Braving rain, people have queued up in front of a small hardware shop in Ponnani. The shop has no name board and no hardware is to be seen, but the customers get what they want.
The shop, owned by K.V. Aboo-backer, 64, distributes medicines free of cost to people who come with prescriptions. This one-man show, known as Aboobacker Self Service (ABSS), is a boon for many poor patients in Malappuram, Palakkad, Thrissur and Kozhikode districts of Kerala State.
Aboobacker started the service under the aegis of a Muslim social service organisation. Even as he opened a hardware shop in 1971, he began distributing free medicines. He quit the hardware business in 1993 to work full-time for ABSS. Soon, tablets, syrups, injection modules and capsules were piling up in the shop. ABSS now runs without support from any organisation.
Aboobacker has a wide network of contacts with doctors in five districts. Every week, he goes to hospitals to collect free medicine samples and excess medicines. He stores the medicines in his shop. Medicines that need to be stored at cold temperature are refrigerated at his house.
An unassuming man who has studied only up to class X, Aboobacker is knowledgeable about medicines. “Through frequent interaction with doctors and also by reading pharmacology journals, I keep myself informed of all the particulars of medicines including their dosage, side-effects and expiry dates,” he says. Doctors vouch for his reliability. Says Dr P.M. Viswanathan, a general practitioner near Ponnani, “Often Aboobacker surprises even medical professionals with his knowledge of medicines.”
At least 75 patients come here for medicines daily. Patients from distant places are served first, but emergency cases are attended immediately, even at midnight.
Aboobacker distributes even expensive medicines for heart disease, diabetes and blood pressure. P. Moidu of Cherpulasserry, who has been suffering from heart disease and diabetes for the past seven years, used to be a regular at ABSS. Now, his 14-year-old son Ashiq comes here every month. Says Ashiq, “The medicines needed for father each month could cost Rs 15,000. He has survived only with Aboobacker sahib’s help.”
Aboobacker says the smiles of the people he has served are his rewards. They consider him family and invite him home.
Sometimes, when the medicines prescribed are not in stock, he buys them. Each year he spends at least Rs 50,000 on buying medicines, he says. Philanthropists send donations. Aboobacker says his family—wife and three well-settled children—has no complaints about his spending for ABSS.
Aboobacker gives excess stock to government hospitals and has sent medicines to disaster zones after floods and earthquakes. Social organisations, conducting free medical camps for the poor, have often approached him for medicines.
He also helps patients meet specialist doctors by writing letters of introduction. Doctors respect him and the Indian Medical Association has given him a certificate of recognition and advised its members to give him assistance.
Rain or shine, Aboobacker’s shop remains open for the patients. He says with a smile, “God has given me this life to serve others in this humble manner.”
"Helping hands are holier than praying lips"