'Nanma Maram': Nurturing tree of goodness in this Kerala village

The good souls of Kanhangad have come together under ‘Nanma Maram’ to help the less-privileged in the town, reports George Poikayil

Published: 11th September 2022 05:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th September 2022 01:40 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KANHANGAD: A gentle rain pitter-pattered on the streets of Kanhangad. A crackling thunder forced the pedestrians near Kottachery Circle to take cover under the canopies of the already crowded shops. Around 12.45 pm, an autorickshaw drove into a puddle in front of the Kerala Store that sells tarpaulins.

Abdul Salam (45), the owner of the shop, rushed out to clear the desk under the two Jamaican cherry trees. And Sreehari 'North Kottachery' shifted three crates full of takeaway lunch from the autorickshaw onto the desk.

Within seconds, around 50 persons, mostly women, emerged from the back of the crowds from different shops and queued in front of the desk. They were the homeless, elder orphans, rag-pickers, 'guest' workers without work, and addicts abandoned by their families. They disappeared into the drizzle with their food soon after. That was a Thursday in July.

Last Thursday, 'Nanma Maram' (The Tree of Goodness) -- a collective of Abdul Salman, Sreehari, and their friends -- was better prepared. After all, the rains cannot be allowed to dampen the spirit of Onam.

'Nanma Maram' turned the footpath into a dining hall by tying the tarps overhead and lined desks and chairs. At noon, when the Invisibles of Kanhangad reached Kottachery Circle for their takeaways, they were greeted by a huge crowd of wellwishers. They were given Onakkodi (new clothes) and everybody sat together for the multi-course Onasadya (Onam Feast) on plantain leaves. "We had at least 300 guests. Even passersby joined us," said Salam.

'Nanma Maram' has been serving lunch to the destitute in Kanhangad for the past three years.
Balakrishnan (72), who worked in eateries in Kasaragod and Mangaluru for two decades, walks nearly 4km to pick the lunch for his wife Vijayalakshmi and himself every day. On Onam day, they both were there.

Sainaba, who appears to be 65 years, reached Kanhangad as a teenager from Kondotty in Malappuram district. "They said I was mentally ill. I will never go back. I am happy here," said Sainaba, a regular at Nanma Maram's canteen.

Amrutha (65), from Chinnasalem panchayat in Tamil Nadu's Kallakurichi district, was brought to Kanhangad by her neighbour Sarojini (58). Both collect plastic waste. "We don't even earn enough to buy tea," said Amrutha. The free lunch helps them keep going.

Nishanth V (37), who has studied only up to class 5, is battling alcoholism. His wife left him, and his ailing father does not allow him inside his house. He is now wearing a sacred bracelet after taking a vow not to drink again. "We are constantly monitoring him. He has a few health issues. Once he is ready, I will get him a job," said Abdul Salam.

Sreehari, who is known as Hari 'North Kottachery', said they were getting money from natives of Kasaragod settled across the world for the lunch project. "We need only Rs 1,000 to provide meals to 50 persons, and Rs 3,500 if we are giving biryani," said Hari, who works in a company supplying utensils and crockery to hotels and restaurants in Dubai. "People send money to celebrate their birthdays and during festivals," he said.

'Nanma Maram' does not save money for another day. "If there are more sponsors for a day, we use the balance money to set up micro-businesses for those in need," said Salam.

Last week, 'Nanma Maram' set up three petty stalls under the brand 'Wake Up'. A grocery stall at Punjavi in Kanhangad town for a man whose legs are paralysed, a lottery stall for another person at Attenganam, 20km from Kanhangad town, and another stall at Ambalathara for a cancer survivor. Each stall costs around Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000.

The good souls of Kanhangad formed 'Nanma Maram' five years ago when the government was felling trees in the town to widen the Kanhangad-Kasaragod road. Around 50 huge trees were felled in Kanhangad's marketplace. Nanma Maram planted 100 saplings. 

"Jamaican cherry trees in front of my shop were planted by us," said Salam.

Nanma Maram branched out to give food to the needy, offer palliative care, and supply oxygen concentrators during the pandemic. Any town can sow the seed of Nanma Maram, believe Sreehari and Salam.

India Matters


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