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Coronavirus outbreak: What’s on their plate?

For many of the migrants stuck in camps amidst the lockdown, home is often hundreds of kilometres away, a separation made worse by the lack of familiar food. Amidst protests over food in Surat, Kochi and elsewhere, The Sunday Express tells their stories over their meals in a day

Written by Vishnu Varma , Adil Akhzer , Pallavi Singhal , Ankita Dwivedi Johri , Iram Siddique | Updated: April 26, 2020 6:01:14 pm
Coronavirus outbreak: What’s on their plate? For many of the migrants stuck in camps amidst the lockdown, home is often hundreds of kilometres away, a separation made worse by the lack of familiar food.

For many of the migrants stuck in camps amidst the lockdown, home is often hundreds of kilometres away, a separation made worse by the lack of familiar food. Amidst protests over food in Surat, Kochi and elsewhere, The Sunday Express tells their stories over their meals in a day

KOCHI, KERALA

‘State ensuring no one goes hungry, but long for wife’s Maithil dishes’

Pintu Kumar Thakur, 36, migrant worker from Madhubani, Bihar

Shelter: Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Ernakulam, Kochi

He has been working in Kerala for the past 16 years in the wood furniture polishing business. He stayed on rent in Kochi with seven other people, including his brother Mukesh Kumar Thakur, 24. Since March 25, Thakur, along with 145 other workers and destitute people, has been staying at the school, converted into a camp.

What he ate on April 21

7.30 am: A cup of black tea

9 am: A bowl of rice porridge with chana/moong dal

1 pm: Rice with sambar, beans

4 pm: A cup of black tea with two biscuits

7 pm: Rice with sambar and vegetables (allowed a second helping)

Thakur admits that while he’s tired of having the same rice-sambar meal for lunch and dinner every day, he says he is not in a position to complain. “If the government did not give us this food, workers like us would have starved to death. When the lockdown ends and I return home, I can buy and eat anything with the money I earn. Right now, I have very little money and so I adjust. Also, look at Delhi. Both Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal are there and still people are going hungry. Here in Kerala, authorities are making sure no one goes hungry,” says the father of two, adding, “On festivals, the menu changes.” On Vishu (April 14), the workers were treated to a vegetarian feast (sadya) and on Easter, they got chicken biryani.

Since March 25, Pintu Kumar Thakur, along with 145 other workers and destitute people, has been staying at the school, converted into a camp.

Who prepares the food

The food is prepared at the school kitchen by members of Kudumbashree, the Kerala government’s women self-help group that runs several community kitchens in the state. For procurement of ingredients for the meals, funds are transferred by the state government to local bodies (in this case, the Kochi Corporation), which then pay the Kudumbashree units on a per-plate basis.

“Apart from the people here, we cook food for two other camps at this kitchen. About 150 kg of rice is cooked every day and we feed nearly 400 people. So far there have been no complaints. On some days, the meals are also sponsored by private individuals,” says Shibu P Chacko, president of the school’s PTA unit.

Favourite food

Chicken/fish curry

“From the time I arrived in Kerala, I have been hooked to non-vegetarian food. It’s impossible to live here without eating non-veg,” he laughs. “Earlier, I would cook fish or chicken at least twice a week. I struggled with making rotis, so I mostly had rice, dal and chicken curry. I love the thick, red Kerala matta rice. It goes very well with fish…,” he says, adding that he also misses the fish and mutton curry that his wife cooks.

First dish he will have on reaching home

All traditional Maithil dishes that his wife cooks.

PULWAMA, J&K

‘I’m in Kashmir most of the year, I love the mutton curry here. I miss it these days’

A truck mechanic in Kakapora in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, Sheikh Imam Hussain has been in the camp with 364 others since April 3.

Sheikh Imam Hussain, 43, migrant worker from Siwan, Bihar

Shelter: Government High Secondary School, Kakapora

A truck mechanic in Kakapora in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, Hussain has been in the camp with 364 others since April 3. He has been in Kashmir for the past 15 years

What he ate on April 22

8 am: A cup of tea, two biscuits

11.30 am: Rice and soya chunks curry

4 pm: A cup of tea and biscuits

8 pm: Chicken curry with rice

“I spend most of my time on the school grounds. When I was working, I would have lunch at restaurants but always cook dinner. Today, at the shelter, some of us cooked the dinner. We bought chicken and made curry,” he says.

Who prepares the food

The residents cook their own food with ingredients provided by the district administration. Hussain shares a classroom with 12 other people and they take turns to cook. “We provide milk, vegetables, rice, oil, and other ingredients required to prepare meals. The workers cook on their own stoves,” says tehsildar Raqib Ah Ganaie, who is in charge of the camp.

The residents cook their own food with ingredients provided by the district administration. Hussain shares a classroom with 12 other people and they take turns to cook.

