Wearing a dusty headscarf, Sabah, 5, walks barefoot from the narrow lanes of Baijipura slum towards the Haroon Mukati Islamic Centre (HMIC) located in the busy Jinsi Baijipura road in the heart of Aurangabad city. When she reaches 10 minutes later, she takes out a wrinkled cotton bag from the pocket of her dress and waits for a lunch parcel, submitted at the centre by an anonymous, generous donor. The volunteer at the counter greets her with a smile, pats her head and gives her the food. Delighted, she disappears into the street.
Every day, hundreds like Sabah flock to the roti bank started by Yusuf Mukati, founder, HMIC. “There are many indigent families in this city who can’t afford two meals per day. Some households have only one breadwinner who has to provide for six or seven family members. But there are homes where food is cooked thrice a day as well. This disparity troubled me for a long time,” says Mukati, 38, who owns a garment store in the area.
Last year, he opened the HMIC, named after his late father, to help Muslims in the area, many of whom suffer from a host of economic and socio-political problems. The centre offers various free courses such as Arabic and Islamic tuition, mehendi and beautician courses, computer and typing class, spoken English, and calligraphy. They also provide a 24-hour ambulance service, free coffins for the poor and free food after Jumma Namaaz or Friday prayers. In addition, Mukati also runs a marriage bureau.
Mukati started the roti bank in December with 100-odd donors. “The idea behind the bank is to ask people from well-to-do families to spare and deposit rotis with vegetarian or non-vegetarian food cooked at their home for the poor, unemployed and old, who can withdraw it respectfully, without begging,” he says. To run the roti bank, Mukati spends Rs 15,000 every month, which includes the salary of the volunteers who provide the food. He also made an initial investment of Rs 1.5 lakh.
As word of the bank spread, membership at the centre shot up and now HMIC boasts of 350 members and about 200 deposits are recorded daily. “To open an account at the roti bank, the donor has to fill up a form and obtain a code number. The registration formalities are there only for the sake of safety norms. If there is a case of food poisoning, we can track the donor easily through this code number and ask them to be more vigilant about the quality of food,” says Mukati. The bank operates between 11 am and 9 pm.
Today, the bank feeds almost 600 people daily and the number is steadily on the rise. “People think that they’ll start charity work after earning enough money. But that’s a misconception, because how do you define ‘enough’? Even the rich can’t feed 600 people everyday, but we’re able to do it because we approached the task from a different angle,” says Mukati.
Apart from individual donors, the bank also benefits from hotels and caterers in the neighbourhood, who send leftover food everyday. Here, auto union leader of Baijipura, Asif Khan, plays a big role. “At weddings and other ceremonies, the caterers are ready to give away the remaining food, but they don’t want to spend on the commute. So, I do my bit by bringing the food to the bank,” he says.
The food is usually stored in a big refrigerator that frequently runs out of space. But sometimes, the situation is exactly the opposite. “A few days back, only two parcels were left and I had absolutely no idea what to do if we ran out. But within a few minutes, we received a call from a caterer who sent us food enough for 80 people. Allah helps us whenever we run into trouble. I sit at the stall just for an hour everyday, but the satisfaction that I get here, it can’t be obtained by earning money at the shop,” says Mukati.
The bank will soon set up pick-up points in the city for donors who can’t come all the way to Baijipura to donate a parcel. With the number of donors increasing everyday, the centre is purchasing a new refrigerator as well.
It is said that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Then what is Mukati doing to ensure that people don’t have to depend on the bank all the time? “In the last year, we’ve trained 21,500 girls in various disciplines like typing, cooking, and stitching. Many of them are earning and have become self-sufficient. A woman can sustain her family better than a man. At our centre too, the female students contribute more to the bank than men,” he says.
Mukati is now planning to start a “Cloth bank” next month. “We will collect shirts, pants, bedsheets and curtains from donors. These items will be washed, ironed and distributed among the poor,” he says.