If you are walking on the busy streets of M G Road, there are high chances of you noticing a group of youngsters and office goers enjoying puffs, pattice and rolls in front of a small eatery called The Poona Zarthosti Seva Mandal. This place not only serves delicious snacks and food items but also sarees, cookies, incense sticks and more.
What makes this shop special is the fact that the money the committee earns here goes completely to charity. Even the food items are priced reasonably; where else can you eat a Chicken Crispy Cutlet for Rs 25 or Chicken Burger for Rs 30?
The Poona Zarthosti Seva Mandal was launched in 1940 and currently 13 people run the mandal helping those in need from the Parsi community.
When we visited the mandal last weekend, food lovers had flocked the joint. Rukshana Ankleshwaria, president of the mandal, says, “Our objective, as laid down in the constitution of the establishment, was not just to help those in need but also bring the entire community together. For years, we have been aising the cause of education along with providing medical aid. Initially we began by hosted sewing and cooking classes. Later, we launched computer skills classes which got good response.”
She says that another focus of the mandal is socialising. “We want people to come together, chat. We have programmes, prayer classes, games and other such get-togethers,” she says.
Mabrin Nanavatti, joint honorary secretary, who joined 12 years ago, says that the functioning of the seva mandal has changed drastically over the years. “When I joined the place, it was falling apart. Through sponsors and donations, we managed to renovate the entire place. Earlier we were selling four to five items but over the years, we have gone into many others keeping in mind the need of the Zoroastrian community,” he says.
The store has items useful for the Parsi community. So one finds their special Cookie Bhakra, Gaara sarees with beautiful embroidery work, sadras (vest), kurtis, prayer caps, masala packets, incense sticks, t-shirts, and more.
He says that the food is outsourced and they just sell it. “We make a decent profit from it. We have priced these items reasonably because we want more people to try the food. We realise that it’s affordable to youngsters and that increases our revenue,” he says.
On the list is a host of items including Veg Cheese Burger, Cheese Paneer Roll, Cheese Paneer Puff, Chicken Crispy Cutlet, Chicken Cutlet, Mutton Cutlet, Biryani, Chicken Spring Roll, and more.
The Poona Zarthosti Seva Mandal was set up with the intention of helping needy people from their community. Today, the 13 members in the mandal have been designated different duties. Nanavatti says, “We have something called the ‘dole’ which means we help 25 families with Rs 1,000 every month. We have been paying them for the last 25 years. At the beginning of each month, they take the money from us. It’s not much but the amount takes care of their groceries and basic needs. Apart from that, we give medical and educational aid to those from our community in Pune. If someone is in need of this aid, they approach us and we help them.”
He adds, “When it comes to educational aid, we help those in schools and colleges. We have a system where we find out if the person is genuine or not and then help them. It’s not something we give to everyone. Somebody had given us donation and we pay the interest we earn from it to students persuing higher courses and all this runs into lakhs.”
He says that along with their mandal, there is also the Pune Parsi Panchayat, which is a bigger body. “They support these people as well and pay them Rs 2,000 a month. There are Parsi individuals who also help. Most of them are elderly people (above 70 years) who get the ‘dole’.”
He says that if individuals come and donate money, it is distributed among the poor or the money is used to buy gifts for the 25 families.