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Foreign Correspondent -

View in ParlView

Eat, Pray, Give

Broadcast: 26/04/2011

Reporter: Sally Sara

Here's a challenge that any of television's legion of celebrity chefs would find daunting. You've
got an hour to cook nourishing meals for 450 very hungry customers waiting at different locations
scattered across a bustling city.

Your time starts now!

For Krishnan Narayanan that's not just a daily challenge. His clientele have come to expect three
square meals each and every day. He not only whips up nourishing food, he loads it into his little
van and delivers it directly. Sometimes his customers have dozed off in the gutter, others will
need to be spoon fed.

And if Krishnan Narayanan didn't do what he does, they'd all go hungry.

"We are feeding mentally ill people and old people who've been left alone on the roadside - for the
past nine years, rain or shine. Diwali, Christmas, Thanksgiving - whatever it may be, we are
feeding them without any break." KRISHNAN NARAYANAN

Krishnan is a Brahmin - an upper caste Hindu - who was destined for a high-end culinary career. He
was cooking in an upmarket restaurant, he'd graduated from a prestigious hospitality course and had
been offered a lucrative job in a 5 star hotel in Europe. As he prepared to leave he encountered an
old man mired in such a squalid scene of deprivation and humliation, Krishnan's head was spinning.
An epiphany quickly followed.

"That night I thought, what am I doing? I am selling a plate of fried rice for ten dollars in my
hotel where people come and have food for fantasy, fun, joy and recreation. Not for hunger. They
eat only half portion of it and leave half of in the plate. It was a spark, a very powerful spark
that I had." KRISHNAN NARAYANAN

And so for the past 10 years feeding the dispossessed, dumped and neglected in his home city of
Madurai has become his mission. Madurai's spectacular Meenakshi temple is a spiritual destination
for millions of Hindus. Krishnan found his destiny right outside his front door.

In this moving, uplifting but at times profoundly confronting and disturbing Foreign Correspondent,
reporter Sally Sara joins Narayanan on his daily rounds and explores the chaos and heartbreak
within the growing gulf between India's burgeoning affluent class and the poor. Sally shines an
overdue spotlight on the harrowing plight of India's estimated 70 million mentally ill, so many
abandoned by family and left to contend with their demons and fend for themselves.

___________________________________

Further information

To make a donation or find out more about Krishnan Narayanan's work in India, see Akshayatrust.

___________________________________

Transcript

SARA: It's the heart and soul of a profoundly spiritual place, the holy centre of a holy city... the
Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, Southern India. Madurai's by no means big by Indian standards. Just
over a million people call it home, but they share their city with the ebb and flow of countless
others - the Hindu faithful from all over India drawn to this mesmerising complex of towers. Some
seek blessings, some give thanks and others submit their wishes for the future. It's a magical
place.

[outside of temple] "Well this remarkable temple has been drawing pilgrims on spiritual journeys
since the 16th century, but we've come to this area to meet a man who's nurturing the souls of some
of the forgotten people of this city".

And there are many. Forgotten people like Pandi. He's been living in this pipe for more than six
years, sleeping next to the filth of an open drain. Pandi is just one of an estimated seventy
million Indians with severe mental illness. That's three times the entire population of Australia
and many of them simply abandoned.

"What do you think about those families who just dump their relatives on the street? What do you
think about that?

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "Equal to murdering. It's a very cruel attitude. They're not supposed to do
that".

SARA: Many come from far away to look for the meaning of life here in this temple town. Krishnan
Narayanan didn't need to go anywhere. It was right outside his door.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "These people are my inspiration. I take energy from them".

SARA: And now three times a day to a growing and appreciative clientele nearing 450, he's making it
his life's mission.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "We are feeding these types of people - mentally ill people and old people
who've been left alone on the roadside for the last nine years, rain or shine. Diwali, Ramsar,
Christmas, Thanksgiving - whatever it may be. We are feeding them without any break".

SARA: He could have been a highly paid Masterchef. Ten years ago, Krishnan was on his way to a five
star career. He'd graduated from a prestigious hospitality course and been offered a lucrative job
at a hotel in Switzerland. The high culinary world was before him, until he stumbled upon a deeply
disturbing scene that would stop him in his tracks. It was grim and confronting.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "I saw a very old man. He must be somewhere around 75 to eighty years old. He
was having his own human waste for hunger. I was shocked and freezed for a second. What is
happening? What is this guy doing?"

SARA: Krishnan returned to his upmarket restaurant, his head spinning and stomach churning.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "That night I thought what am I doing? I am selling a plate of fried rice for
ten dollars in my star hotel where people come and have food for fantasy, fun, joy and recreation
not for hunger. I know they eat only half portion of it and leave half in the plate. It was a
spark, a very powerful spark which I had".

