Narayanan’s work in Akshaya Trust, a non-profit organization that he himself started, has become a beacon of hope and inspiration for so many homeless and mentally ill people in his country. This is because of Narayanan’s undying (which, incidentally, is also the meaning of his organization’s name) passion for service, after having an encounter that gave him a paradigm shift in life.
Starting with His Community, Going Out to the World
Often, when we talk of poverty or hunger, we see it so much in a global scale that we deem it impossible to completely eradicate. And because of this thinking, we tend to back down because we are overwhelmed by the hugeness of the need, not realizing that there are those in society that we can reach.
This is why Narayanan is exceptional. While he understands that both poverty and hunger are issues on a global scale, he views these problems with a societal perspective, looking at his own people and helping the poor and needy in his own community rather than trying to solve something that is beyond his capacity.
For Narayanan, it is not about one person trying to solve the global problem; it is people from all over the world, focusing on the problems within their own communities, and when their actions are put together, they will soon realize that they have solved the problem on a global scale. This is what Narayanan points out in an interview:
“There are people in this world suffering from poverty, and people are able to see that on a global vision. When you start helping your own people the problem will get solved. We have to help our brethren, we have to help our neighbour, and we have to help every day to make the world a better place.”
It is the Decision that Makes the Difference
Looking at Narayanan’s work, he has accomplished so much in a few short years that one might start to think, “But he’s like that and I’m just like this.” However, taking a closer look at his life would reveal that he started out just like all of us—normal and without much to give out. The only difference is that he made a decision to serve in spite of his limitations, and this decision brought him to places that most of us could only imagine.
“It is true that we should have a centre for homeless people. Government is powerful; they have a lot of resources. However, I like to think of what I can do and I will do that to help.”
How it All Started for Narayanan
Narayanan Krishnan was born in the town of Madurai, India, in 1981. He lived a fairly comfortable life, as his father earned quite well to take care of the entire family. Since he was little, Narayanan always had a fondness for cooking, something that his mother inspired him to take up. And since India was a country that had a colorful range of dishes, it was not hard for the young Naranayan to learn much about his interests.
Narayanan’s prodigal skill in cooking manifested itself early in his life, and was further nurtured by his family, who was supportive of the young man’s dream of becoming a world-class chef. Not only was Narayanan a skilled cook, he was also an intelligent student and had the uncanny ability to connect to people, which enabled him to make a lot of connections that later on served him well.
On the Road to Becoming a Successful Chef
During his college years, Narayanan exhibited the potential of being a world-class chef that his instructors immediately noticed. Narayanan’s dreams started to manifest itself into reality when he reached nineteen years old, after he graduated from college and earned his degree in culinary. With the skills he had, it did not take long for Narayanan to find work; right after graduating, he accepted an invitation to work with Taj Hotels in Bangalore, one of the five star hotels in India.
Narayanan performed his job so well at Taj that he became shortlisted to be a chef in a five-star hotel in Switzerland. All was set, and Narayanan was greatly looking forward to his job, until a chance encounter with a man living in the streets changed his life.
The Moment that Changed Everything
While spending summer in his hometown, Narayanan witnessed a very poor man living in the streets eating his own waste due to intense hunger. This greatly distressed Narayanan, who, in his work as a chef had been exposed to great parties and banquets where people would throw away large quantities of food just because they were either already full or they did not like it. Narayanan thought to himself:
“Throwing parties at banquet halls to honour people. So much food is wasted. Hundreds of people will come, but only a handful will eat the food.”
Right at that very moment, compassion hit the heart of Narayanan and caused him to do something for the man. Narayanan went to a hotel nearby and bought some food for the man to eat. Seeing how much the poor man appreciated what Narayanan did for him lit a fire in Narayanan’s heart to help these people. Narayanan described his experience in an interview later on:
“I saw a very old man, literally eating his own human waste out of hunger. I went to the nearby hotel and asked them what was available. They had idli, which I bought and gave to the old man. Believe me, I had never seen a person eating so fast, ever. As he ate the food, his eyes were filled with tears. Those were the tears of happiness.”
A Tough Decision: Narayanan’s Entry into the World of Philanthropy
This encounter brought a paradigm shift to Narayanan, who was all set to accomplish his lifelong dream—become a world-class chef. But after realizing that his dream was not even worth comparing to what he could do if he stayed and helped the poor and the hungry, Narayanan made a decision that radically altered the course of his life: to quit his job as a chef and therefore let go of all the future that he was expecting to have.
Narayanan did not make this decision lightly, as he had a lot of things to consider—his future, his career, and most of all, his family who sacrificed for him to get to where he was during that time. There were a lot of risks to this decision, as he needed a lot of money if he wanted to cover even just a medium area in his community. What was worse was, if Narayanan failed, he would have to start over again because he quit his job.
It did not come easy, but Narayanan’s compassion and heart for that man he fed and all those like him overcame all the fears that Narayanan had about going full-time into being a social worker. And so, Narayanan resigned from his job, dropped his plans of going to Europe, and decided to be a social worker feeding the people who were living in the streets. Narayanan used his experience with the man he fed as a driving force to enable him to pursue his newfound calling, as he stated in an interview:
“That spark and that inspiration is a driving force still inside me as a flame—to serve all the mentally ill destitutes and people who cannot take care of themselves.”
