A teenager whose sensitivity towards societal issues led her to start an initiative, in collaboration with a bakery, that supplies breads at various locations in the city to feed the hungry
All of 16, Taira Bhargava has already developed a very strong sense of self and has resolved to not prioritise selfishly. Despite her board examinations close at her heels and the pressure of school, she says, “It is all important. Giving back is just as important as studying for my own exams. I cannot ignore one because I consider the other more important.”
Patriot steals a few minutes out of her packed schedule to chat with the youngster about her social work in Double Roti.
How did a project like Double Roti come about?
I feel like I was always very sensitive about social issues, even as a child. But every time something caught my eye, or I caught myself thinking about a particular issue, I’d tell myself that I was too young to make a difference. I imagine that at a younger age I probably would not have the agency I do now. I have always been inclined to give back to society, especially for those who are privileged.
The first time that I was really taken aback by the food situation in our country was when I was at a wedding about 9 months ago. The ceremony was quite posh, and I was really curious about what happened to the excess food. I stayed back past midnight to find out where it all goes. And to my dismay, I saw heaps of food being thrown away. Food that could have fed more than 200 people. I realised the importance of initiatives such as Double Roti then. And that was when I started building on the idea.
What were the first few steps you had to take to set this up? Was it easy?
It was quite a task, actually. I contacted at least 50 bakeries, and they were reluctant to partner with me for my initiative, for a host of reasons. Until finally, I came upon Modern Bazaar. I found that they give a lot of their surplus away to dog farms, but were still left with a lot of food they had to dispose of. Once I spoke with the owners, they agreed to be a part of the Double Roti project.
The first few months were hard because we did not have the funds to conduct the trips. The trips are made three times a week, and we required an air-conditioned van so that the food does not get spoiled, and a dedicated driver. My parents paid for all of this for the first few months.
What were the major milestones you encountered in setting up Double Roti?
I had been thinking about it for about two years before I actually launched Double Roti. But the first significant milestone was the wedding where I saw all of that food go to waste. The numerous calls I had to make were also a learning experience for me. Learning the nitty-gritties of the negotiations and facing rejection from so many bakeries. Meeting the owners was quite pivotal to my journey as well. I personally felt a sense of pride when my project got featured on Better India.
After Double Roti took off, I received a host of emails from random people showing appreciation, as well as some who confessed that they too want to start initiatives of this nature. That feedback, coupled with the things I see and experience when I go to distribute food personally, have probably been the most major milestones I’ve seen on this journey.
How much money have you been able to raise this far?
Like I said earlier, the first couple of months Double Roti was funded by my parents. But with the help of crowdfunding platforms like Ketto, I have been able to collect approximately Rs. 40,000. The target is to raise Rs. 2 lakhs.
How deeply are you personally involved in the functioning of Double Roti?
I really believe that where there is a will, there is a way. The fact that India is still at the top of the Global Hunger list bothered me then and it still bothers me today. I founded the project in July 2018, and have been responsible for most of the planning stages. I go to the temples every weekend to distribute food to the homeless there.
Which charities are benefitting from Double Roti?
Currently, we are sourcing food to Cheshire Home, which is a home for the destitute and disabled. We also give to Mother Teresa’s charity. Also, I go to the Shani Mandir every weekend. We have stayed away from distributing large scale to the street dwellers directly because I fear we may not yet have the infrastructure or resources to carry that out properly. I do not want to distribute food for two weeks and then abandon it. Hopefully, we will be able to achieve larger scales through this project in the future.
What kind of help or encouragement did you receive from the people around you when you started out?
My parents and my brother helped me in every way — be it financially, or even in terms of support. My friends were also extremely encouraging, as was my principal. My school has decided to join in on the project. It is still in the works, and the details are yet to be hashed out, but in a few months hopefully, we will be able to source surplus food from our school canteen as well.
Do you have any plans for the future of Double Roti as of now?
I want to make this project as sustainable as possible. To a point where it can run smoothly without as much micromanagement. I also want to introduce a volunteer program, wherein area-wise volunteers will be enlisted to collect and distribute food regularly in different parts of the city.
You have your board examinations, as well as a social work project in your hands. What do you do for fun, besides studying and looking after Double Roti?
Well, I am trained in Kathak and piano, so I keep myself fairly entertained. I am also training for the Table Tennis National Championships, so I am quite busy with that now. But to be entirely honest, I enjoy academics and I really do like studying. So, none of it is really a task for me.
Apart from the appreciation mails you have received and the acclaim from the media, how have you found the response to be on the ground?
I cannot help but feel this innate sense of happiness whenever I go out with the van to give out fresh food. When we go to the temples, we are greeted with smiles. And it really fills my heart with joy to see how much they cherish a few simple morsels of food. Something we take for granted. Of course, there is a flip side to it. Some of the people are harsh and not very appreciative of it. Some of them think we come for selfish purposes and to get our pictures clicked.
Some children will hide the food in their clothes and come back for third or fourth helpings. It’s heart breaking to see.However, like I said, there is an odd joy in the activity of giving back to the community, when you have so much luxury yourself. The negatives fade in comparison to the larger picture.