Heard of Khwaja Moinuddin? No. Time you knew about this Internet sensation doing something for an extremely noble cause. Why is he a sensation you ask. Well! He and his two friends put up recipes on You Tube and from the earnings feed orphans across Hyderabad. Wow, isn’t that great? So heartwarming!
Let us rewind a little.
39-year-old Khwaja Moinuddin, born into a middle-class family in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, grew up in Warangal (now in Telangana). After his marriage to Naheeda Begum, he moved to Hyderabad. MBA graduate, that he was he had already worked for TV channels like ETV and ABN for close to 13 years.
How did it start?
When Moinuddin was living alone, he often used to be quite homesick, hence he preferred cooking at home. Besides, coming from a regular middle-class background, the family couldn’t afford to buy sumptuous meals every time. So, he would often look up recipes and whip them up in his own kitchen. “My friends, but most importantly my children, appreciated the food I cooked and would tell me that there was magic in my hands.”
Working with a Telugu news channel he used to regularly do programmes like ‘Day with an MLA’ or some other politician. Though the job helped him pay his bills, it never satisfied the urge to do something he loved.
“Life was moving at a regular pace, and I was either at work or home. While the job did manage to pay the bills, there was no satisfaction. Then, around five years ago, I had a conversation about doing something different, preferably in the social sector, with my friends Srinath Reddy and Bhagat Reddy,” he says. In late-2018, Khwaja, along with friends Srinath and Bhagat, decided to start a YouTube channel featuring outdoor cooking videos. While Khwaja would cook, the other two would film and do the editing.
“Once I started Nawab’s Kitchen, there was no looking back.”
What is Nawab’s Kitchen?
It is Moinuddin’s channel with more than 220 videos—from the iconic Nizami biryani to a non-oven recipe of black forest cake, and thick shakes made from dragon fruit, figs, custard apple and a host of other tropical fruits. It has garnered over 7,00,000 subscribers from across the world.
What is special about it?
Once cooked, all of the food is distributed to children in orphanages. No video is complete without a few shots of these happy and satisfied faces, making an appearance in the end. The team feeds close to 1200 kids every month, and posts two to three videos every week, on an average. What many mouths they have fed in two years makes one imagine what the impact of the food distribution would be like.
Khwaja started reading cookbooks, watching videos and learning about the different cuisines from different corners of India. Like he says – Every video that is put out has a story of its own.
These stories revolve around food and those it benefits. While the happy faces munching on the yummy delicacies make it to the screen, the emotional exchanges that follow before and after every distribution stay off-screen.
The cooking part
The man who once worked in cushy air-conditioned room for nine hours was now working 12-13 hours a day in the heat. From travelling to find the right location to shoot, acquiring quality ingredients, researching recipes, prepping ingredients, cooking the food in gigantic vessels, mastering the basics of spice portions and distributing them to beneficiaries, he realized that it was a lot of hard work.
“When we started, for close to four months, Shrinath, Bhagat, and I did all the work. Today, we have a team of seven members to help us. All of us are equally passionate about food and the cause we are working for. There are the days when your hands, back, even ribs ache from standing and working long hours. But when I see the smile with which the kids in these ashrams devour the food I cook, I forget the pain. It all seems worth it,” he says.
Even though they have help, the responsibility of cutting the vegetables and preparing the workstation for cooking rests with the trio.
The sacrifice made
When Khwaja initially started making the videos he was working for a news channel. The videos had gained sensational popularity overnight. However the channel told him that his efficiency was being reduced by devoting to what they also agreed was a ‘noble cause’. But he now would have to choose working for them or quitting. They offered a higher package if he quit Nawab’s Kitchen and concentrated on the Channel’s work. He and his two friends Srinath and Bhagat, all of them put in their papers on the same day since Nawab’s Kitchen had become a passion.
