Lilyma Khan had always dreamt of becoming a chef, inspired by her father’s culinary skills. In her childhood, she would watch him cook simple yet heartwarming meals for their neighborhood in Taimoor Nagar, New Delhi. However, her idyllic world shattered when she lost both her parents by the age of 5 and her sister died by suicide soon after. Her older brother’s life spiraled into depression and addiction, leading to the loss of their home. Lilyma and her younger brother found themselves homeless.
Fighting for Survival
Survival became their daily struggle. They would stay with kind-hearted slum dwellers who offered shelter in exchange for collecting waste from the streets in the early morning hours. Their only chance at a meal was to collect enough scrap to earn one. When her aunt took her brother away, Lilyma was left alone, scavenging for food in the dustbins of Defence Colony, New Delhi.
A Life on the Streets
Lilyma’s life on the streets was marked by hunger and fear. She befriended three other homeless children, and together they scoured the streets for food. Their desperation led them to eat whatever they could find. As she grew older, she had to be cautious of men who made inappropriate advances. Lilyma recalls sleeping behind old mattresses in shop alleys for safety, always alert and fearful of her surroundings.
Rescued by an NGO
At the age of 11, Lilyma’s life took a turn when she was rescued by an NGO. Here, she received her first taste of education, starting with basic subjects. She eventually enrolled in Class 5 and relished the opportunity to experience a normal childhood. However, another twist awaited her when her aunt called her home at 13, temporarily disrupting her newfound stability.
A New Beginning
Lilyma’s aunt sent her to work at a shoe factory, where she was paid Rs 2,000 per month. Her dreams of education and a better life were crushed. Fortunately, her older brother informed an NGO called Kilkari Rainbow Home about her situation. This moment would change her life forever.
The Turning Point
At Rainbow Home, Lilyma found a chance to pursue her dreams. After completing Class 12, she secured a job at a restaurant through the Creative Services Support Group (CSSG), an organization that provides skills training to underprivileged youth. Anand Kapoor, from CSSG, recognized her culinary aspirations and helped her secure a job as a staff cook at an Italian restaurant in Lodhi Road, New Delhi.
Passion Fuels Progress
Lilyma’s determination to cook for restaurant patrons led her to push beyond her initial role of cooking for the staff. Her passion for Italian cuisine blossomed, and the restaurant’s chefs took her under their wings, teaching her everything from basic cooking techniques to preparing intricate dishes.
Hard Work Pays Off
After years of dedication and hard work, Lilyma was entrusted with the responsibility of handling the vegetarian section of the restaurant. Her journey began in 2012, and she has since worked at several restaurants, ultimately becoming a Head Chef. Her mentors, including Chef Julia, Jamshed, Jatin, and Sajeev, played a crucial role in shaping her culinary skills.
A Remarkable Transformation
Chef Sadeev Pasricha, who has trained Lilyma for eight years, speaks highly of her. Despite facing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a challenging past, she impresses him with her diligence, ability to work under pressure, and her passion for cooking. Lilyma now leads a team of 35 people at Dear Donna in New Delhi.
From Homelessness to Success
Today, Lilyma resides in her own house and has even purchased land in Noida and Ghaziabad. She has transformed her life from one of constant hunger and uncertainty to being able to feed others. Lilyma’s message is one of hope and courage, inspiring others to pursue their dreams despite adversity.