Lounge Heroes | Mumbai’s ‘tiffin doctor’ feeds 300 elders every day
For the last 13 years, Dr Uday Modi has made it his mission to supply meals to senior citizens abandoned by their families
The pandemic has stretched Uday Modi’s working hours. The 51-year-old Ayurvedic doctor is busier than ever at his clinic in Bhayandar, Mumbai. But he has also been ensuring that his other daily duty, of feeding 300 senior citizens in the neighbourhood, doesn’t suffer. “Bhayandar saw a large number of positive cases and a stricter lockdown than many other parts of the city," Dr Modi, also known as the “Tiffin Doctor", says on the phone. “Even essentials were hard to source for days. Except for milk, the supply for most food items was interrupted." Undeterred, he would queue up outside grocery stores with some of his 11-member staff at 6.30 every morning. He was determined not to let down a single person on his roster who has been receiving two meals from him every day for over 10 years.
To be precise, Dr Modi’s journey began roughly 13 years ago. One of his elderly patients, who had come to see him at the clinic one day, complained of neglect by his sons. “I was distressed to hear none of his three adult children was prepared to give him food," the soft-spoken doctor says. “I simply couldn’t understand how a son would refuse to feed his own parents." He immediately began to send meals from his home. Shocked and pained, Dr Modi also printed some leaflets and distributed them in the locality, in case there were others facing similar troubles. He didn’t anticipate the overwhelming number of requests for help that would pour in. For the first 15 days, his wife cooked and packed daily meals for 11 people from their home kitchen. But as the numbers began to grow, Dr Modi decided to set up a trust, organize a bigger kitchen and employ staff to cook and deliver food—entirely from his own funds. His current infrastructure includes two tempos and four delivery vans, along with delivery persons and drivers. All this costs about ₹3 lakh a month.
To supplement his income as a medical professional, Dr Modi began taking up small roles in Hindi and Gujarati TV serials. To this day, the fee he makes from his acting career goes entirely into funding this feeding mission. In between, he briefly joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, but politics didn’t agree with his temperament, he says. He is much happier working as an individual for the greater common good.
Dr Modi was born in Amreli, in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, and trained as an Ayurvedic doctor in Jamnagar. After acquiring an MD degree, he moved to Mumbai and opened his clinic in Bhayandar 25 years ago. He has worked in the city ever since. At present, he lives with his wife, two children and mother. “I was brought up with the belief that Indians are devoted to their elders," he says, “and although I can understand the problems posed by the generation gap, I cannot imagine 80- to 85-year-olds left unfed, unattended, and uncared for."
Dr Modi’s commitment to his cause goes much deeper than simply providing sustenance. He is deeply invested in the emotional well-being of his beneficiaries and tries to give each of them personal attention. At the start of each week, he sets the menu for the next seven days. His cooks are trained to customize meals for those suffering from diabetes and hypertension. Soft and mushy vegetables are sent to people whose teeth do not permit chewing. Apart from rice, dal, chapatis and vegetables, on Sundays, there’s dessert too. “I try to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries with some of these people," says Dr Modi. “The mantra of my life is to help make their last few years on earth happy and comfortable."
Since the outbreak of covid-19, Dr Modi and his team are vigilant about the safety of the elderly, who are considered the most vulnerable. Along with food, he sends regular supplies of masks and sanitizers, while keeping a tab on their general health. So far, none of the 300 people he cares for has been infected by the virus, he says.
For senior citizens, however, the big picture doesn’t seem to be changing for the better. In spite of the Union government passing the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, millions of elderly people continue to suffer neglect and cruelty from families. Dr Modi tried calling family members of some of his charges, including a high court lawyer, to request help, only to be rebuffed and asked to leave them alone. “It’s always hard for parents to take their children to court to seek justice," he says. “They don’t want to tarnish their names and reputation in the eyes of society."
Presently, Dr Modi is crowd-sourcing funds for the construction of a home for the elderly. He has already purchased 25,000 sq. ft of land in Uttan, near Bhayandar, but the work, which had just begun, is stalled since the pandemic and the departure of workers during the lockdown. Funds, however, continue to come in on crowd-funding platforms, as do more and more requests for meals. “I have to weigh carefully before I commit to feeding more people, though" Dr Modi says. “Once I make a pledge to someone, I can’t renege on it, can I?"