LUCKNOW || In a world when your very own are not ready to let a rupee go, thinking of free food to hundreds once in a week and much more can only be considered a dream. But for Amit Sharma, the affable, all-time-smiling gentleman in Gomtinagar, Lucknow, food is one way of serving humanity. A former Airtel employee, for the last many years he now runs an eatery – Punjabi Dhaba, near the Hyatt hotel in Gomtinagar, along with a Shirdi Sai temple.
The rare thing about him and the food joint is that you don’t necessarily have to pay the amount you are billed! In case you don’t like the food, you can just walk away without paying or even leave whatever amount you think the food was worth, irrespective of what amount you were billed. Sharma, an ardent devotee of Sai Baba says its all the grace of the Sadguru that he is able to do what he has been asked to by the Gods!
The restaurant has many meaningful posters and photographs dotting it. Ranging from the list of the presidents India has seen to the chief ministers and governors of Uttar Pradesh since independence. Knowledge plus food, he points out, was a heady mix and could energise both the taste buds and the grey material.
He cooks himself, with assistance from his daughter Payal and on every Thursdays runs a community kitchen where 500-700 people are served free Rajma-Chawal.
Not to stop at this, people who will to have similar food distributed from their homes, he does it for free. He has just two conditions – one that the food should be for at least 500 people, no less and that it should be served on Thursdays only. And well, this is not all. He also hosts free-of-cost birthday parties for girls below the age of five. He organises the party at the small play area between the makeshift temple and the restaurant, gifts free cakes, snacks and cold drinks.
Ask him about the energy and the finances to manage all this whopping stuff of kindness and he quips on how “God has been kind and He ensures that all is done”. Talking to The News Agency, he informed how the free-food thing started many years back when a woman, carrying a pile of files and reports came to have Rajma-Chaawal. She ate one plate then asked for another and then sought one to be packed, he informs.
When she was handed over the bill by the eatery staff she threw her hands in despair and informed that she did not have the money to pay! Any and ‘still-not-in-touch-with-Baba’, he lost his cool and asked the staff to ensure that the payment was done. Recalling how the lady told them that her husband was in the Lohia hospital, battling for life, Sharma gets misty eyed. Informs how he still did not trust the lady and sent the staffer to tail her to the hospital and have a fact check.
When it turned out to be true, the restaurant owner remincses, he wept bitterly and regretted his behaviour. The last came back to promise that when she has the resources she will come and pay the money against the food she had had. She also rained him with blessings and said that Sai Baba will fulfil all his wishes and that no work of his will ever be stalled.
After some thought and discussion with the family, he decided that from now on Thursdays would be a free lunch for all and sundry. Since the January of 2015, he has so far organised 285 such free lunches, serving 500-plus people very week. The 49-year-old is from Chandigarh originally, bid some time in Kanpur before settling in Lucknow many years back in the Riverbank colony.
In close proximity to a five-star property, his temple was recently visited by mega star Amitabh Bachchan on a quiet night as also by late Sri Devi’s daughter Jhanvi Kapoor. He still remains grounded, completely immersed in service of humanity and Sai. Wish we had many more like Amit Sharma. Seeing him somehow, the dying optimism in me has somehow rekindled!
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at email@example.com)