CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute is an annual television special created by CNN to honor individuals who make extraordinary
contributions to help others. It is hosted by Anderson Cooper. It started in 2007 and continues now, with the awards show
aired at the end of the year.
Over the course of the year, viewers can nominate and vote for the heroes they want to nominate for recognition and
Krishnan is among 2010’s top 10 CNN Heroes, who were selected from out of 10,000 nominations by a CNN panel comprising
activists and philanthropists such as Muhammad Ali and Sir Richard Branson.
Narayanan Krishnan was a bright, young, award-winning chef with a five-star hotel group, short-listed for an elite job in
Switzerland. But a quick family visit home before heading to Europe changed everything.
“I saw a very old man eating his own human waste for food,” Krishnan said. “It really hurt me so much. I was literally
shocked for a second. After that, I started feeding that man and decided this is what I should do the rest of my lifetime.”
Krishnan was visiting a temple in the south Indian city of Madurai in 2002 when he saw the man under a bridge. Haunted by
the image, Krishnan quit his job within the week and returned home for good, convinced of his new destiny.
“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,” Krishnan said.
Krishnan founded his nonprofit Akshaya Trust in 2003. Now 29, he has served more than 1.2 million meals — breakfast, lunch
and dinner — to India’s homeless and destitute, mostly elderly people abandoned by their families and often abused.
“Because of the poverty India faces, so many mentally ill people have been … left uncared for on the roadside of the city,”
Krishnan’s day begins at 4 a.m. He and his team cover nearly 125 miles in a donated van, routinely working in temperatures
topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
He seeks out the homeless under bridges and in the nooks and crannies between the city’s temples. The hot meals he delivers
are simple, tasty vegetarian fare he personally prepares, packs and often hand-feeds to nearly 400 clients each day.
Krishnan carries a comb, scissors and razor and is trained in eight haircut styles that, along with a fresh shave, provide
extra dignity to those he serves.
He says many of the homeless seldom know their names or origins, and none has the capacity to beg, ask for help or offer
thanks. They may be paranoid and hostile because of their conditions, but Krishnan says this only steadies his resolve to
“The panic, suffering of the human hunger is the driving force of me and my team members of Akshaya,” he said. “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
The group’s operations cost about $327 a day, but sponsored donations only cover 22 days a month. Krishnan subsidizes the
shortfall with $88 he receives in monthly rent from a home his grandfather gave him.
Krishnan sleeps in Akshaya’s modest kitchen with his few co-workers. Since investing his entire savings of $2,500 in 2002,
he has taken no salary and subsists with the help of his once-unsupportive parents.