He is not a wealthy man and has no other business. Like most of us, he has a family to look after. His wife is a yoga teacher and both his daughters are in college. He has little savings.
One would expect a man like him to constantly think of ways to develop his business and make more money. That’s what ‘normal’ people would have done anyway.
But 50-year-old Venkatraman is a different kind of person. He has no such worries. His only concern is to see how he could continue with the Lunch at Re 1 scheme at his hotel.
For over five years, Venkatraman has been giving lunch every day for about thirty persons at his hotel for just Re 1. The beneficiaries are mostly attendants of poor in-patients from the nearby Government General Hospital, who pay just Re 1 for a meal that is priced at Rs 50 for other customers.
Venkatraman may have served at least 40,000 Re 1 meals till date. The prices of food grains, oil, spices and vegetables have gone up many times in the last four years, but the one rupee lunch has remained unaffected.
Venkatraman ensures that the poor get the same meal that his other customers get for Rs 50.
“For other customers, the price has been revised. Five years ago, the cost of a lunch at our hotel was Rs 25; now it is Rs 50,” says Venkatraman, who also gives a 20 percent discount for the disabled.
This extraordinary effort started in 2008 when a woman who had admitted her relative to the general hospital came to his mess to buy idlis for herself and another relative. When Venkat informed her that the idlis were over and suggested dosas instead she told him that since dosas were more expensive, she would not have enough money to buy food for two people and that one of them would have to go hungry. That got Venkat thinking. “I knew I had to do something. Sometimes the patient gets hospital food but it’s their caretakers and relatives who stay hungry. If you look at the profile, they are mostly daily wage labourers who have to go for work and therefore income to watch over their family members at the hospital,” says Venkatraman.
“Initially I had planned to give them a free meal. But then I felt they might be embarrassed, and perceive it as charity. They may also worry about the quality of the food since it is free of cost. Therefore I decided to charge a token amount of Re. 1,” he explains.
Though he is facing financial difficulties, Venkatraman receives solace from the ‘divine blessings’.
“I have the full support of my family in whatever I am doing. My second daughter scored 1085 marks (out of 1200) in her Plus 2 exam. We were unable to admit her in engineering college because we could not afford the fees. But thanks to a person in Ramakrishna Math, she got a seat in a reputed engineering college in Chennai. The management has also given her a fee waiver.
“I have reasons to believe that such good things have happened in my life because of the small acts of service to the poor I have been doing. It gives me great satisfaction,” says Venkatraman.
Why do we always fail to respect true Humans ?
He demands nothing from us but some respect and a little bit recognition. Do your bit.