Milk for poor kids – a different holy offering

Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh): Nine-year-old Gautam, son of a daily wage labourer, doesn’t know the religious significance of the holy month of Shravan. But this is the time when Gautam and many poor children like him get free packets of milk – something their parents can’t afford.

The practice was started by a local resident, Raj Narayan Gupta, to celebrate Shravan, that heralds the coming of the monsoon when devotees offer milk to Lord Shiva as oblation. However, instead of following the common ritual, Gupta treats street urchins with packets of milk.

Gupta, 37, a resident of the Bada Bazar area, has been observing this form of devotion for over 14 years, and it has virtually transformed into a mass campaign today with people from all walks of life joining him to in the endeavour throughout the Shravan month.

“The ritual of offering milk to a Shivaling intends to appease the deity. My exercise too serves the same purpose… I believe the smile that comes on the faces of poor children after drinking the milk is enough to bring `Bholenath’ (Lord Shiva) in a good mood,” Gupta, who has a business of stationery items said.
“And, above all, it’s just not confined to religion… It gives you immense self-satisfaction. It’s just great… The feeling I get after satiating the hunger of poor children cannot be put into words,” he added.

During the entire month of Shravan that started July 16 this year, Gupta’s day starts as early as 4.30 a.m.

“I have to purchase packets of milk in bulk. And it’s not from a single place wherefrom I make the arrangements. I have to visit different localities to get the milk packets for distributing among poor children. The entire exercise takes around five hours,” said Gupta.

After arranging the milk packets, Gupta visits railway stations, bus stands, slums, areas outside temples and other places where poor children take shelter. While distribution of milk packets may come as a surprise to poor children, for those in Bada Bazar Gupta is a known face.

“He (Gupta) knows several among us by our names… The moment we notice him approaching our huts, we compete with one another to reach him first for getting the milk,” said Gautam, who lives with his labourer father in a hut situated near Gautam’s house.

“He gives each one of us a milk packet, but whenever we ask him for more, he never refuses,” added Gautam.

Drawing inspiration from Gupta, many people including doctors, teachers and professionals have also started distributing milk packets.

With the collective efforts of Gupta and other people of his locality, around 250-300 poor children in Bada Bazar and adjoining areas don’t have to bother about breakfast during this month.

“I wish I could fight the hunger of poor children throughout the year. But, with limited resources I can’t do that… However, I am sure if people from affluent and middle class families start taking out a very small share of their earnings for the poor children, we can solve the problem to a considerable extent,” said Gupta.

Asked what prompted him to come up with this way of celebrating Shravan, he replied, “It was around 14 years ago I visited a Lord Shiva temple during the month of Shravan. Outside the temple, I came across a poor child who was probably abandoned by his parents. He was crying for milk.

“I noticed a man coming towards the temple with a bucket full of milk. The child approached him, asking for some milk. The man not only refused to give him milk but even assaulted him for coming in his way. I was moved by the condition of that child, and it was then that I decided to offer milk to poor children throughout Shravan,” recalled Gupta. By Asit Srivastava