The inspiring story of an Indian Railways employee who serves food to the needy

Keepers of Cool
Khushroo Poacha

Khushroo Poacha loves being part of WhatsApp groups. He is a member of at least a dozen of them. His phone is constantly pinging and it’s a mystery his the battery doesn’t die out at the end of each day. For most of us who run as far as humanly possible from WhatsApp groups involving family, friends and colleagues, we cannot imagine why one would voluntarily want to be on the messaging app. Except Khushroo’s groups aren’t your typical ones. They are his lifelines. And in an indirect way lifelines to several people whose life he touches.

When I reached out to him for this story, Poacha invited me to join two such groups: Seva Kitchen at Tukdoji Maharaj Cancer Hospital, the biggest cancer hospital in Nagpur and Neki Ka Pitara at the Central India Institute of Medical Sciences. “Don’t say anything,” he said, “just watch.” For a week I did just that.

Seva Kitchen is one of the many pies in which Poacha has his fingers. Poacha started this crowd sourcing initiative in 2014 in order to provide food for families and caretakers of patients admitted in the city hospitals of Nagpur. Poacha got the idea for this when he saw an old woman making rotis on a makeshift stove outside the hospital where his mother was being treated. When he spoke about it with his mother, she simply asked him why he wasn’t feeding them.

Today, Seva Kitchen serves food at six hospitals in Nagpur and six more hospitals across five Indian cities. Every day, on the WhatsApp group, the hospital staff post the requirement of the number of patients and their caretakers who require to be served meals. The next day, volunteers on the group (or Sevaks as they call themselves) ensure that the relevant amount of food is made available. It is that simple.

Then there is Neki ka Pitara or the Box of Kindness, which is really a refrigerator that serves refreshments to patients and their caretakers in hospitals across the country. In Thane, near Mumbai, there is a Neki ka Pitara in a local school too. The contents of the fridge include all kinds of assorted goodies — from lassi packets to chocolates and biscuits to fresh fruits. To contribute to this, all you need to do is be part of a WhatsApp group and ensure that the refrigerator is never empty. Each time the stock is depleted, a message goes out on the group with a photo of the empty fridge. Hours later, the stock is replenished and another photo sent out.

The genius of Seva Kitchen and Neki ka Pitara lies in its simplicity: use a messenger service to bring like-minded people together and serve the people in need. It also relies on something that we often take for granted: the goodness of people.

Poacha tells me he doesn’t accept money in any form. “All I require you to do is help serve food to the people who need it,” he tells me over the phone from Nagpur where he stays. By eliminating money from all transactions, Poacha has been able to rally a lot more people behind his cause than would have otherwise been possible including five restaurants in Nagpur that serve food through Seva Kitchen. “Every month the contents of all the Neki ka Pitaras amount to approximately Rs 2,80,000. Through Seva Kitchen we serve more than 3,000 meals every week. We have never tried to calculate the value of this service. And all of it is done without a single rupee exchanging hands,” he says.

Unlike most NGO founders who have made it their career, Poacha insists on maintaining a full-time job to keep the kitchen fires in his house burning. “This isn’t my bread and butter,” he says. “For that I have a job with the Indian Railways.”

Some years ago, Poacha liquidated his Provident Fund to start indianblooddonors.com a digital platform to connect those in need of blood with the donors. Later he even launched plateletdonors.org on the same principle.

Poacha tells me that the idea back then was to build a system that would run even without him. Initially he would spend considerable time connecting donors and donees personally over the phone (this was long before WhatsApp became popular) till he realised the importance of creating a process that was automated and did not require too much of his intervention. In several ways, the Seva Kitchen and Neki ka Pitara are extensions of the same idea.

“That way,” he says, “the good work will continue long after I am gone.”

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