Saturday, October 23, 2010

Maximizing Dignity: The Traveling Angel Problem

Can one person feed 400 hungry mouths in the temple city of Madurai in South India, every day of the year?

Mr. Krishnan is a good human being. In today's world, we have to start looking for those first before we start looking for heroes. I was happy to see that he was nominated for the "CNN hero of the year" award for this work. Hopefully this publicity will translate into more help for his operation. The talented Mr. K, at the age of 22, was all set to be a five-star chef in Switzerland seven years ago, but chucked all that when he saw an hungry old man in his home town doing the unthinkable. Since then, without taking a single day off, he is up at 4am to cook tasty and fresh vegetarian food. He then drives around the town of Madurai (most famous for it's amazing Meenakshi Amman Kovil - the temple of a 1000 pillars) feeding the destitute and the hungry. He often hand-feeds them and gives them haircuts along with a meal. His focus is on restoring the dignity of a human being. Is that not fundamental? Simply put, in this temple city, Krishnan is the Goddess Annapoorani to these castaway people. Contribute generously to the Sakthi foundation's Askhaya trust if you can (paypal accepted too. cool). Even a small amount goes a long way.

O.R. is the far less important part here, but one wonders how this amazing person chooses his 125 mile driving route? He has a limited quantity of freshly prepared food stocked in his van that has to reach 400 desperately hungry mouths all over his city as effectively and efficiently as possible. OR should be helping in such practical situations. We can't always be for and about profit-maximization models for corporations, weapons and target acquisition for the military, or abstract academic problems. The logistics of Mr. K's 'meals on wheels' operation contains a classical vehicle routing / traveling salesman problem element. A more efficient operation and utilization of scarce resources means that more people can be fed and more shattered lives can rebuilt and dignity restored. The google map of the city of Madurai is shown below.

View Larger Map

Who will optimize Krishnan's supply chain?

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