A humane initiative that can easily be a research project for any top management or sociology institute across the country completed five years of successful run in Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh. One just has to descend the steps near the dental hospital in the Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC) at meal times to understand what scope humanity offers to anyone who can care for the those in need.

It is an initiative to provide free food to the attendants of the patients admitted in the hospital. It began with serving tea and biscuits as breakfast to the attendants of the patients at the cancer hospital and over the last five years it has gone on to serve free meals to the attendants of not only the cancer patients but others as well. These attendants, most of whom are very poor, are served a wholesome diet of vegetables, lentils, rice, rotis and dessert.

The most interesting aspect is the way the things are managed with the help of donations pouring in. Involving school children in the initiative and thus introducing them to hands on selfless service is something that the society has always needed. It is now on display in full flair at IGMC.

“I began with talks in various schools of the city both government and private where I introduced the concept of selfless service to the children and requested them to bring just one extra roti once a week that could be served to the attendants of the poor patients. The children and their parents responded very positively to the call and today we collect more than 25,000 rotis a week from 40 schools. We send our vehicles to various schools daily to collect these rotis which are then kept in machines that keep them soft and warm through the day,” explains Sarbjeet Singh who is better known as Bobby Vella. He has been the key player in this initiative.

It is a known fact that the attendants who accompany the patients from the remote corners of the state are often hard pressed for money. While the patient admitted to the hospital gets free food from the hospital, the attendants quite often used to either go hungry or eat the leftovers of the patient. The initiative has helped address this very major concern while also addressing food needs of patients and accompanying attendants who come for OPD follow ups.

The ‘langar’ for these hundreds of attendants and also the patients who visit the hospital is run by volunteers. There is no dearth of people coming forward to serve the food as many of the locals have made it a point to reach the small hall with neatly placed benches dot on time to take over the charge of serving those who have come for their meals.

In fact, things have a gone a step ahead as many children are now organizing their birthdays by participating in this exercise. They tend to donate for this initiative and participate in serving the food giving a go by to the tradition of having a birthday bash at home or one of the fancy fast food joints that have come across in every city. The parents are happy that their children have learned the concept of sharing.

“While kids look forward to having a birthday bash with friends looking forward to gifts, our daughter Sania who is studying in class nine and us parents decided to come here instead and participate in this exercise which is far more satisfying and whose memories will stay for us throughout our lives,” said Vandana who was busy serving Kheer and Porridge when this reporter visited the spot on Friday. The child too stood beaming with pride as the state Governor Bandaru Dattatreya came visiting to the langar.

The regulars at the place relate that this has become a regular practice among a large number of children and continues to be on the rise. There is a piggybank placed at the spot where anyone willing to make a donation can drop the cash.

“My 27 year old husband is undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer. With three children to take care of and the responsibility of bringing him here every few days has led to our money running out. Thanks to this initiative that at least our food is taken care of besides many other things,” disclosed Seema who comes from remote Nauradhar area of Sirmaur district. She related that while travel is free for cancer patients in the government run buses, her problem gets compounded by the fact that there are very few buses running on the route where her village falls.

Apart from the food initiative, Sarbjeet has set up an organization called Almighty Blessings that is involved in a host of other activities to serve the poor and the needs. This involves running transport vehicles between the hospital and the inter district bus terminus at regular intervals. Apart from this, it runs a hearse van to carry the dead bodies of the poor patients to the cremation grounds or to their villages free of cost. The organization even organizes funerals for the deceased whose family members are too poor to do so.

“We offer to cremate the dead but people want to take the body to their villages owing to emotional attachments and customary rituals,” he says.

Sarbjeet loves to address himself as Vella which in Punjabi means a person who is has a lot of free time on his hands. He is a businessman otherwise who runs a shoe store. He had started off on his philanthropic journey by organizing blood donation camps and has surely come a long way since then. He has also been giving talks at some of the prime institutions across the country.

Today many children from different schools visit the langar at the IGMC coming face to face with the pain and misery of the common people and this has helped develop empathy in them. Many of them also express their desire to accompany the drivers of the hearse van.

His model of serving the attendants and patients is being replicated at other places as well. Several senior citizens of Solan have joined hands with social volunteers to run a similar service at the regional hospital. Such initiatives are definitely the need of the hour.