“If I see the bad in people, then I’m seeing the bad in myself. There’s bad in all of us. But, I’m going to see the positive in them. And if I see good in myself, then I can see the good in others.” –Raghu Makwana
The summer sun sizzling on the pavement, Burning heat on your skin, Relief of a warm breeze, Rhythmic honking, Clouds of dust in your eyes, Bumps in the road, as you clench onto nothing, Swerving around a river of stray dogs, slow moving cows, motor bikes, children.
The sweet smell of chai. Laughter, Gleaming eyes, Bright smiles. The voice of Raghu, giggling. “Raghu-bhai!! Raghu-bhai!!” the joyful children scream as Raghu zooms past them through the narrow, maze-like alleyways of the slums. Balancing 17 tiffins (stackable meal containers) on his motorbike, Raghu Makwana delivers food to the elderly who live alone in the nearby slum areas. These majis and kakas (grandmas and grandpas) are physically unable to work, widowed, and don’t have a family to lean on, except for Raghu. Without his tiffin deliveries, these elders would have no choice but to return to the chili and water they were eating before Raghu found them.
Tyaag Nu Tiffin (“Food of Sacrifice”) organically grew in 2010 when Raghu Makwana started using the little money he had to feed three of his elderly friends. During the day, Raghu works at Gramshree, a NGO serving the women in the slums of Ahmedabad, India. Over the years, he’s built a kinship with these people, all of them turning to him like a brother (“bhai”). Catching wind of his generosity, Raghu’s friends began sacrificing a meal per week to save money for Tyaag Nu Tiffin. Three years later, with the help of the Pollination Project grant and a community of supporters who continue to sacrifice a meal per week, the project now serves 17 elders. Tyaag Nu Tiffin has transformed from serving food to three women to becoming a vehicle for others to give.
Raghu deeply understands the suffering of the community he serves. Struck with polio as a child, Raghu has no use of his legs. He grew up in a rural village, and moved to Ahmedabad to earn money for his family. Unlike many people with his same condition, Raghu refused to beg for money. He always believed that he has a greater purpose in this world. Instead, Raghu decided to go to a nearby temple and quietly straighten shoes. Every morning he would show up at the temple to serve, and each night he would return to the streets to sleep. Raghu shares, “When I came to the Iskcon temple, I did not receive food or love. I know what it is like…you have to give people the benefit of the doubt – that’s what I was given.”
Walking on his hands, wearing flip-flops like we would gloves, smiling from ear to ear, singing, laughing, full of joy and wonder, full of life and love, Raghu has nothing and everything. He doesn’t look at his condition as a disability; he looks at it as a gift – an opportunity to connect at the heart and serve. His openness brings people in, his inner strength gives them wisdom, and his service regenerates his energy. Serving Tyaag Nu Tiffin’s majis and kakas keeps his internal flame lit, a flame that gives the communities around him hope, a flame that fills his soul with peace and joy, a flame that lights the flame in each of us, one by one.
17 people. Two meals per day. Every day.
Through hot summer days, drenching monsoon rain, Raghu’s commitment to these elders is impermeable. Because of Raghu’s commitment, he has become a brother and son to everyone in the slum area. When there is a family dispute, sickness, or death, the community turns to Raghu for support, to serve as their voice. “Raghu-bhai really goes beyond doing just his duty of delivering tiffins. He has assisted families living on the streets suffering from domestic violence, broken up physical fights between mostly misdirected youth, taken children out to the movies that normally wouldn’t get this opportunity, especially the young girls, some of whom have never been out, or left their community pre-marriage,” shares Varsha Mathrani, a volunteer from the USA.
With a heart full of compassion, Raghu serves each person, one at a time, through one small act at a time. Observing a young man, who walks on his hands through the slums to serve has both uplifted and empowered the people around him. It empowers the surrounding community to help one another. It plants seeds in the hearts of volunteers who come from all over the world that have joined him on his tiffin deliveries. “Experiencing Raghu’s life today made me feel the closest I’ve been to God…it makes us think of little good deeds we can do in our daily lives with no expectation of receiving anything in return. To actually DO something to make this a better place,” reflects Fernando Grajeda, a volunteer from Guatemala. The Pollination Project’s $1,000 has evolved from money to food to energy that continues to flow and ripple out. The impact of the energy sparked by this grant is immeasurable.
From the outside, Tyaag Nu Tiffin can be seen as a service that helps the elders. In actuality, it is a service that offers all of us the opportunity to share the light that is in each of us.