The Meal that feeds Millions
Amidst the cacophony of laughter and ringing bells, you can get a whiff of delectable sambar and rasam, lacing the afternoon air. Around 500 boys excitedly sit on the floor waiting for their mid-day meal. Such is the scenario at 132-year old ‘Sourashtra Boys Higher Secondary School’ in Madurai. Hosting a variety of options for lunch, including savouries like payasam and appalam, it excites the taste buds of these young boys who sit and wait, in anticipation for their lunch.
The Hand that Stirs
Making lunch for these school boys is like a legacy, started by his grandfather Paramsamy Iyengar, carried on by his father TP Vasudevan, and now is up to him. 65-year old TV Viswanathan, along with his wife Vyjayanthi Mala can be found stirring a steaming cauldron of sambar, while his wife checks on the rice.
This tradition was started in 1911 by a few trustees and philanthropists and is probably the oldest noon-meal scheme in the country, introduced by the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, K. Kamraj who was inspired to introduce the scheme for the entire state.
Mr. Iyengar believes that with the right amount of salt and spices and a liberal dosage of love, anyone can cook a good meal. His wife’s day starts at dawn when she starts cooking so that lunch is ready by noon. She ends her day with the tedious task of washing the large utensils and cuts vegetables in preparation for the next day.
The menu consists of a variety of healthy and tasty foods such as spinach and tomato soup, payasam, kesari, and many more. A three-course meal is served every day.
When Kamraj visited the school in 1954 he was highly impressed by the idea and recommended it to Dr. ND Sundaravandivelu, the then Director of Public Instruction, who later recommended the scheme to the government. Dr. Sundaravadivelu is therefore hailed as the architect of the midday meal scheme for school children.
The Philosophy Behind It All
The idea behind this scheme was to encourage poor parents, who couldn’t even afford one square meal a day, to send their children to school.
As the strength of the school grew, students from outskirts and neighbouring districts joined as well. This is when they introduced free breakfast as well, around 20 years ago, which consists of idli, poori and pongal.
In the beginning, a corpus fund was created for the uninterrupted running of the scheme, which cost 25 paise per day per student. Today this has grown to Rs. 12 per day per student. With the help of nearly 100 voluntary donors, the scheme has been able to run successfully. Tamil Nadu is now a pioneer in midday meal programs, encouraging children to attend school.
As long as there are good hearts to provide and hungry stomachs to fill, this work of God shall be continued.
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