SARA: Krishnan still cooks with passion, but now he serves those who would otherwise go hungry -
Madurai's mentally ill, dispossessed and dumped.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "We start the cooking process at ten o'clock in the morning. The food will be
ready, the vegetable pilau and the sabjee will be ready in one, one and a half hours".

SARA: "So you can cook food for hundreds of people in just an hour?"

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "Maximum, maximum".

SARA: India's one of the fastest growing economies in the world and here too food has generated a
celebrity culture of television chefs and high-end cuisine. It's one of the more graphic examples
of the ever expanding gulf between rich and poor. There's a rush on here to buy more, eat more, own
more.

[at market] "Food is a really powerful indicator of where India is at at the moment. Traditionally
people bought their vegetables and their spices and herbs from markets like this one, but now
things have changed. There are two extremes. At one end of the scale there are hundreds of millions
of people who've become very wealthy in this country, who have left this kind of diet and lifestyle
behind but are now facing issues like obesity and diabetes. But hundreds of millions of other
people are still stuck in poverty. They have children who are stunted and many families are still
struggling to find enough food to eat each day".

It's even more difficult for those with no family at all. Pandi doesn't speak anymore. Mental
illness and a family break up have left him all alone, despite the hundreds of people who pass here
everyday.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "They do not know that Pandi is sitting here. Like dogs are there on the road,
like how dust is there on the road, like how garbage boxes are on the road... human beings are also
the same for them. Nobody is bothered".

SARA: Krishnan is bothered. He sees the disparities like few others and views India's new rampant
consumption with contempt.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "They have ten cars. They can travel in only one car. They have fifty slippers...
a hundred shoes... twenty watches... for what? Are they mad? The people on the road are not mad. People
who buy so much stuff and dump it in the wardrobe are mad".

SARA: It's a surprising viewpoint, after all Krishnan has been very much a part of his nation's
upper castes. Krishnan grew up in the folds of a comfortable, well off Brahmin family but he was
always different.

NARAYAN LAKSHMI: [Krishnan's mum] "He was like that in his childhood - parting with all the
material things that he had".

SARA: At first his parents struggled to understand why he gave away a promising career to work with
destitute street people, but now they're proud of him and value what he's taught them.

NARAYAN LAKSHMI: "I used to think everything is alike - beggars... mentally ill... so I used to think
everyone alike but he taught me the difference".

SARA: "So often mothers are teaching lessons to their sons, but in your case was it almost the
other way around that your son was teaching you?"

NARAYAN LAKSHMI: "That's right. I was not a teacher, he was a teacher to me. People used to ask me,
how did you brought up your... I didn't bring up my child. He only brought up me. (laughing) That is
the irony".

SARA: Many Brahmin Hindus have a strict code of behaviour, especially around food preparation and
eating. For generations they've been taught that some of the poor are untouchable. Senior community
figures frowned on Krishnan's work.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "They said, no you can't do that - you're a Brahmin. You must not do it. I said
fine, if that's going to bother you I'll throw that out. I'm not a Brahmin. Now I'm not Brahmin.
I'm a human being".

SARA: Feeding the poor and disadvantaged is one thing, but in caste conscious India, this is a
revolutionary act. The simple ritual of touching and bathing those who are said to be untouchable
is a big shift. For 72-year-old Murugan, it's a cherished moment of kindness.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "He has got a family, even now he has got a family. His wife is dead. He's got
a son and daughter. They've thrown him out of the house because he has got no money to live. He's
just on the road. He never speaks. We are feeding him for the last six years. He has given birth to
the kids. He has been playing a very active role in the family but because he has got no money now,
the family have ditched him. This is something very, very bad".

SARA: It's the sad face of abandonment in India.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "So nobody's coming forward to clean these people and I personally feel happy
do to so. How am I going to use my time? Seeing television? Watching movies? Updating the Facebook?
No! With the human beings!"

SARA: The treatment of the mentally ill, or lack of it, has a tragic history in this part of India
where services have been scarce and traditions strong.

"Well we're on the road going to another town about three hours away. At this place in 2001 a
terrible incident happened that shocked many of the people involved in mental health in Tamil Nadu
and really highlighted the plight of some of the most vulnerable people in this region".

Like Madurai's pilgrims, the people who flock to Ervadi from all over India are on a mission of
faith but there's a tense desperation here. They come with their loved ones whom they believe are
cursed, in the hope of magic and miracles... anything that will soothe or even end the torment of
inner demons. The town's Muslim shrine has a reputation as a place of healing for people of all
creeds.

S. ABDUL SAMAD ALIM THANGAL: "This is the only place you can cure black magic and witchcraft
through the power of the saint. Hindus come. Muslims come, Christians come. All of them have been
affected by black magic.

