Bhaskar's Recipe for Creating Happiness and Love
When chefs share recipes, they sometimes omit one secret ingredient, one that makes a signature dish truly unique. Bhaskar, on the other hand, freely gives away his secret ingredient - pure love. Love for all living beings and for creating happiness. With this secret ingredient, he serves his community selflessly and unconditionally with everyday acts of kindness, such as his art of cooking and interactions with people and animals ...
Bhaskar celebrates the small miracles offered in each and every moment by being a source of everyday kindness. His actions are unconditional expressions of his heart delivered directly to his hands, without the debilitating questioning of the mind. For example, during a week spent in Kutch, Bhaskar and friends spontaneously clean a hotel room in an eco-lodge to give the janitor a break from his duties, take over from the kitchen help to wash the dishes after lunch shared with their hosts, and teach street kids basic hygiene and a game of "duck, duck, goose" while stopping to watch the sunset. Birthdays of those near and far are celebrated by gifting eight liters of chai to strangers up and down Ahmedabad's streets between midnight and 2am. Even Bhaskar's spontaneous one-man shows, jokes and pranks are acts of love, that make people laugh with all of their hearts.
Bhaskar's greatest expression of generosity comes as chef at Seva Cafe, a pay-forward restaurant in Ahmedabad, where he uses food as a vector to transmit unconditional love. His intent is simple: to create smiles among those around him. Every evening, about 60 guests are a grateful audience to his symphony of flavors, as they each taste a piece of Bhaskar's heart in every dish and every spoonful. Bhaskar listens to his ingredients and harmonizes the story of their aromas. Watching him flow amongst his pots and pans, he looks professionally trained. Yet he is self-taught, with some help, gifted by chefs, along the way. In 2010, the Marriott hotel's head chef was so blown away by his fist experience at Seva Cafe that he brought 20 Marriott staff members to Seva Cafe and then invited the Seva Cafe staff to the hotel to learn new cooking techniques and recipes from them. The boys also planted seeds of their secret ingredient among the Marriott chefs, who spontaneously returned weekly to Seva Cafe for another dose of love-infused cooking.
Even in the busyness of a kitchen in the middle of dinner service, Bhaskar is a teacher of loving actions and connections. Time stops in his exchanges, which may be with the staff, the contents of a pan, or volunteers and guests. Bhaskar often steps out of his kitchen to visit each guest's table, sharing the Seva Cafe story and spirit. One such time, after having heard the story, a first-time visitor asked Bhaskar about his own journey. Bhaskar shared the transformation in his life enabled by Manav Sadhna and Seva Cafe. He spoke of anchoring his thoughts, words and actions in the intention of "Guest is God." In the 15 minutes of sharing, the man was moved to tears. At the end of his meal, the man came back to Bhaskar and explained that he owned a chain of airport restaurants around the country and he wished to bring Seva Cafe's spirit of loving food, loving volunteers and loving guests into his restaurants. His heart had been touched and his actions transformed.
The transformation enabled at Seva Cafe is also reflected in the story of Nandika, a 12-year old volunteer. Nandika once shared how, before coming to Seva Cafe, she didn't help around her home. She would simply sit as her mom cooked, cleaned or did other chores, often without even noticing. The same held true when her family started volunteering at Seva Cafe. Then slowly, she started doing the dishes and cleaning the floor or tables. Before she realized it, Nandika was helping out at home. She finished her story with:
I don't doubt that my parents would have taught me this at home. I don't doubt that I would understand the joy of helping others. But, at Seva Cafe, I see it. It doesn't require someone to tell me or teach me; I experience it. And that's why I feel my dad rightly calls Seva Cafe as Sanskaar Cafe.
There is great irony in the ease with which Bhaskar gives loving food at Seva Cafe, when his greatest struggle of his formative years was putting food on the family's table. Losing his father at 12, Bhaskar was left to bear the heavy burden of providing and caring for his widowed mother and 7- year-old brother Raghu. He found himself making art on the street to supplement his mother's wage as a school janitor. At 15, Bhaskar encountered Manav Sadhna, an organization based in the Gandhi Ashram, offering the brothers the opportunity to go to school, to become men in a loving environment. The seeds for that growth in generosity were planted early: for years, Bhaskar's mother, who continues to be a janitor in the school despite the advancement of Parkinson's disease, has picked up forgotten pieces of crayons, pencils and erasers to redistribute to other needy children.
Finally, Bhaskar's passion for living beings is most evident when watching him with animals. Just like in his kitchen, Bhaskar leverages all interactions with animals as a time to connect with empathy, to share in considerate love. Simply speaking about animals creates shining eyes that express his passion. The minute he got a new camera, Bhaskar started capturing the animals sharing space in his community. A daily photo stream transcends the mundane - the ants working at gathering food, the rat drinking out of a bowl, the birds that lay their eggs in Seva Cafe - to become art. His parrot at home follows him everywhere and Bhaskar shares most meals he eats at home with his birds.
In constant compassionate communion with these animals, Bhaskar befriends and cares for stray dogs, a rarity in India where everyone is deathly afraid of dogs. Neighbors have begun bringing him sick and wounded animals for advice and care. Every chance he gets, Bhaskar heads to a wildlife preserve to be with the tigers of Gir, the snakes, the lizards and each animal in between. When in Jambughoda recently, a wild parrot landed on Bhaskar's hand and even allowed Bhaskar to pet its head, which is an act of trust and submission - something locals had never seen before. Thanks to his calm and respect, even the wild chameleons allow Bhaskar to approach and touch them.
If Bhaskar could go anywhere in this world, he would take the next plane to Brazil's Amazon forest, to experience the immense diversity of animals he knows by heart thanks to the countless hours spent in front of National Geographic and Discovery. Every evening, after serving at Seva Cafe, Bhaskar turns on his screen to the animal kingdom and spends the last minutes of his day with these animals that enchant him.
Having received the amazing gifts of nurture, schooling, love and compassion, Bhaskar now constantly shares these gifts with others. Tasting his food transforms. His art reflects the beauty he sees in each moment. His love for animals translates to compassion for all beings. His greatest joy comes from giving his entire person and creating joy for all who cross his path. Bhaskar has found his path, unconditionally feeding the world hungry for love with his secret ingredient.
Mariette is an MBA from UC Berkeley, now working for Hewlette Packard in United States. Some of her most formative experiences have been in India, with Bhaskar and friends -- who lovingly call her "Mira". She infrequently blogs at In This World.