A few days ago, I had the opportunity to have dinner in a cafe with my friends. However, this dinner was very different from the several dinners I have had in restaurants. How? Read on.
I am talking about Seva Cafe, Ahmedabad. It is a small restaurant that runs on an entirely voluntary basis by an NGO. ‘Atithi devo bhava’ (A guest is God) is the philosophy on which it is run. Volunteers sign up to come and cook food for guests, to serve guests and for the cleaning up as well. There is no fixed daily menu. Whatever the volunteer wishes to prepare, he or she can.
Guests are served by volunteers with a smile on their faces and they are actually made to feel comfortable. Before the food is served, a brief introduction of the concept of Seva Cafe is given. The guest is encouraged to spare a moment to thank everyone whose contribution went into the preparation of the meal- from God and the farmer who harvested the grains and vegetables to the person who cooked it and served it.
The ambience is kind of rural, nice and soothing. There is light, soft music playing in the background.
One of the most striking features of the restaurant is that there is no bill given to the guests. After you finish eating, an envelope with the words ‘Give from your heart’ is handed to you, in which you can put in any amount you want to. If you feel like it, you may not even pay anything at all. The amount that you pay would go into the preparation of someone else’s meal, just as someone contributed for your meal. ‘An experiment in the joy of giving’ – they call it.
The cafe operates from 7 to 10 in the evening on all days except Monday. Food is prepared for roughly 50 people daily.
Once the operating expenses are met, the balance of income, if any, is used for charity. Even if there is a loss, a certain fixed amount is used for charity every month.
Another striking feature of the cafe is their donation box. There is a large box in which people donate for the purpose of charity, and this box is kept open. You can put money into it and you are free to take money from it. There is nobody to ask you if you do so. If you meet a needy person or are in need of money yourself, you can use the money from the box to help out. ‘Two people are watching you – you, yourself, and the Lord above you,’ the volunteer told us.
Outside the cafe, there is a library of books which have been donated by people over the years. There is a gallery in which paintings and other creative work by budding artists is exhibited. There is a shop selling paper bags, files and other items made by children and people who are not so fortunate as we are. Also, there is a boutique that sells clothes made by underprivileged women and children.
Personally, I felt that the boutique and the shop are a bit overpriced, but Seva Cafe is worth paying a visit to. It soothed me from within. It is a different kind of experience. I am not so sure about the workability of such a concept, though, but would like to go there and volunteer my services some time.