Favourite food

Chicken curry, cabbage-tomato sabzi

“I love trying out different foods and, earlier, I would spend a lot on eating out. I never compromised on it. My wife calls me often and asks me if I have been eating properly. I tell her I am satisfied with the food that I get at the camp,” says Hussain.

First dish he will have on reaching home

Mutton curry. “Bahut time ho gaya mutton khaye hue (It has been long since I had mutton). At my accommodation in Kakapora, we often had mutton curry. I spend 11 months in Kashmir and one month with my family in Bihar. I enjoy the curry that is made here,” he says.

PANCHKULA, HARYANA

‘When I get home, I’ll have aaloo paratha, my children love it too’

Naushad, 42, migrant worker from Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh

Shelter: Primary Government School, Sector 20, Panchkula

Naushad worked as a daily wager at a marble ‘screening plant’ in Una in Himachal Pradesh. Along with 60 other workers, he has been staying at the camps in Panchkula since March 30. The city’s nine camps are providing shelter to over 400 migrants.

Naushad worked as a daily wager at a marble ‘screening plant’ in Una in Himachal Pradesh.

What he ate on April 22

6.30 am: A cup of tea Noon: Dal-rice

6.30 pm: Roti and aaloo-tamatar ki ras vaali subzi (potato curry)

“In Una, I would eat roti-sabzi left over from night with tea for breakfast, and leave for work by 9 am. But here (at the shelter), I have to wait till noon for food. There is not much to do and I get very hungry,” says Naushad. “We can have as many helpings as we want, but I take everything at once and then sit on my bed and eat. The gap between lunch and dinner is a lot, and so I feel hungry in the evenings too. Earlier, we got biscuits with tea, but not anymore. We get them only when people donate packets.”

Who prepares the food

Tea, lunch and dinner are provided by the Municipal Corporation of Panchkula. Fruits and biscuit through donations.

Says Minakshi Reachal, Town Committee Organiser, who looks after the food arrangement, “We cook the food ourselves here and try to ensure variety in meals. We alternate dal with chhole and rajma. We serve rice for lunch and chapattis for dinner. At dinner, apart from potato curry, we also serve aaloo-gobhi (potato-cauliflower) sabzi and aaloo-shimla mirch (capsicum) sabzi.” The team that cooks has been hired by the municipality and is paid on a daily basis.

“We can have as many helpings as we want, but I take everything at once and then sit on my bed and eat,” says Naushad.

Favourite food

Chole-puri, aaloo paratha, bhindi, lauki and tori sabzi

“Food at the shelter is good,” says Naushad, but he misses home. “I talk to my wife and five children all day on the phone… I earned Rs 450 for a day’s work earlier, but now I have no money to go back.”

First dish he will have on reaching home

Aaloo paratha. “When I get home, I think I will only have enough money to buy some potatoes and aata for aaloo paratha. Vegetables are very costly. All my children love aaloo parathas,” he smiles.

DELHI

‘Parwal must be in season now. I will tell wife to make aloo-parwal’

Jaibin Yadav, 27, migrant worker from Darbhanga, Bihar

Shelter: Yamuna Sports Complex, New Delhi

He worked as a coolie at the Gandhinagar wholesale market in Delhi. Has been staying at camp since April 2. The shelter, one of the biggest in Delhi, became functional on March 31 and now has nearly 900 migrant workers and homeless people

Jaibin Yadav worked as a coolie at the Gandhinagar wholesale market in Delhi.

What he ate on April 21

7 am: A cup of tea, two biscuits and rusk

8 am: Two fruits — banana/apple/orange Noon: Dal-rice, roti

7 pm: Puri and aaloo ki raswaali sabzi (potato curry)

“I wake up early so that I don’t have to wait in line for long. We have to maintain one-metre distance in lines. The time between 8 am to 12 pm is the toughest for me, I feel very hungry. When I worked at the Gandhinagar market, I would have three-four rotis with aaloo-shimla mirch sabzi and sattu (drink) at 10 am and then leave for work. I cooked it myself. Here, I get restless,” he says, adding, “We can have as many helpings as we want, but I try to take everything at once, because a second helping would mean standing in line again. I also feel very hungry after PT (an hour-long physical training class in the evening). I eat a lot, at least five-six puris at night.”

Who prepares the food

Tea, lunch and dinner are by Rotary Club of Delhi, fruits by the Gautam Gambhir Foundation.

Executive Magistrate Sohan Lal, who is in-charge of the shelter, one of the biggest in the Capital, that has been functional since March 31, says his team tries to ensure variety in the menu. “Apart from roti-sabzi, dal-chawal, we also serve chhole-chawal and rajma-chawal on some days. We also give them baingan (aubergine) sabzi. Everything is made on campus and served in disposable plates. There was one counter earlier, which led to long queues, but now we have three with proper social distancing,” he says. “So far, we have not received any major complaints about food.”

“When I worked at the Gandhinagar market, I would have three-four rotis with aaloo-shimla mirch sabzi and sattu (drink) at 10 am and then leave for work,” says Yadav.