“When we made the first ten videos, I did not tell Naheeda (his wife). One day, my friend sent me a picture from the second video that was set to go out, and she saw it, and was puzzled. She asked me, ‘What kind of a get up is this?’ When I told her about the channel, she was excited for me and supported me wholeheartedly. Till date, when I go for shoots, she never calls or disturbs me. She and my children are always curious to know what I am cooking next and who would be the children we are going to feed. They are my strongest support systems,” he declares.
What does he feel about it?
“Feeding a hungry person, makes you feel like a superhero. I still remember the first time, when I gave away a food packet to a young homeless person on the road. When I travelled home on my bike, all my exertion had disappeared. The gratitude on the face of the man was unmatched. And I thought to myself, ‘If feeding one person can make me so happy. Imagine if I could feed thousands?’”
Regardless to say, he made it come true. One of the largest food distributions that Nawab’s kitchen hosted was feeding 1,000 people, most of whom were caregivers to cancer patients outside Mahatma Gandhi Cancer Hospital.
Who are the beneficiaries?
Although Khwaja relies on the monetisation of the videos, and the donations of a few good samaritans to continue the work, there are when the financial and logistical difficulties seem insurmountable.
“But we will not give up. Gaadi chal raha hai,” he jokes.
Earlier, as transport was an issue, they would often travel to the same orphanages. But now, they are aiming to reach more orphanages and feed more kids.
The spirit that makes them keep going
“My team and I visited an orphanage that we recently shot at, after eight months. When we entered, the senior citizen who runs it welcomed us with a warm smile. He touched my head and blessed me saying, ‘When you enter our orphanage, it is like the onset of a festival. From our children to our staff members, each of them savours the food you cook. You become the source of their joy. Why don’t you guys come every week?’ These interactions always manage to bring tears to my eyes,” he says overwhelmed.
He recalls a call from an 89-year-old gentleman in Chicago who said, “Son, you are doing a wonderful job. Never stop.” What is even more amazing is that this well-wisher travelled to Hyderabad a year ago just to meet Khwaja.
“It motivated me to keep going. Today we have parents of kids between the age group of 8-15 from across the world getting in touch with us. They say, their kids have asked them to donate the amount they would use for a birthday party to Nawab’s Kitchen so that we can feed orphans. The kind of support we have received overwhelms me at times,” he says.
Then, there are the kids who hug him and whisper the names of their favourite sweets into his ears, asking him to bring them along on his next visit. While it’s not always easy to make these wishes come true, he never discourages them.
“As long as I live, I will continue to cook and feed them,” he signs off.
Did he face criticism?
Of course he did. Like when a person starts to do something out of the way there are always people from some quarters, who would like to create their own nuisance.
“Some of my friends criticised me saying, ‘Why are you doing this dirty work? Are you going to turn into a bawarchi for the rest of your life? Will you start cooking at functions too?’ It hurt me in the beginning. But the support from the fans of our channel keeps me going.”
The novel idea of gaining remuneration from cookery videos is in itself mind-boggling. That it has worked with remarkable success would be an understatement considering its reach. With only a cookbook to guide him, he whips up delicious dishes for these children, from black forest cake to pav bhaji, from Domino’s style pizza to biryani liberally peppered with juicy chunks of chicken, tandoori chicken and even tuna steak. His videos, which garner over a million views each, show Khwaja cooking the food from scratch and plating it up for the kids. The YouTube star uses the platform to feed over 1,000 children every month from orphanages across Hyderabad.
Just after 5 videos were shot, the trio had run out of money and were racking their brains as to how to prevent a disappointing and heart-rending situation of having to discontinue if even temporarily something good they had started. They had just enough money to shoot their last video so they shot it and also put in an appeal for the first time for voluntary donations if this noble cause had to continue. 18 e-mails came, responding positively. Nawab’s Kitchen has never looked back after that.
When an uplifted soul like Moinuddin has such noble ideas and has seen fit to pursue the passion of feeding as many hungry mouths as he may, the Maker himself shall not allow him to despair and disappoint any time in this worthy cause.