DELHI: The view deters, of people squatting for food in front of hotels by the lanes of Matia Mahal, disturbing my inner peace, raising the question of our duty towards humanity.

The street named Matia Mahal starts from the West Gate (Gate No.1) of Delhi’s famous and historic Jama Masjid. It’s lined with multiple restaurants selling Mughlai cuisine.

“These are destitutes, labourers, ragpickers, beggars and helpless people, who come here for food,” says Mohammad Shamim, who runs a cloth shop here. The categories of people waiting for food outnumbers the variety of foods the area is famous for.

Ask anyone here about their meal, it will make your mouth water. “I get to eat delicious and VIP food every day, which even you may not be getting. Today I had nihari for dinner,” Tej Bahadur tells The Citizen. He is a daily wage worker at a mechanic’s on the Jama Masjid road, sleeping on the footpaths at night.

“Hotels like Rehmatullah Hotel, Salman Hotel offer food to us.”

Well known restaurants in the area include Karims, Al-Jawahar, Cool Point, Aslam Chicken and the Ghareeb Nawaz hotel, pulling in a large number of people searching for non-vegetarian food.

These people are also waiting for food. The hotels here serve them, when a visitor is willing to buy them food coupons. “Per plate food costs around Rs.20 and goes up maximum to Rs.30” says Mohammad Afzal, owner of the Ghareeb Nawaz hotel.

“My grandfather would feed those coming to our hotels in need, following which I have been doing the same. This has been a tradition in my family, which I like to take forward.”

How many people turn up in a day? “The maximum has been 16 people buying food coupons for them. Coupons worth Rs.100 to Rs.2000 have been purchased at my hotel, sufficient to feed people the entire day.”

“These people include customers who come to dine and buy them food while leaving, and visitors who come specially to donate the amount for their food in the name of god.”

And “there have been times when only two people bought them coupons, in which case we feed them from our side” Afzal explains. “At times we even request our visitors to donate food to them.”

Mohammad Farooq, who runs the Salman Hotel known for good food at low prices, also makes the effort to feed at least 100 people every day. “People start gathering at my hotel from the moment I open at noon. This goes on till 1 o’clock at night.”

“We serve them the same food made for customers, we don’t discriminate or segregate them for their class and condition. I believe they are god’s messengers whom I have the chance to serve,” says Farooq.

It’s not just the holy month of Ramzan that keeps the area buzzing, normal days are no less active. A mini-fair scene appears to hang in the lanes with a variety of shops selling clothes, stylish footware, smoking kababs, sewaiyaan neatly arranged, cries of ‘sharbate mohhabbat’ or love cordial passing through the ears as children loiter in the lanes, all in all a quite happening place for visitors and residents alike.

The lanes being narrow there is chaos at times. “They quarrel a lot, even end up hitting each other, as many of them are drunk most of the time. This happens to scare the tourists visiting the place,” rues Mohammad Umar, owner of the well known sweet shop Cool Point.

He adds, “It’s good to help them, and we also offer them food at times, but they create a lot of problems for our business. Many customers go away seeing them fight and misbehave. It’s a loss for our business.”

Sufi Bilal who runs a neighbouring shop half-agrees. “Being drunk they create chaos most of the time. But when god is there, we can’t question him. There is one needy present amongst a hundred, because of whom everybody is fed.”

Bilal adds, “These are people who can walk and earn. They spend the earned amount on drinking alcohol and then come here for free food. One cannot deny them food as you can’t recognise the actual needy person among them.”

Nishant Chaubey, a tourist in Delhi visiting this place for the first time tells The Citizen, “My stomach is full, but looking at them it’s of no worth. So, giving them some portion of what I had relieves me a bit.”

“Even if 2,000 people turn up for food in a day, they don’t leave anybody hungry. We are all fed,” says Tej Bahadur who sleeps on the footpath.