The Beginnings of Akshaya Trust
To accomplish this, Narayanan established the Akshaya Trust (the word “Akshaya” in Sanskrit means ‘unquenching’ or ‘unending,’ which was a reference to Narayanan’s desire for the heart of service and compassion to never die out as there were so many in need), a non-profit organization that focused on feeding the poor and mentally disabled in his hometown of Madurai, in 2003. It was not an easy start, as Narayanan was keeping the foundation alive using the donations that were given to him by the people he convinced, and these donations were not sufficient to keep Akshaya running for long.
Another issue that Narayanan faced was his family’s reaction to his sudden decision to quit his job and become a social worker. When Narayanan told his parents of his decision to feed the poor and homeless, they were disappointed and pain-stricken by the fact that their son threw away that future of a good life to work on something that was not even sure would succeed. Eventually, when they saw for themselves what Narayanan was doing, his parents were touched by his passion and decided to support him all the way.
Narayanan recalled this experience in an interview made with him years later:
“I asked my mother, 'Please come with me, see what I am doing.' After coming back home, my mother said, 'You feed all those people, the rest of the lifetime I am there, I will feed you.' I'm living for Akshaya. My parents are taking care of me.”
Slow, but Steady: The Rise of Akshaya
The journey took a lot of rough roads, but it nevertheless stayed its course towards reaching its destination. With the support of his friends and family, as well as the help of the people who were touched by his heart for the poor and mentally-ill, Narayanan was able to transform Akshaya from a small, relatively unknown organization to becoming a well-known foundation not just in the locality of Madurai, but in the country of India itself. As its popularity grew, Akshaya also gained more supporters and volunteers, all who were inspired by the work that Narayanan was doing.
From that moment on, Akshaya never stopped growing that within nine years, it was able to serve more than 1.7 million hot meals to the poor, elderly and mentally disabled. In an interview made with Narayanan years later, he described the work that they did:
“I started with feeding one person and now we are feeding more than 450 people—three meals a day, non-stop without any break, come rain or shine. We travel 35 miles for breakfast, 35 miles for lunch and 35 miles for dinner.”
The Successes of Narayanan and Akshaya Trust
Akshaya grew to the point where it expanded its work to the other cities of India, and currently, to the United States. Narayanan could not believe how much he and his team achieved all these years, from feeding one desperately hungry person to now feeding over five hundred people in his hometown alone. Back then, Narayanan would have never thought of how long the foundation would last, but now, he is very glad for all the things that he and his team has accomplished for the poor and mentally-ill.
Akshaya’s work not only covered feeding programs, but it also gave haircut services and housing services for those in need. In 2005, Narayanan tried to encourage a group of barbers that he approached to lend their services for the homeless, but when they refused, Narayanan took a six-month hair cutting course so that he could give barber services to the homeless himself. He stated in an interview:
“I went to a hair cutting training school for six months and have done more than three to four thousand haircuts for people on the road.”
In 2007, while travelling to his next destination of the feeding program, Narayanan noticed some mentally disabled women who had babies with them and were being harassed by several men on the streets. This sparked up a new idea for Narayanan to build a shelter for the mentally ill, to protect them from the outside world. And although this presented a new, and much bigger challenge (due to the fact that purchasing land and constructing facilities would exponentially increase cost), it did not stop Narayanan and his team from pursuing that goal.
Eventually, they were able to purchase more than three acres of land where they started building homes for those who were living in the streets. In an interview, Narayanan talked about Akshaya Home, which was his house-building project:
“We were able to purchase land and register 3.2 acres of land in Madurai; we want to have eight blocks to build a home for these people. Each block is about 3,000 square feet.”
Being Recognized Worldwide: CNN Hero of the Year
Narayanan’s work with Akshaya Trust in feeding the poor, giving free haircuts, and housing the homeless have earned him so much fame that in 2010, he was named as one of the CNN Heroes of the Year for his accomplishments in the field of philanthropy. Being recognized by CNN paved a new door of opportunity for Narayanan and his team at Akshaya to expand their work to cover more homeless, poor, and mentally ill people.
In 2012, a movie entitled “Ustad Hotel” was filmed and shown in honor of Narayanan’s work with the poor of India. The title character, which was named after Narayanan himself, was played by the famous actor Jayaprakash.
Today, Narayanan never stops in using everything he was gifted with to be able to serve others who did not have the same opportunities he had for having a good life. Narayanan knows that the journey is never over, and that the road is still long, but as long as there are people who are willing to give their lives for the cause of helping others, the fire of service and compassion will never end, just like the name of the organization. As he says in an interview:
“The panic, suffering of the human hunger is the driving force of me and my team members of Akshaya. I get this energy from the people. The food which I cook ... the enjoyment which they get is the energy. I see the soul. I want to save my people.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Akshaya H.E.L.P. Trust
- Akshaya Home
Awards and Achievements
- 2004: Received the For The Sake of Honour Award from the Rotary Club of Madras West
- 2007: Honored at the Visuwin Makkal Arangam
- 2009: Received the Exemplary Service to the Community Award from the Rotary Club of Madras East
- 2010: Received a Special Award from Rotary International
- 2010: Included in the Top 10 of CNN Heroes List
Wikipedia (Narayanan Krishnan)
IAvin.Blogspot.com (Narayanan Krishnan, an Indian about whom you must know!)
Darpan Magazine (Narayanan Krishnan: Making A Difference One Spoon At A Time)
CNN (Once a rising star, chef now feeds hungry)