GUWAHATI: Started one sunny day in 2018 with an aim to feed the poorest of the poor, a NaMo canteen has drawn huge popularity in Assam’s Mariani town.
It serves one complete vegetarian meal to some 300 people on an average every day. The daily wagers are charged Rs 8 per meal. Beggars relish it for free. The benefactor, Alok Kumar Ghose, is a businessman and politician, known widely for his social work.
“Had it not been for the ready meals and ration, consisting of mustard oil, potato, rice, pulses, my family would have gone hungry,” said Asim Dhar, a daily wager.
Ghose (62), a local BJP leader, offered cooked food to hundreds and thousands of the poor, including beggars, during the difficult months of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had offered ration too.
“It’s the call of my soul that I started NaMo canteen. It has no connection whatsoever with elections or votes. Elections come once in five years but I have been doing social work for the past more than 20 years,” Ghose told this newspaper.
He said as a school student, he grew up struggling but was inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s famous quote: “Those who serve mankind and any other living beings are serving God.”
Mariani (in Jorhat district of Upper Assam) is a backward constituency. There are no industries, factories etc where the poor can work to eke out a living, he said.
“Thirty people can eat at a time at NaMo canteen. Some 30-35 beggars eat one square meal every day. Preparing each meal entails an expenditure of Rs 15. I also spend Rs 15,000 to pay the salaries of employees,” Ghose said, adding, “I had to keep the canteen closed during the pandemic but I offered cooked food and ration to the poor.”
He has plans to start another NaMo canteen provided he gets the support and cooperation of people.
A party hopper, Ghose has contested all Assembly elections since 2001. He served as an MLA for two years after winning a by-election in 2004. Like him, his son, who is a doctor in Chhattisgarh, and two daughters, both married and work in the IT sector in Delhi and Gujarat, do social work.