The Chef who served food and soul
Krishnan had been an award-winning chef with Taj Hotels in Bangalore and was set for a high-profile posting to be the chef at a 5-star hotel in Switzerland. Before leaving for Switzerland, he went back to his hometown in Madurai, India. to visit his family and to make prayers at the temple. It was on his way to the temple that he saw a filthy elderly man lying on the side of the road.
"I saw a very old man, he was literally eating his own waste out of hunger. I thought, what is the purpose of my life? What am I going to do? In a hotel, I feed all my guests. But in my hometown, there are people living without food. I quit my job, and started feeding the homeless mentally destitute and elderly who have been un-cared"
Krishnan quit his job. Each day, he woke at 4 am to cook, and travelled over 200km to feed those in need, often with his own hands. He founded his organisation - Akshaya Trust, with his own savings. Since 2002, Akshaya Trust has delivered over 2 million meals.
What was his family's reaction to him not going to Europe? They thought he had gone bonkers and needed mental help. His parents, with the advice of friends and relatives, took him to a psychiatrist and to a Hindu priest. He also faced societal pressure. He was a Brahmin, the highest class in the Hindu caste system. He was constantly reminded that by tradition, Brahmins do not interact with the destitute. Krishnan was violating long-established norms.
It can't be easy to face so much pressure from society and from those closest to you, whom you most want support from. So how did Krishnan cope with this?
He brought his parents to see what he was doing, and the gratitude of the needy won his parents over. His mom told him "You feed all these people, I will feed you as long as I'm alive." Krishnan had no qualms giving up his caste status, he no longer considers himself Brahmin. "If any caste, creed, or colour is going to stop my service, I don't want to be part of it. If people are going to say that human beings are not supposed to (do what he does), I'm going to declare that I'm an animal and continue feeding the needy."
If all these sound incredible, Krishnan did not stop there.
"I wanted those I helped to psychologically feel that they are also human beings, that there are people who care for them, they have a hand to hold, hope to live. Food is one part, love is another. Food gives them physical nutrition; the love and affection which you show give them mental nutrition."
On top of food, he saw that those in need were often dirty and unkempt. To make them feel human, he wanted to provide a bath, shave and haircut. For haircuts, he tried seeking help from barbers, but was rejected; the barbers, mindful of the caste system, were worried they would lose their customers by serving the destitute. So Krishnan spent 6 months learning barber skills and has since given thousands of haircuts. As many of the destitute have no one else to turn to, Krishnan also became the one who would take charge of cremating those who had unfortunately passed on.
As the video further elaborates, Krishnan kept taking bigger and bigger steps to help those in need. Using what was left of his personal savings and money from selling his own valuables, and using a small piece of land in the outskirts that his grandfather had left him, he built a home for the helpless. As his work became more recognised, public donations allowed him to scale his efforts, building a larger rehabilitation centre.
"I'm not carried away by the awards or limelight. Everybody has got 5.5 litres of blood. For me, everyone is the same. I am just like every person. If you see me after 10 years, maybe I might have reduced 5-10kgs of body weight. But the interest I have towards the society, to care for my fellow human beings will never go away from me till my last breath. What is the ultimate purpose of life? It's to give!"
In her book 幸运草 (the 4 clover-leaf), famed mandrin novelist 琼瑶 (Chiung Yao) wrote, "解決別人的困難，也是找到自己問題的答案" - "when we solve the difficulties others face, we often find the answers to our own problems"
When we think about what to do in life, we often think of the money we will make and the lifestyle we will lead. We watch videos and read books about the billionaire or millionaire mindset. There's nothing wrong with these of course. But it's also people like Krishnan who offers us a different view of success, a more selfless view premised on giving rather than acquiring. If we're honest, this life story understandably does not sound as appealing to everyone. But make no mistake that it is a life story written every bit as well as a Bill Gates' or Warren Buffet's.