It is not surprising for a chef to be passionate about food but turning one's love for cooking to ensure daily meals for hundreds of destitute and hungry can be called extraordinary.
Naryanan Krishnan, 29 years old, renounced his position as an executive chef at a five-star hotel in Switzerland and took to providing three square meals every day to the people on the streets of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.
"I have been feeding about 400 people on the streets of Madurai breakfast, lunch and dinner for the past eight years," Krishnan said. Waking up at 4 am, everyday, Krishnan prepares and packs a simple mixed fare of gruel and vegetables, which he goes about distributing to the homeless, the mentally ill and those abandoned by their families.
He traverses the streets following the same routine twice more during the course of the day. "In the year 2002, I was earning a salary amounting to Rs 18 lakh per annum and had picked up a job in Switzerland. Soon after, however, I chanced upon a mentally ill man on the street eating his own waste and that really shook me. I vowed to help him and others and thus began my daily cooking and feeding routine," says Krishnan.
Initially working as one man army Krishnan today has a cook, a helper, a driver and an assistant to help him prepare the meals. A couple of dedicated volunteers chip in to assist in the distribution of food.
Krishnan was recently shortlisted among the top 10 heroes selected out of 10,000 nominations from viewers across 100 nations for this year's CNN Hero of the Year, the results of which will be declared on November 25 in Los Angeles.
The chef says he hopes to use the proceeds of the award to help finish a home for the homeless that is being built by his non-profit foundation Akshaya Trust on the outskirts of Madurai.
The trust is funded primarily by private donations with about 10 percent funding by corporate agencies informs Krishnan. "Our daily spending is about Rs 15,000," he said.
"We are constructing a home about 10 km from Madurai to house the mentally ill, abandoned women and those who have nowhere to go. We plan to build 8 blocks in 3000 sq feet area. The project will accommodate almost 400 to 500 people." Krishnan said. "Once finished, the home will house and rehabilitate the mentally ill, give old men a place to spend their last days and take care of their bodies after they die, take abandoned women off the streets and rescue them from being molested. All the inmates would be provided job opportunities within the same premises." he added.
A senior volunteer of the Akshaya Trust, says he joined Krishnan after initial hesitation. "I and my wife accompanied Krishnan on his daily trip and saw for ourselves the good he was doing to people whom I did not even have the courage to go near. It was so incredible that I decided to join him," says the volunteer.
So what happens if he misses a day of feeding? "Well, by now the routine is so set that I need not be physically present, volunteers can take care of it. But,I have never missed going out even a single day right from 2002, says Krishnan. "For me, it is just like the responsibility of a mother feeding her child. Also the image of the mentally ill man feeding on his own waste motivates me to keep on going. I get happiness doing what I am doing." he says.