DOHA: In the booming capital of Qatar, a dusty corner has a modest restaurant popular with migrant labourers with a sign outside its gate which reads, “If you are hungry and have no money, eat for free.”

16 kilometres from the polished glass towers of Doha, one of the most expensive places on earth, sits the ‘Industrial Area’ of small-scale workshops, factories and low-cost housing. The area is situated only at a 40-minute drive south of the centre of the Qatari capital and its luxury shops, upmarket brands and expensive restaurants. 

Rarely witnessing the crowd from outside, the ‘Industrial Area’ is a different Qatar. It primarily is the one that provides essential labour and materials for the massive and persistent development for the country and is at the margin of Doha life, both geographically and metaphorically. The area however, is a home to a restaurant called Zaiqa doing something exceptional apparently the oil-rich Gulf state.

Approximately three weeks ago, the Indian brothers, owning Zaiqa decided to put up a small makeshift sign offering free food to people who cannot afford to pay. 

“When I saw the board I had tears in my eyes,” expressed 47-year-old Shadab Khan, one of the owners originally from New Delhi. Informing that the idea came from his younger brother Nishab, Shadab, staying in Qatar for 13 years now said, “Even now when I talk about it, I get a lump in my throat.”

Sandwiched between another restaurant and a steel workshop, 16-seater Zaika stands in the prosaically named Street 23.

The restaurant with brightly coloured tablecloths is open all seven days and is operational 24 hours serving ‘authentic Indian cuisine from the heart of Delhi’.

While a fish curry would cost a customer who would chose to pay about Six Qatari Riyals, an egg roll is priced at three Riyals with a spinach dish, famous as ‘Palak Paneer’ in India is for 10 Riyals.

The need for free food in Qatar primarily focuses on the labourers and those working in heavy industry.

While there is no official confirmation on it, it is estimated that the number of migrant workers in the area is between 700,000 and one million, out of a total population of 2.3 million.

A filmmaker and a restaurant owner, Shadab stated that mostly construction workers from different countries like India, Nepal and Bangladesh ask for food from us. “Many labourers earn 800-1,000 Riyals per month. They also need to send money back to home and it is expensive here so there are people who need free food,” he said.

(With Agency Inputs)

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