KARACHI: Some 25 kilometres from the city centre, the streets of Khuda Ki Basti have the appearance of the type of slums found all over the metropolis.
More than 20,000 inhabitants live here, with half of them migrants from other cities and towns, and all stuck in the daily grind of fighting off poverty to keep body and soul together. Like others, every single face in this Basti appears hopeless and every family seems trapped in a cycle of privation.
But a few of them have chosen to make it a little different. Perveen Khalid is one such person, who for the last five years has been striving to kill at least the hunger of her people. She runs a restaurant that offers meals at prices as low as Rs2.
Perveen’s Khana Ghar (meal house) is in the centre of Khuda Ki Basti and serves meals three times a day to around 90 poverty-stricken people of the neighbourhood on a daily basis. And with each passing day her commitment to help grows stronger.
“I started this project on my own in 2002,” she says sitting at her almost 100-yard Khana Ghar, which has bamboos on a sandy floor with woven mats around the eatery to maintain privacy.
“I realised hunger is not a source of pain and humiliation only for individuals, as it affects the social system too. It forces suicide attempts, it causes family break-ups and, of course, it makes one think that he or she is worthless.”
Fired up with an urge to help but unequipped with resources, Perveen convinced her husband and two daughters and started cutting back on “luxuries” in 2001 to raise finance for the dreamed Khana Ghar in the nearest poor locality from their residence ñ Khuda Ki Basti.
The four-member family agreed but it meant no picnics, no outings, no shopping and no entertainment for them. Their target was simple — save money for Khana Ghar, which finally started serving in 2002.
“Initially it cost us Rs300 a day to serve more than 40 people. I wanted to offer a free meal to each and every needy person of the locality but I thought it could send a wrong message. It is not a charity service. It is a place for those who can afford Rs2 to have a onetime meal, and that we decided to charge for,” Perveen says.
Her five years’ continuous and calm journey has now made this Khana Ghar a popular brand in the neighbourhood, where men, women and children are seen enjoying meals. The queue in front of the restaurant is using the take-away facility.
Perveen gives full marks to her family, who made financial sacrifices and gave her a cushion to take an initiative. She also counted her luck to find aides like Habib Bhai, who has been running Khana Ghar’s kitchen since its inception.
“I can’t even imagine to leave Baji (Perveen) and this Khana Ghar,” he says. You can get a better job with more money but this can’t win respect and satisfaction.” A strong believer in values, Habib Bhai says the daily menu of Khana Ghar also reflects respect for the people, who are enjoying meals here.
“Rs2 isn’t a face saver. We try to meet all formalities while serving food. We have meat curry on the menu every week with vegetables and a variety of lentils. The style of our operation is purely commercial but not the spirit.”
The venture with a cost of Rs300 a day, Khana Ghar now needs Rs2,500 to meet the growing demand from the area’s people. The restaurant serves those who have nowhere else to turn to.
“It (Khana Ghar) seems to me as the last hope to complete the last days of life,” Ali says, who has been abandoned by three young sons amid declining health and advancing years. To keep Ali’s hope alive and strengthen his trust in humanity, Perveen finds connections within her well-off family and receives donations from his brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces to meet the more than Rs60,000 monthly expense of Khana Ghar.
But she wants to do more to join in the fight against poverty. “I am not tired but after five years I feel more energetic than previous days. However, I want more people to come forward. We don’t need money neither we want any government recognition. We just want privileged people with a realisation to come forward and make a single Khana Ghar in each such locality to make a difference.”
Though she finds herself alone so far to run Khana Ghar, she is not ready to give up. For the last few months she now has another facility for Khuda Ki Basti. Peveen’s Dawa Ghar is now there to offer treatment to the sick. “We have set Rs10 as fee to get people facilitated from Dawa Ghar,” she says. “But it doesn’t mean one who can’t afford even Rs10 returns untreated.”