless people. Almost a year and a half later, they’ve spread to 18 cities. By August 2015, RHA launched its most ambitious project Mission100k – they partnered with Zomato, Uber and Scoopwhoop to unite Indian and Pakistani students to serve 1 hundred thousand people on Independence Day.
While the governments of India and Pakistan do their usual one step forward, two steps backwards political dance, it’s truly heartening to read of an initiative which is purely altruistic with no hidden motives except to feed the hungry, homeless and needy. RHA does not accept money donations. Only food and volunteers’ time. Past experiences show that students who take part in voluntary ventures like this one, are marked for life. It leaves them slightly more compassionate, caring and sensitive.
In a week which saw some horrid headlines, more doses of doom and gloom, it’s a relief to have something positive to write about. There’s still lots of good things happening. So many young people looking for something to do besides making money and forging ahead with careers. People can and will change the world. The tide must turn.