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Lunch for only Rs 5, cooked & served with love

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GURGAON: A meal at Atal Jan Aahar Yojana canteen in Delhi, or any of the Indira canteens in Bangalore, will cost you Rs 10. But in Gurgaon, you can fill your stomach for just Rs 5, all thanks to the selflessness and generosity of Pankaj Gupta.
Finding a restaurant that serves you quality yet affordable food is quite difficult, keeping in mind today’s inflationary trends. However, in Sadar Bazaar, you can indeed get a plate of dal-chawal made in ‘desi ghee’ for a mere Rs 5 — more ‘subsidised’ than even a government-run cafeteria.

“I got the idea to start this canteen a month back after I read about someone in Noida giving food for Rs 5,” Gupta told TOI. “There are many people who don’t have enough money to buy food, so I wanted to do something for them.” But this Gurgaon resident didn’t just want to distribute the food for free. “If people pay for their meals, it will have a sense of respect attached, (and) they will come back.”

Every day, Gupta hires caterers who make food for between 1,000 and 1,400 people. “Preparation of the food starts early in the morning. I make sure that all seven days the food is different. So, the menu would consist of dal-chawal, rajma, choley, kadi and pickles. Schoolkids who come to me can have the meal for free,” shared Gupta.

Be it a rickshaw puller, shop owner or just a passer-by, people from all walks of life queue up at the stall for lunch. From Monday to Sunday, between 12pm and 2pm, the open canteen serves lunch.

On a given day, Gupta pays around Rs 9,000 out of his own pocket to buy ingredients to prepare these lunches. It costs him roughly Rs 11.5 to cook one meal, and he ends up spending approximately Rs 16,000 every day. “I get back Rs 7,000 from the Rs 5 I charge,” he revealed.

And Gupta, who owns a cosmetics shop in Sadar Bazaar, is now setting up a permanent kitchen for his open canteen. “I have bought a place in Sadar Bazaar where a kitchen is being built. Hopefully, in the coming days, I will hire a few people who can make the food and run the kitchen,” he added.

No matter the expenses involved, Gupta has pledged to continue with this service for the rest of his life, and is encouraging residents in sectors across the city to put up such stalls.

“There are a few volunteers who come every day to help us out but we need more to manage distribution.” Till such time, there will always be Pankaj Gupta’s stall in Sadar Bazaar, where Gurgaon’s hungry souls can find inexpensive food cooked and served with love.

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