SARA: The leaders of the shrine give us permission to film inside and what we see is extremely
disturbing. The paranoid, the bewildered, many frightened and confused all camp on the hot sands
around the shrine. They're mentally ill but they're not diagnosed or offered psychiatric care.
Instead they're told and believe they're possessed by evil spirits and they're offered coconut oil
said to be blessed by a Muslim saint.

S. ABDUL SAMAD ALIM THANGAL: "As it's peaceful here, after 41 days they are cured. Their prayers
are heard by God and that's why they are getting cured".

SARA: It's a blur of religion and superstition. Indira is trapped in a cycle of ritualistic
behaviour trying to rid her mind and body of pain.

INDIRA: "It feels as if something is coming out of my body".

SARA: She came here with physical symptoms.

INDIRA: "For a year I had stomach aches. I went to a lot of places, then I got to know of this
place".

SARA: The diagnosis at the shrine is that her body has been infiltrated by a thousand devils.

INDIRA: "When I am here I am not afraid. I become like that when the spirit enters me".

SARA: Indira has come here with her 11 year old son Raisekhar hoping God will bring her some inner
peace, but in an instant the calm is gone and Indiria is back into her own world of suffering. Her
son can only look on, helpless and frightened.

In another corner of the shrine Ganamani sits patiently with his ill wife, Petchiannal. Neither
understands what's wrong with her but Ganamani doesn't believe it's anything that conventional
medicine can treat.

GANAMANI: "If she had some real problems I'd take her to the doctor. But apart from two things -
crying and laughing - she has no other problems. Just crying and laughing by herself, and nothing
else".

SARA: Priests told Ganamani his wife is affected by the devil. Her mental illness has left her
unable to care for herself.

GANAMANI: "It's been five years. She lives like a child. How can I leave her alone? We found out
later that she was like this so I feel she should remain with me until the end".

SARA: The tragedy is that in India, many people simply don't understand that mental illness is
treatable and the drugs are relatively cheap here, but there's only one psychiatrist for every
million people and most of them are in the cities. For many, this is the best on offer. Some people
live in Ervadi for years hoping for a cure.

S. ABDUL SAMAD ALIM THANGAL: "Once they come here they are happy. We become their family, even when
they're cured. They don't like to leave and go home".

SARA: Many at least feel at home here, far from the abuse and victimisation. Catering to them has
become a business in the backstreets around the shrine where dozens of guesthouses have become de
facto, unregulated asylums. It's also our final destination on our journey here.

"Well back in 2001 there was a private mental asylum on this site behind me. At that time it was
very common practice for mentally ill patients to be chained so that they could be restrained in
these kinds of facilities. But tragedy struck here. A terrible fire swept through this asylum and
the patients who were chained up were unable to escape. You can imagine the terror for those people
unable to get out as the fire tore through this building. What happened here not only changed the
practices in this area, but grabbed headlines around the world about the treatment of mentally ill
people in some parts of India".

After the bad publicity, the Indian Government drastically increased spending on mental health and
tried to enforce laws protecting the rights of patients.

S. ABDUL SAMAD ALIM THANGAL: "No chains... we can't use chains. According to what the government has
stipulated we are doing everything correctly, curing people".

SARA: But it seems cruel and primitive practices diehard. Clearly some families still shackle their
mentally ill relatives to keep them under control.

ABDUL RAUF: "Previously I was a mad man, so I was tied to a tree".

SARA: This man, Abdul Rauf, has been living in Ervadi for 14 years, four of them shackled to a tree
and his chains are still in use.

ABDUL RAUF: "When black magic is practised, it can last for a while. So that I don't fight with
others, I still have them.

SARA: "Are you tied up at night?"

ABDUL RAUF: "Yes, at night".

SARA: The magnitude of neglect seems insurmountable, but one man at least is undeterred.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "What else can bring them happiness? A Mercedes Benz? A Rolls Royce?"

SARA: We return from the mayhem of Ervadi to find Krishnan at the site of his dream project outside
Madurai. He's building a home for those who have no one and nowhere to go. Eventually he hopes
there will be enough space for more than 400 people.

"Is it exciting to come out and see the building taking place?"

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "Of course, yes. I almost come here twice a week or four times a week to see
what's happening because it's more than my house. I feel it's the Taj Mahal".

SARA: At the very least, there'll be three meals a day, shelter and someone who cares.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "Whenever I go to bed I used to think, when are my people on the road going to
sleep under a roof like where I'm sleeping. So, that is the ultimate purpose of my life".

SARA: Krishnan realises it will take more than food and love to meet the complicated needs of
hundreds of people with mental illnesses. It's a start.

KRISHNAN NARAYANAN: "I believe only two things. They are human beings. I am human being. They are
made of blood and flesh, I am made of blood and flesh. They want love, I can give them love. That's
it".