Bhopal’s “langar-e-aam”, as its 52-year-old organiser Maqbool Ahmed calls it, has come as a blessing to the city’s beggars—nearly 300 of them every day—who have been assembling at night at the Nadara bus stand for the last four and a half years, waiting to be served dinner by the Good Samaritan.
Maqbool, who worked as a journalist in the early 1990s, started running restaurants, which he opened near the Nadara bus stand, once the heart of the nawabi town of Bhopal that had not yet expanded. “People from all over and other states, mostly the poor, converge at the bus stand. Since I went there every day, I would see people sleeping on the roadside, searching for food from the garbage, seeking food from eateries and ultimately going to sleep on an empty stomach. Some of them would die because of hunger. I decided in May 2013 that I cannot let this happen and since then I have been organising this ‘langar’. I deliberately called it a langar so that people from all religion would feel comfortable to come here and have food. On an average, 300 people come here every day and eat,” Maqbool told The Sunday Guardian. The food is prepared in the restaurant that is run by Maqbool. “We try to give dal, chawal, rice and vegetables. Non-vegetarian food is not served as many of the people who come here to eat are vegetarian. I have read the Gita and the Quran and the one thing that I have learnt from them is that the greatest thing in this world is to feed the hungry. I try to make sure that no one, who is around my shop at night, sleeps with an empty stomach. Sometimes we go to footpaths and roadside and feed people since they are too ashamed to beg or stand in a queue,” he said. Maqbool plans to turn the langar into a “roti bank”, where the privileged can drop rotis or money in lieu of rotis which will be used to feed the poor. “We plan to open these roti banks initially at four places in Bhopal and these banks will function 24x7,” he said.