Feeding the needy for over 100 years! | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 23, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:35 AM, October 23, 2020

Feeding the needy for over 100 years!

Vagrants, homeless, slum dwellers, drug addicts, street urchins, differently abled or just a poor hungry soul in Bogura town -- all know that they will not have to go to sleep at night on an empty stomach.

They know all too well that there is a place in town, on Kobi Kazi Nazrul Islam Road, where they will get a full meal every day, absolutely free, after the clock strikes 12 at night.

Akboria Grand Hotel, named after restaurateur Alhaj Akbor Ali, is most likely the country's only restaurant that has been serving free meal to the destitute for over a hundred years.

Served within a half hour past midnight, the menu includes rice, meat and vegetables. 

This correspondent during a visit to the restaurant counted at least 156 people who had patiently lined up since evening for a wholesome meal.

Shafiqul Islam, aged 13, was among them. He said, "My father is a rickshaw puller and my mother works as a house help. I get my dinner here every night."

He also said he brings the food home and shares it with his parents every night. This way, his family can save expenses on at least one meal in a day.  

Rasel Mia, 9, and Shahinur Islam, 10, were also in the line.

Rasel, an orphan, said he lives on the street near the railway station and he has been getting meal at night from Akboria since he was six.

Shahinur said after his father deserted his mother with three children, she had been working as a domestic help to make ends meet. But things turned for the worse when she could not find regular work due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Shahinur is a regular at Akboria.

Akboria Grand Hotel's manager, Shamim Talukdar, said they spend about Tk 2,000 to Tk 3,000 on ingredients for serving freshly cooked food to around 150 to 200 people every night, except on the night of the two Eids. But "due to the pandemic and floods, the number of people lining up for free meal from us is on the rise."

Every day, about 10 of their staff members take part in preparing the free meal, that is cooked separately, and they serve no leftover or food waste to the destitute, he assured.

Asked about the history behind the benevolent deed, Hasan Ali Alal, chairman of Akbori Group, said, "My father Alhaj Akbor Ali and his brothers came to Bangladesh in the year 1900 from India's Murshidabad... My father worked at various odd jobs in the northern districts and in 1911, he established a small restaurant in Bogura named Mohammadia." 

After seeing many lower caste Hindus and poor Muslims going hungry due to discriminatory caste and religious restrictions enforced at most food stores and restaurants in the region, his father started to feed the hungry at night with leftovers from his restaurant.

When 'Manga' (a form of famine) in the north resulted in longer queues on the street, Akbor started to serve freshly cooked meal for the needy.

Before he passed away in 1975, he made his six sons, who all established Akbori Group later, promise that they would carry on the good deed he started.

Alal also said the Group now owns and operates ten different business ventures where he hopes to employ the destitute and drug addicts after establishing a charity organisation for providing them with life skills training.

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