A lunchbox of love served daily
CARE FREE An ordinary man from Borivli’s IC Colony, Maark D’Souza has turned dabbawala, feeding the area’s elderly free of charge
MUMBAI: Every after noon, Perdita D’Souza, 85, waits for her doorbell to ring. She is never disappointed.PRATHAM GOKHALE/HT
At 12.30 pm, punctual and smiling, Maark D’Souza arrives carrying a tiffin box of still-steaming rotis, sabzi, dal and rice.
He smiles, chats a bit, picks up yesterday’s empty lunchbox and leaves. It’s been a daily ritual for two years. But Maark, 57, is no caterer. He delivers free meals to seniors who are too old or frail to cook for themselves.
It’s an idea he came up with three years ago, on Diwali.
“My wife and I thought Diwali would be an auspicious time to start, and a good time to spread a little festive cheer,” says Maark, smiling. He adds that losing his parents at a young age — his mother when he was 5 and his father at 26 — taught him their value. At a time when his mother would have been 75 and his father 85, he now cares for others in the same age groups.
“Food is a basic need. We couldn’t afford to buy them their medicines, but at least we can ensure that our seniors go sleep with a home-cooked meal in their stomachs.”
Maark started with six seniors in his neighbourhood of IC Colony, Borivli. Today, he delivers his fresh hot meals to 35 seniors daily, seven days a week.
He funds his initiative entirely himself, with the earnings from his real-estate agency and the tuition classes his wife Yvonne offers at their home. “Yvonne is my constant support,” Maark says, of his wife of 32 years.
“When Maark spoke about wanting to do something for senior citizens, we knew free tiffins was the best thing we could do,” adds Yvonne, 54. “We already had a cook. It was just the matter of telling her to make more food.”
Many of his seniors say they find it hard to imagine what they would do without him.
“I can’t go out much because my knees and ankles ache, so I can’t shop for groceries or even cook for myself,” says Perdita, a widow who lives alone. “During my search for a tiffin service in IC Colony, someone referred me to Maark. I went to his shop and spoke to him. I told him I could pay, but he said, ‘Use the money on your medicines instead’. Finding Maark has been such a relief.”
Maark’s tiffin service isn’t just about free food either. He makes sure he talks to each recipient — inquiring about their health, asking after their families, helping them fill out forms, pay bills and get to doctor’s appointments, even driving them about in his car.
“It gives me a sense of happiness to be able to help. They seniors are my family now,” he says.
Besides his wife, Maark has built up a small network of volunteers who help him out.
There’s Renuka Vishwas, the live-in help who wakes up at 6 am to cook the meals; and Zarina Sayyed, who accompanies Maark on his rounds and takes over when he’s out of town. “I like the feeling that I am helping people through Maark. It’s an added bonus that they love my cooking,” says Vishwas.
The D’Souzas typically rely on family and friends to suggest beneficiaries. “Anyone who approaches us is also added to the list. We don’t get involved in family disputes or why their children cannot feed them,” says Maark.
There have been times, however, when he has faced hostility from relatives. “It is shocking the way some people abuse and threaten their parents over money or property,” he says. “But we don’t let that deter us. We drop off the tiffin anyway.”
A month ago, Maark appeared on Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi, a TV show hosted by Amitabh Bachchan that celebrates everyday heroes. Ever since, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing, with requests for tiffins and offers of help. “We also got calls from people who wanted to help start something similar in their own neighbourhoods,” Maark says.
While the couple doesn’t accept money, they say well-wishers are welcome to send vegetables, fish or sweets as special treats.
Ice-cream, idlis and biryani are favourites with my seniors, Maark says, smiling. It’s 2 pm, and he’s still on his rounds. Next up is Rajkumar Chaddha, 74. Maark has been bringing food to his door ever since Chaddha’s wife passed away six months ago. “I have a maid but she only makes rotis,” Chaddha says. “Having Maark’s tiffin means I don’t have to worry about the rest of my meals. The effort he takes makes me feel that at least someone cares about my well-being. He is like a son to me.”
Source: Hindustan Times dated 21 December, 2015