“As a student at IIT, he once came close to committing suicide. Then, he discovered Krishna and embraced the spiritual path. As head of ISKCON Bangalore, he founded Akshaya Patra-A movement which combines a missionary zeal and modern management, to feed one million hungry children every day.”
That one man whose initiative, it was to feed one million hungry children is none other than Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa. Born in Nagercoil, but grew up in Bangalore, he went on to do his B. Tech in Civil Engineering from IIT-Mumbai in the year 1980. When here, he came across books of Srila Prabupada and got inspired to practice Krishna Consciousness. In 1983, he became involved in overseeing the activities of ISKCON, Bangalore and was also responsible for the activities of the Trivandrum temple as president.
Looking out of a window one day in Mayapur, a village near Calcutta, he saw a group of children fighting with street dogs over scraps of food.
“Srila Prabhupada instructed that in a 15 to 20 km radius of any ISKCON temple, no one should go hungry. So this was an Inspiration for us to start Akshaya Patra.”
From this simple, yet heart breaking incident, came the determination that: No one within a ten mile radius of any of the ISKCON temples should go hungry. Little was known that these were just baby steps towards a bigger goal, ISKCON temples started providing food to hungry children.
As this process continued regularly, children started coming to the temple on their own, before lunch time. On speaking to some of these children one day, Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa learnt that these kids either didn’t go to school or were leaving early in order to make it to the temple for lunch.
One fine day, in March 2000, two gentlemen walked into Madhu Pandit’s office. One of them was Mohandas Pai, then CFO of Infosys. Mohandas advised him to feed the children in nearby Schools. Then Madhu thought of sending food to the schools themselves.
“Sometimes the cause is selfless, but somewhere I think that I need fame, or name. You need to forsake even that. Then the Lord will use you as an Instrument for greater works.”
He only realized the importance of what he was doing when teachers and principals from other schools wrote in, asking ISKCON to feed children at their school too. A disguised compliment was that kids from non-ISKCON supported schools were leaving to join schools benefiting from the temple’s food programme. Hunger was clearly an urgent issue that needed to be addressed.
Finally In 2000, with the monetary help of Mr. Narayan and Sudha Murthy, and Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa’s engineering background, The Akshaya Patra Foundation was officially born. Sri Madhu himself is the brain behind the design of the first centralized & mechanized kitchen.
Akshaya Patra meal costs Rs 5.50 to prepare and deliver. Initially, the entire cost was borne by the foundation. But, that was to change. On 28 November 2001, the Supreme Court of India passed an order mandating “Cooked mid-day meal is to be provided in all the government and government-aided primary schools in all states.” Akshaya Patra thus become eligible for government subsidy. Yet, even today, that does not cover the entire cost.
From one unit with gas stoves and brass pots catering to 10,000 children, Akshaya Patra now operates 18 centralised modern Kitchens. Akshaya Patra’s next milestone is reaching out to five million children by 2020.
Providing a meal to children a day may not sound like a very ambitious mission. But the implications are truly massive. In doing so, the organisation addresses two of the most immediate challenges of India – hunger and education. By providing unlimited, wholesome food, they attract children to schools, retain them and then focus on their holistic development.
Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa has changed not just the lives of a million children, but the character of the temple.
“Imagine us, such a big temple… without a social initiative. How would it look?”
If more temples worried about that, God would rest in his Heaven. And all would be right with this world.
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