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Vikas Khanna The NRI Of The Year

New York-based  Master-chef Vikas Khanna  has so far  distributed  7 million dry ration meals  across 79 cities in  India dring these last two months  of  a lockdown.

“And  those meals  includes the  200,000 meals  served  for Eid  across  the   country. We wanted  it to be  the  largest Eid feast  ever in spite  of the lockdown,” says   Vikas who began  cooking professionally  at the age  of 17 at weddings  and banquets  in his home-town Amritsar.

Now  31 years  later,  having achieved  the kind  of  global success  that no other chef in India can dream  of, Vikas finds  much comfort in serving food  to  the hungry who can’t afford or obtain regular  meals at this time of   unimaginable  hardship.

Working relentlessly from NY  to feed  those in India  most ruthlessly  affected  by the   Covid 19 , Vikas  feels  a sense of self-fulfilment  that  only the sufis and the most sorted saints of the world are allowed  to feel.

Vikas laughs, “I am neither a saint nor  a sufi.I am just a regular emotional guy who loves to  feed  people. Of course my  efforts  won’t always be  appreciated. And  I am prepared that.  Even now as my dedicated  associates in India work relentlessly to bring food to the  hungry, the haters  on  twitter are trolling me mercilessly.  What I do? I just  ignore them. My mother always  says, ‘Beta, heere  tak pahunchne he liye  koyle ke khaan mein bahot neeche jana padta hai(Son, to reach  the diamonds you’ve to dig really deep into the coal mine). I am  happy to say I’ve been  digging deep into the coal mine, and  the rewards have come in the  outpouring of thankyous  from people all over.”

One  diamond-in-the-coalmine  moment came for Vikas the other day when a lady  from a leprosy institution called  to thank him for the food in her belly.  “You see,  regular deliveries  of food  to    old-age homes,orphanages and  leprosy centres are  a top priority  for  our #feedindia campaign, specially the  leprosy centres  in West  Bengal.”

It  was  from one such  centre that  Vikas received a phonecall the  othe day which  reaffirmed his faith in  the power  of food to  bring  people  together. “The lady wanted to thank me and wanted  to know how she could  show her gratitude.  I told her  she can  treat me to a  cup of tea when I will visit her. ‘You  will  come to have  tea with  me here, to this (leprosy-infected) place?’  I said why not? The  risks  that we take  to  reach the  food into infected areas are  not  what we  think about.You will be  shocked at  the high levels  of risks  my colleagues  take.Just to  see that  smile on  a  face .”

And yet, for all their efforts Vikas’s  food soldiers  often encounter naked hostility among  the recipients .  “We  recently added packets  of  sanitary pads to the  food being distributed  in  five  cities. They threw the pads  back  in our faces saying they won’t accept  dirty benefits with the food.”

Such  incidents  do  not  deter  Vikas . “Not at all.  I am not in this for the rewards. As I speak  to you  I am facing any number  of  co-ordination  problems  . But I know it will all come together at  the end. Good intentions  never  go  astray. I am  happy to tell you  we’ve  converted 40  fuel  stations  to food stations on highways across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra. Our kitchens  in Mumbai and NOIDA are fully operational serving cooked meals  to  thousands.Yes, I am able to feed thousands. But I wish  it could be many more.”

Looking back, Vikas has much food for  thought. He is a  multiple Michelin  winning  chef  acknowledged as  a wizard  of  the culinary  kingdom. He is  also  a filmmaker having just directed Neena Gupta in the globally lauded feature film  The Last Color. And  yet feeding the needy during this  time of  an unprecedented crisis  is  an experience  beyond all achievements.

“Nothing can equal this,”  sighs  Vikas as he hurriedly gets  back to the logistics of feeding thousands  across India from his apartment in New York.

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