Seva Cafe in Mumbai

Posted by Siddharth Sthalekar on Jan 14, 2013

Someone once said, it takes a village to host a Seva Café! Indeed it did. A village that comprised of students, housewives, finance professionals, children from the slums of Mumbai, teachers and a lot more. They all came together on the 13th of January with a simple intention of serving their peers with generosity.

In India, we’re all used to the concept of offering a meal to family or a friend who visits our home, but what if we could extend this generosity to a stranger we don’t even know? What if the guests were told we trusted them to accept this gift and pay forward the generosity so that this experiment could continue?

It is this process that we asked guests to go through. How would you value a volunteer from another city cleaning the toilets at the venue, or a lady calling in to say she couldn’t be present, but delivered 150 plates and spoons for people she wouldn’t even meet? How would you value the generosity of an engineering student who took time off on a Saturday to grate carrots for the Halwa! How would you value the price of a beautiful space like Shantivan Garden being offered as a gift for this experiment? Sure, you could put a price to it, but it will differ from person to person. One guest came in all the way from Pune, just for lunch – and before we could say how grateful we were, he offers us a bag with 5 kilos of Atta!

We look at each other in awe, and accept the gift. Seva Café had become a lesson for us in accepting what the community offered and working with the abundance that we had. There were artists who designed the space, Gift economy photographers who captured moments, expert cooks who put the meal together - all without any outreach. We ended up serving over a 100 guests! It is this abundance that has already made us consider hosting a  February gathering!

It was also a shift away from fundraising – each guest whether he came from the slum or from Malabar Hill was given an opportunity to contribute. And through this giving, he was completing a circle that we otherwise forget that we are a part of.
A volunteer emailed us at night with a little act of kindness she did for a neighbourhood watchman she had quarreled with earlier. She says she wouldn’t have done anything about it before, but there seemed to be a change in her. She’s not sure if it’s temporary or permanent, but she felt a shift within. The ripples had already started flowing, and the beauty is it wasn’t restricted to the space anymore, it was out there creating impact in the most invisible forms!

Is such a thought sustainable? We don’t know, but it is important that we look at it in the form of an experiment, and allow it to fail without us trying to ‘keep it alive’. The question we are asking is, - ‘is Mumbai generous?’ The answer is something we look forward to. But 7 years of history in other cities tells me that it might just be :)

~ It is in Giving that we Receive ~ 

Here is a beautiful video shot by our volunteer Sahil

Here are the images from the gatherings in February and March as well.
Seva Cafe is held once a month in Mumbai - to read more, click here.

Posted by Siddharth Sthalekar on Jan 14, 2013 | permalink

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Previous Comments
  • Rupa wrote ...

    Love this concept...Like to join you during my Mumbai visit

  • neha wrote ...

    i m in mumbai , want to join the movement