ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

From Begging To Heading a Kitchen: This is Lilyma Khan's Story

Lilyma Khan survived on food in dustbins as a child. She is now the head chef at Dear Donna, Delhi.

Published
NEON
4 min read
Aa
Aa
Small
Aa
Medium
Aa
Large

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma Camera: Athar Rather and Koustubh Mukherjee

In a bustling kitchen at Dear Donna, Delhi, amidst the clatter of plates and the sizzle of pans, stands a head chef whose life has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Lilyma Khan's journey has weathered some incredibly tough times, but she's clung to one constant: hope.

Growing up in a slum in Taimur Nagar, Delhi, Lilyma faced immense loss early on. Both her parents passed away when she was just 4 years old. Soon after, her sister tragically ended her life after being forced into marriage. The situation worsened when her elder brother struggled with drug abuse and sold their house for a meager sum. Eventually, he ended up in jail for stealing, leaving Lilyma and her younger brother to fend for themselves. A few days later, her aunt took her younger brother away, leaving Lilyma completely alone.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Lilyma's Early Struggles for Survival in the Slum

Lilyma Khan survived on food in dustbins as a child. She is now the head chef at Dear Donna, Delhi.

The slum where Lilyma grew up.

Athar Rather/ The Quint

A woman in the slum offered shelter to Lilyma, but it came at a grave cost—collecting scraps in exchange for food. "She would wake us up at 4 am and send us to New Friends Colony Market to collect waste. If we didn't fill the big sack she gave us, she would beat us," said Lilyma.

She spent most of her early childhood rummaging through trash bins, sometimes resorting to begging just to fill an empty stomach. Yet, even in the darkest moments, hope flickered within her. "I always held onto hope that something good would turn up in my life and kept moving forward," she said.

As Lilyma took us to her old house in the slum, she felt a wave of emotions running through her. She showed us the house where she used to live with her parents. Most of the slum dwellers are still unaware that she works as a head chef now. "I don’t come here often, but whenever I do, it brings out a lot of emotions because this place holds memories of my parents and my childhood," she said.

At 8, she fled the torment of her neighbour's house, seeking refuge under the Okhla Flyover. There, amidst fellow street children, she endured a life of begging. 

"Earlier, I used to wonder where I would find something to eat. But today, I don't have to worry about that anymore. I have food on my plate and even cook for others now"
Lilyma Khan, Head Chef, Dear Donna
0

Turning Points in Lilyma's Teenage Years

Fate intervened when Pramod from Chetna NGO crossed her path. With his help, Lilyma was placed in an orphanage called Udyan Care, where she learned to read and write for the first time. But one fine day, Lilyma's aunt from Delhi called the orphanage asking for her. Thinking she might find family there, Lilyma went to her aunt's place, only to face more abuse and exploitation.

"When I turned 14, my aunt arranged for me to work in a shoe factory. I earned Rs 2000 from that job. If I didn't receive my salary on time or failed to do the household chores, she would beat me. Even her son would beat me"
Lilyma Khan, Head Chef, Dear Donna
Lilyma Khan survived on food in dustbins as a child. She is now the head chef at Dear Donna, Delhi.

Kilkari Rainbow home for homeless children.

Athar Rather/ The Quint

Driven by the desperate need for escape, Lilyma finally came across Kilkari Rainbow at Kashmere Gate, Delhi. It was here that she felt at home for the first time in many years. It was also here that she discovered her passion for cooking. "I used to cook for almost 90-100 of my friends here earlier," she said.


Life slowly began to brighten up. "At the home, there was a man named Anand Kapoor who used to visit. When he read about my history, he suggested I join his friend’s restaurant, Tress at Lodhi Road as a staff cook," she said.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

A Job Opened New Doors For Lilyma

Lilyma Khan survived on food in dustbins as a child. She is now the head chef at Dear Donna, Delhi.

Lilyma at Dear Donna's kitchen.

Athar Rather/ The Quint

Despite lacking formal training, she absorbed all the knowledge she could from Chef Sadib, her senior. In return, Sadib guided Lilyma with great dedication, impressed by her hard work.

In 2019, Lilyma joined Dear Donna, one of the prestigious restaurants in Delhi, and is now working there as the head chef, leading a team of about 35 people. Through every hardship, hope remained her steadfast companion.

"There was always something positive in the end. When my parents passed away, I found a shelter to live. Later, I discovered a place in New Friends Colony where I could at least eat. There was always hope. Moving on from there, I went to the NGO where I learned how to read and write. Eventually, I got to stay with my aunt for a brief period. Everywhere I went, I found a glimmer of hope"
Lilyma Khan, Head Chef, Dear Donna

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from neon

Topics:  Chef   Begging   Orphan 

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More
×
×