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Book Review; God’s Own Kitchen, by Rashmi Bansal

People often asked Madhu Pandit – “Why did you leave IIT to become a monk?” Had he followed the conventional path, Madhu Pandit would have been a big-shot in some large corporation. Instead, he was the ‘CEO’ of a large temple. Guided by his guru A C Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada. Propelled forward by the Divine Plan.

A chance meeting with Mohandas Pai inspired Madhu Pandit to use the spare capacity in the ISKCON kitchen. To start a mid-day meal program for 1500 children, in and around Bangalore.

Every year several young people, students, engineers, professionals, and even householders discover a higher consciousness – so much so that the give up careers in worship of the Lord Krishna. We meet several such people in the book God’s Own Kitchen. What do these people do? Pray… Eat… Sing… Pray ? Well it appears, a lot more. They feed hungry children in government schools all over the country.

The book is not just about monks from ISKCON Bangalore. It is about their project the Akshay Patra midday meals, which is co founded by people like Mohandas Pai, Abhay Jain, Sudha Murty, Gururaj Deshpande among a long notable line of business people – Indians who decided to put their money, professionalism and belief in mid-day meals for the poorest children in India.

This is a story of how several hundreds of extra-ordinary monks and professionals working together and telling us what can be built by undying faith and optimism. A story of fine leadership and motivation. Winning over the most cynical government bureaucracies in several states of India, to be convinced about choosing a partner like the Akshay Patra Foundation to provide midday meals to their school children. After all it is a risk as governments’ are at risk.

The dreamers and founders of this programme had no doubt that the going would be tough. Politics thrives on siphoning off money from government programmes. How did they succeed in silencing such vested political interests? Read this eye opening book to arrive at some astounding facts and of heroic deeds.

Today, Akshaya Patra is the world’s largest NGO-led mid-day meal program, with 27 kitchens across 11 states. Serving 1.6 million hot lunches to government schools each day.

For management students and professionals, this book has a very simple lesson. If organisation’s objectives are very clearly articulated, the most difficult tasks are easy. The monks running Akshay Patra kitchens decided that they will not compromise on quality standards, even if the government funds meet only a part of the cost. They will reach out to the world to fund this gap. And if the children want chapati, they will learn how to make and serve hundreds of thousands of the best hot chapatis, right on time.

This is the exciting story of spiritualists and capitalists coming together to launch a unique start-up. And taking it to scale. A ‘Made in India’ success story using the head, the heart and a whole lot of soul. Those who visit these mega kitchens see world class facilities, put together and run by the most innovative and problem solving technocrat monks. It is a story of management processes, adaptability to customer needs, a commitment to 6 sigma quality control, and astute financial planning.

Of course none of this would have been possible without generosity and kindness and an undying human spirit.

This is a story of an India we dream of, that Rabindra Nath Tagore dreamed of where the head is held high. Author Rashmi Bansal also dreams of such an India and takes us on a fabulous journey. An easy to read 264 pages with outstanding photographs, it leaves you with a terrific thought – can I also be a part of this?

Published by Westland. Available in paper back and kindle.

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