It is beautiful, when we pay it forward
When God or whoever created human beings, s/he smartly placed the stomach in the body. And since then, the small, little stomach has made human beings toil hard, from hunting to sowing, and from educating to earning. A significant portion of what we earn, goes to pay for our food bills. Every human being has found a way, to pay. Now, imagine going to a restaurant. There is fragrance in the air and flowers on the table. The menu is there, but the prices on the right are conspicuous by their absence. The food is offered in the truest spirit of giving - without a price tag with the warmest smile. When the bill comes, it reads - “Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those who dine after you." And you are like, "What! Is this for real?"
Karma Kitchen, is a volunteer-driven experiment in generosity. Many similar experiments with food and service are incubated in Vadodara. This children’s day it was our fourth KK experiment in Vadodara. Volunteers signed up on different teams and everyone contributed to make it a joyful experience. A peacock ‘rangoli’ at the entrance, flower arrangements and candles on the table changed the poker themed restaurant in a sacred space filled with warm welcomes and smiles. After all, ‘food + love = prasad’ was to be served, and the kitchen team was all ready with the offering. Bhaskar bhai and Pintoo bhai came from Seva Café Ahmedabad to balance out our experiment with their years of experience in cultivating the spirit of service and generosity.
Kindness table was overflowing with seed bombs made from home made compost, key chains and book marks made by special needs children from Varsha’s school, super arty handmade cards sent all the way from Mumbai, dried leaves with quotes, kindness diaries, smile cards and a box of books sent all the way from Surat. Friends from all over were coming together in the spirit of service and generosity. Monika our first time volunteer wondered why there were no price tags on all the handmade gifts on the kindness table. She was thrilled, when she found out how so many friends were invisibly and selflessly giving to support this experiment. Moksha, a guest was leaving after having food, when some friends entered with a pet. Moksha volunteered to take care of the dog for almost an hour while the guest finished her dinner. This kind of an act seems effortless in a space that is operating on trust as compared to a regular restaurant that is mostly profit driven.
Smile card is such a simple and incredible thing. A couple of days after Karma Kitchen one of our volunteer received an email. The email read,
“Hello, I wanted your help. I had taken a smile card that day. I have been thinking about it everyday how can I give justice to it. Now I want to show some kindness to my ex father-in-law, with whom I haven't talked in some time. (I have filed for divorce and I am at my parents' place since two months.). I still have high regards for my ex father-in-law. And he really likes Indian sweets. He runs a garment shop. So I thought I’ll go some time before his opening time, drop a box of sweets with short message and the smile card taped to it. Completely anonymous.”
“What I wanted to ask is, does this count as an act of kindness?”
It wasn't until yesterday after the closing circle that I reflected more deeply on Karma Kitchen. To me, Karma Kitchen, now, seems like an opportunity to dive deeper into service and a great space for people to experience radical generosity and kindness. I had been skeptical about experiments like Seva Café and Karma Kitchen, as I could not see what it was doing. Feeding well-off people did not mean anything to me and people paying it forward seemed like just an alternate way of billing! What I failed to understand was the power of the ripples. And it is not for nothing that ripples are used as an analogy. The ripples are the cause and effect unto themselves. Karma Kitchen to me is a part of an imagined future which can come true through the power of the collective.
Jaimit who was serving at the tables shared how so many guests wanted to volunteer. Some guests stayed till the end to help us clean up the place. Another couple who owned a restaurant offered their space for the next Karma Kitchen. Someone shared how this Karma Kitchen is going to be a good life time memory for them.
This time in Karma Kitchen we all felt that little nudge in the direction of moving from me to we, from transaction to trust, from self-oriented isolation to shared commitment, and from fear of scarcity to celebration of abundance.