The Jan Rasoi initiative undertaken by East Delhi’s MP Gautam Gambhir is a hit amongst the people, with many waiting in lines for their chance to munch on what “feels like home made food”
Established at Gandhi Nagar on 24 December 2020, the first Jan Rasoi serves food to around 500-600 people on a daily basis for a paltry Rs 1 per plate. And since last year, three more Jan Rasois have been set up. In New Ashok Nagar, East Vinod Nagar and the latest one at Shakarpur, near Laxmi Nagar metro station. The management of the Rasois according to Suraj, the management volunteer at the Rasoi, is “funded by Gautam Gambhir Foundation and Gambhir’s personal resources, without any government support.”
Jan Rasoi at Gandhi Nagar
“I have been waiting here outside the Rasoi since around 12 PM, but they have not yet started serving yet”, says a young man in his early 20s who seemed to be a regular visitor at the Gandhi Nagar Jan Rasoi. Suraj tells us that the Rasoi serves food from 12:30PM to 2-30-3PM.
He says, “as people start coming here from 12 PM, we ask them to form a queue so that we can issue coupons for Re 1 and ensure everybody is wearing a mask.” He further tells us that the Rasoi serves some 500-600 people on a daily basis.”
Jugnoo Kumar, the assistant cook at the Rasoi chips in, “The food preparation begins at 4 AM. We have to make food for 600-700 people and there are only two of us, me and Vijay, so it takes time to make food for so many people.”
At a single time though only 60-65 people are allowed to eat inside the Rasoi. This is done to ensure social distancing. Majority of the people benefiting from the service are the daily wage labourers from the area.
Santosh Kumar, a daily wage labourer in his late 30s, from Purnia, Bihar earns around 400-500 rupees per day says that the Jan Rasoi has been a blessing in disguise for him and others like him as they can get one meal of the day for just Rs 1, which helps them save a good amount of money.
He says, “even Sulabh Shauchalaya charges more than a rupee for using the washroom and here we are getting to eat food for just Re 1. I’m really happy with this initiative by Gautam Gambhir.”
He further adds that, last year, if during the lockdown the Rasoi would have been operational he would not have left the city and gone back to his village. On being asked where he eats on Mondays when the Rasoi is closed, he says that he looks to eat at places which offer food at low prices.
For Vicky, a 10 year old boy, it is much more than just one meal of the day. Vicky says, “I like Chole-Chawal the most, but they also serve rajma-chawal, pulao etc, the menu changes everyday.” Vicky did not reveal much about his parents but he did tell us that he used to go to school before the pandemic and has not been able to attend school since the schools were shut last year in March.
The surprising thing at Gandhi Nagar Jan Rasoi is that there are not many women here, one reason could be that the Rasoi is situated at the centre of the market area where there are more male than female labourers.
Suraj though says, “We have all kinds of people who come here to eat food, all gender, all age, today I do not know why there are not many women but generally they too come in a significant numbers”.
Although Suraj works as a volunteer and does not get paid for this job, the rest of the staff, one cook, one assistant cook and one utensil cleaner, 3 in total are paid on a monthly basis.
Jan Rasoi at Shakarpur
The Shakarpur Jan Rasoi is smaller when compared to the one at Gandhi Nagar, but according to Vipin Kumar the manager at Shakarpur Jan Rasoi, they too serve food to around 500 people daily. Since the Shakarpur Rasoi is not as big as the one at Gandhi Nagar, only 30-35 people are allowed to enter the kitchen to ensure social distancing.
There is a striking difference between the Gandhi Nagar Jan Rasoi and Shakarpur Jan Rasoi. There are more women at Shakarpur Jan Rasoi. Since the Rasoi at Shakarpur is within a residential area, housewives and domestic workers come there to have their lunch.
Laxmi is one such domestic worker, she works in 4-5 houses and comes to eat her lunch everyday since the kitchen has come up in the area around a month ago. Shikha another domestic worker in the area says, “I start my work at around 8AM in the morning, then return home at around 10 AM to make breakfast for my children but have to hurry as I have to go back to work, I reach home at 3-4 PM and my children feel terribly hungry but since the last couple of weeks I do not have to worry about their lunch as they can just go to the Jan Rasoi, I too come here whenever I get the time.”
Shikha is not the only one who is happy with the Jan Rasoi, Ashok who puts up a vegetable stall in the area says he is quite happy since the Jan Rasoi opened here. Earlier the place was used as a garbage dumb. He says, “People used to feel embarrassed while crossing this place, now when people cross this place they can see that food is being served.”
He further adds that the, “the food is also nice, it’s not like they serve badly made food, it feels like home made food.”
Ishar Ahmed runs a vegetable stall right beside the Jan Rasoi, he too is happy that the garbage dumb has been cleared. “Although I cannot go to have lunch as I cannot leave the shop open without anyone, I’m at least satisfied that there is no more foul smell coming from the dump”, he says.
Although there are not many people who have complaints about the Rasoi, A 65 year old man, P K Chouhan, complains that the quantity of rice is less, he says, “They keep increasing the quantity of rajma and dal, but they do not increase the quantity of rice.” A gentleman rightly pointed out that he is allowed to eat twice if he wants to, but Chouhan says he has no idea if it is possible.
(Cover: People queue outside a Jan Rasoi waiting for food to be served Photos: Kshitij Kumar Ojha)