Rakesh Jain, president of the Rotatary Club of Delhi Ananta, says 15 members from the group have been staying at the shelter since April 1 to provide food for the workers. “We prepare food for nearly 1,100 people daily, which also includes staff. About 200 kg of rice, 150-200 kg of wheat flour, 50 kg of pulses and 100 kg of potatoes are used for preparing lunch and dinner every day. We have been told to continue the operations till May 3,” he says.

Favourite food

Chhole-bhature, chhole-kulche, mustard fish curry, bhindi, aloo-gobhi sabzi

“My mother and wife call me often and ask me if I am eating well. I just say everything is fine. Ab unko kaise bolun bhindi, aloo-gobhi khaane ka mann hai (How do I tell them that I want to eat okra, potato and cauliflower curry)? They are my favourite vegetables. I would earn Rs 600 for a day’s work and I could buy whatever vegetable I liked. On days that I made Rs 800, I would buy meat or fish. Par ab majboori hai isliye jo mil raha hai kha rahe hain (We are helpless now, so we are eating what we get).”

First dish he will have on reaching home

Aaloo-parwal bhujiya. “Parwal aa gaye honge (Pointed gourd must be in season now). When I return home, I will ask my wife to make aloo-parwal bhujiya for me,” he smiles.

MUMBAI, MAHARASHTRA

‘Told mother to save chana dal halwa made at Shab-e-Barat’

Coronavirus outbreak: What’s on their plate? Since arriving in Mumbai in January this year, Jubair Khan has been working as a waiter at a small eatery near Wilson College in Chowpatty.

Jubair Khan, 27, a migrant worker from Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh

Shelter: Eatery named ‘The Next Big Thing’ in Girgaon Chowpatty

Since arriving in Mumbai in January this year, he has been working as a waiter at a small eatery near Wilson College in Chowpatty. While the restaurant has shut since the lockdown, he continues to stay there

What he ate on April 22

11 am: A cup of black tea with a packet of biscuits that he purchased himself 12.30 pm: Four puris with chana dal and sabzi 7.30 pm: Dal khichdi

“The distribution of food usually begins at noon, but there is a long queue. It takes about 15-20 minutes. On some days, the distribution begins early too — you have to keep checking. Once I got late and didn’t get any food. Each person is given only one packet,” says Khan. Who prepares the food

Lunch and dinner are distributed by the Lodha Foundation, outside the Lodha Institute of Vocational Education, organised by Malabar Hill constituency MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha. According to Prakash More, a volunteer managing the distribution, around 2,500 packets of puri-sabzi are distributed in the afternoon, and the same number of dal khichdi packets are distributed in the evening.

Favourite Food

Dal, roti with sabzi; chicken curry

“I earned around Rs 11,500 per month and sent Rs 8,000 back home to my mother and wife. Following the lockdown, I called the owner for money. He asked me to take some from the cash counter to buy supplies. But it got over. I cannot ask him again, he might cut the amount from my pay,” fears Khan.

First dish he will have after reaching home

Chicken curry with roti. “Last week, some of us pooled in Rs 20 each but we could not get chicken anywhere. I have told my mother to cook it for me when I return. I have also told her to save some of the chana dal halwa made at Shab-e-Barat (it fell on April 9 this year) for me,” he says.

SURAT, GUJARAT

‘The potatoes in khichdi are big. We spice it up with chilli, salt’

Geeta Mohadikar lives in the Surat Muncipal Corporation-run school, where five women residents stay in separate rooms.

Geeta Vilas Mohadikar, 35, migrant worker from Nagpur, Maharashtra

Shelter: Suman High School, Surat

Before the lockdown, she worked at a powerloom factory in the Anjana Industrial Estate in Surat’s Limbayat area. She now lives in the Surat Muncipal Corporation-run school, where five women residents stay in separate rooms

What she ate on April 22

9 am: Tea with two biscuits Noon: Potato curry, four puris and one chapatti 7 pm: Masala khichdi

“Sometimes we also get dal-rice. The dal is sweet and the rice is not cooked well. Also, the dal has no tadka, it’s just boiled. For dinner we get overcooked khichdi with vegetables. Even the potatoes are big in size. We spice it up with chillies and salt,” she says.

Who prepares the food

Food is supplied by the Samast Bihar Jharkhand Samaj Trust, Surat.

“We have set up a kitchen in Pandesara area. Meals are cooked twice a day and delivered on vans to shelter homes. We give vegetarian food so that everyone can eat it,” says Sanjiv Jha, a member of the trust.

Favourite food

Chicken curry, fried fish, mixed vegetable sabzi

“I am fond of goat meat and chicken. I shared my rented room with three women, and a few days before the lockdown we had chicken curry and rice,” she says.

First dish she will have after reaching home

Mutton curry, rice with buttermilk. “My mother is an expert cook. I will tell her to make the curry for me as well as bitter gourd and cauliflower,” she smiles.

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