This article was re-purposed and published in “The Alternative”
Have you ever been to a restaurant where your food bills have already been paid by someone else who had eaten there prior to you? Your food bill has not only been paid, but the food has been served to you as your mother or your wife would have served you at home – full of love, care and compassion. Does it sound too good to be true? Its little difficult to believe that something like this exists in this capitalist-minded society.
But it does exist and one of them is Seva Café in Ahmedabad which runs on the concept of “Living is Giving”.
Seva Café is an experiment where each person stepping into the restaurant is seen as a guest and not as a customer. As in the Indian Culture “Atithi Devo Bhavah” (Guest is treated as God), the guest is served selflessly with all the love and care. When you dine at Seva Café, your meal is offered to you as a genuine gift, already paid for in full by previous guests. There is no concept of bill here. You can pay for the food of the next guest if you wish to.
I had heard about this restaurant and the concept when I was in Gandhinagar (25 kms from Ahmedabad) for four years. But sadly I never got a chance to experience this wonderful concept. I was recently telling my husband about this concept. And Whoa just four days back I heard about Seva Café happening in Bangalore. This was organized by a few friend of ours who have experienced the wonderful feeling at Seva Café in Ahmedabad recently. This was the first ever Seva Café to happen in Bangalore and I was getting an opportunity to be on the other side – Be a Volunteer for the Seva Café with the opportunity to serve.
Seva Café happened in Bangalore just one month after Anupreet Dhody and Susheel Nair met and were discussing about Seva Cafe in Ahmedabad which they had just experienced. They wanted to share their experience with others in Bangalore. And the thoughts came pouring in, the dates were decided and the venue was chosen. With everything in place 15 of us volunteers were at Vriksh – Restaurant and Wellness Space in Yelahanka early morning on Sunday, December 2nd 2012. At the beginning of the day most of us were strangers for each other but there is one thing that can bind everyone – Love and there was so much love everywhere that within no time we were no strangers. The day started with few taking in-charge of cutting the vegetables, few in the kitchen for cooking and dish-washing. We were all working as one unit as if we have been working like this for ages. It almost felt like a marriage preparation in India where everyone was excited about the new beginnings and making everyone feel at home.
All the work was completed in just 2-3 hours and the place was ready to welcome our guests. The guests started pouring in with a happiness on their faces to receive a warm welcome. The food was served by the volunteers including the kids. I was really enjoying the act of serving the food to the guests. We are always on the “being served” end at a restaurant but today I got a chance to be in the shoes of the people who serve us. Have you ever felt what the waiter at the restaurant would be going through when the service at your table is getting delayed. Or how a smile from their customer gives them happiness or just a “Thank You! The food was really nice” makes their day. I experienced all this today and this experience contributes in me being a better person and respecting all who serve us in our daily life in various forms.
Our guests enjoyed the food and really appreciated the concept of Seva Café. There was a surprise on their faces when they received the note “Your bill has already been paid by someone else” instead of a bill. The overwhelming happiness on their faces really made all of us happy and energized.
The whole experience cannot be captured in words. It has to be experienced at both the ends – the experience of being the guest and the experience of volunteering. Although we as volunteers did not get an opportunity to savor the feeling of walking into a restaurant, having nice food (we did get to taste the food but not as a guests), offered with a lot of love and warmth, the lively environment and finally a zero rupee bill, we got to experience something very different. I and few others who were present have been volunteering in other places whether it be helping the kids with their education, tree plantation, helping in cleaning the city or serving the animals but we had never before experienced stepping into someone else shoes who serves us. Each way we serve others gives us a good feeling but the feeling we experienced here was completely different.
It was overwhelming to see some great feedback from the guests. It was a very beautiful feeling that not only we walked out with but the guests too.
All those interested to experience the valuable moments are free to join us for the next Seva Café on January 20th 2013. Our 2nd Seva Café in Bangalore will be at the same place (Vriksh – Restaurant and Wellness Space in Yelahanka). Feel free to share the event with others.