A trip to the grocery story I will never forget

As cliched as this may sound, the next time you make a face at what’s prepared for dinner at home or waste the last few servings of a dish,  do think about those who barely get a square meal a day. Seriously.

Yesterday, I paid a visit to Pramani stores at Kurla. It is here that on the 6th of every month, the NGO Modern Educational Society & Cultural Organisation ( MESCO) distributes rations to the 27 beneficiary families from Kurla who are on the programme. The programme is run across the city.

From Ashma to Kaiser to Noorjahan and Amjad, I met people who belonged to families where the total monthly income was less than Rs. 5,000. This was the case because these families have no earning male member – as he had either passed away or was incapacitated because of an accident. And it was women from these families who had taken it upon themselves to make ends meet. So 50-year old Shaikh Rehman’s earned Rs. 40 per sari blouse that she stiched and 30-year old Ashma earned a similar amount selling vegetables discarded by vendors themselves. Of course earning Rs. 40-50 a day is not enough to feed a family of four or more and that’s where MESCO’s rations programme comes to their rescue.

The MESCO package incudes tea, dals, rice, sugar and oil. While this is enough for most households, the mother of 8 (yes, 8) who I met, does find it difficult to feed all her family members and they are forced to skip a few meals towards the end of the month. Yet, none of the people I met yesterday complained. None asked for more. Infact, they took the opportunity to thank the MESCO team (and me) for what they were being given.

Before enrolling families on the programme, a background check is done by the MESCO team. Infact, every two years, MESCO does a check on all families to see if they still are in need of the rations. Those not in need anymore are removed off the programme. As is soon going to happen with 17-year old Kaiser Khan’s family. He is currently studying (at the MESCO school) but will soon start work helping this family get off this programme.

Once rations were distributed to the 27 families (it took approximately three hours), MESCO’s CEO Hussain Punjwani and myself decided to help Ashma and her daughter carry their rations back home. Carrying close 10 kgs of rations home is really no easy task! “Bus ghar yahi hi hai” turned out to be a 30-minute walk from the store, across railway tracks, an overhead foot-bridge and a fairly steep and rocky climb into the slums (see picture). It was as tiring a task helping Mrs. Shaikh Rehman carry her rations home. Check out this video of the walk out of her house ( our hands were filled with groceries on the way in, so I captured this on the way out).  Mrs. Shaikh Rehman lives with her 2 sons, daughter-in-law and 2 grandsons; her grandsons accompanied her to the store that day for an “outing”!

Last night, many questions crossed my mind. Like what Ashma and her family will do if MESCO suddenly shuts shop tomorrow? Will they be lucky again to come across another similar organisation? Why isn’t there an easier way to get excess food off my table and onto theirs? When will families like Ashma’s ever get out of poverty? Why don’t politicians earn real votes by doling out groceries instead of free saris/televisions?

While the answers erode me, GiveIndia as well as the MESCO team, all I know is that Ashma and her kids ate a square meal last night.  What I also know is that I certainly won’t be complaining about what’s made for dinner for a long time to come!

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