I had heard about Karma Kitchen and its concept, but this was my first time volunteering for it. I had gone to Mumbai all the way from Surat for volunteering. I was a bit worried in the beginning as I was spending 3 days (travelling + volunteering) plus I knew none of the organisers and other volunteers, I knew just one cousin sister. I was terrified because befriending new people wasn’t my cup of tea. In the morning of 1st May we were all strangers and to my surprise, by the end of the day, I had made 20 different friends of all ages. This way my paradigm about myself broke, I never knew I could make friends so easily.
What is Karma Kitchen? Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: “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.” That’s Karma Kitchen, a volunteer-driven experiment in generosity.
Planning for the event had begun months before but there were few decisions that could be made only on the event day. I was in department of serving and decorations. The restaurant had to be decorated, so we had all the decorations ready by the night. To make the posters, cards and charts were tedious and hence we had divided the work amongst the few of us. However, there were many decorations that we had to do on the spot at the event which we realised were mandatory. It got a bit hectic with so many volunteers looking for something to do and the idiom “Too many cooks spoil the broth” striked me in that moment as I could relate it well to the situation.
Karma Kitchen in Mumbai was just for 1 day, in Ahmedabad there is Seva Cafe with the same concept and is open everyday. I inquired about Seva Cafe and got to know that they were breaking even financially, and this was just on a local level, if it was introduced in the global market, it would suffer a great loss. Hence, this concept was to be applied locally to create a global significance, otherwise people will not understand the concept but just grope for the free food.
The ethics of pricing food is at question here. The grains that the chapati consist is because of the farmers that worked day and night to harvest them. Then the manufacturers who clean them up and make them edible for us to eat. The vegetables in the salad and the sabzi are also because of the small scale farmers that grow them and sell them, pricing them according to the market demand than their own requirement. The water company that associated, the cooks, the servers and the cleaners – all have a contribution to the food that one eats. Hence, how is all that priced? Is it practical to calculate a price for the contribution and the sacrifices that are made by various people for providing food to someone they are never going to meet probably?
When guests are done eating, we give them an empty envelope. They are supposed to put in whatever amount they think appropriate for the next guest to eat, as their food has been paid by the previous guest.
This ripple effect of kindness is never ending, it gives me hope that there are good people left in the world. There are so many stories and memories from the experience of volunteering that I am never going to forget. There are so many inspiring people to meet, new friends to make and explore the realm of selflessness.