Thursday, April 25, 2013

Food + Love in Baroda

What happens when 15 volunteers from different cities come together in Baroda, wake up in the morning at 5:30 am and decide to cook breakfast for their unknown friends in the city?

On a bright Thursday morning in April, thats exactly what we decided to do. A few people were in-charge of cutting the vegetables, another couple made fresh lemonade while others put together posters which read out -> Food + Love = Prasad

And Prasad it was - quite literally, an offering made without any expectations of return. The entire group of friends reached the gates of a popular park in town and unleashed a wave of kindness. Rangolis that spelt out love, huge smiles on our faces, well arranged plates, spoons and glasses and we were all set. Curious morning walkers began passing by, to find out what this was all about.

So whats the purpose of all this? 

Oh, we just decided to wake up this morning and cook with love for our unknown friends!
Just like that?
Yes :)

Is this an organization, or group, or some quick marketing strategy?

No not at all - no expectations. Would you like some more Limbu Paani?

And immediately, the curious looks and conversations soon turned into smiles, almost in disbelief. We were soon visited by the caretaker of the garden who was initially very suspicious, but soon wanted to bring in his friends in media to capture news items like this!

Very soon, we were surrounded by a group of people - who wanted to know more. The wary ones trying to search for a hint of incentive in all of this, but relented as soon as Neela ben opened up a big box of Mukhwaas that she brought specially from home! People began connecting in incredible ways - hoping to stay in touch and explore ways in which this could be carried forward. A lady was so moved she decided to do something similar at work that day. Another 84 year old gentleman (who was also one of the cities renowned doctors) had been visiting the park for 30 years, and couldnt stop smiling at what he was seeing.

And to think, that all of this came from our inspiration the previous night at the Pandya household. A loving family of three sisters and a father who have been opening their doors to strangers every Wednesday for the last year. The Pandyas have been holding space, and allowing people to connect in silence, share their insights and accept their offerings of a humble meal cooked with love. By this simple act of holding the lamp alight within themselves, theyve been able to inspire several hundred friends in their local communities.

Today, it inspired a gift of food cooked unconditionally for 150 people in the park. Whos to say where this might ripple out in the future?



Manjeet, one of our volunteers also penned down his thoughts from the morning at Akota Gardens :)

??????????We all can count the number of seeds in a fruit, but can we count the number of fruits in a seed?
What will happen, if you give without expecting anything back? A lot of happiness…and a lot of questions. In these times of what-is-in-it-for-me, people don’t believe you, if you offer them anything for nothing. They try to find out the reason. If it is not obvious, they try harder…looking for an ulterior motive. What was our motive?
We, a group of friends, got together and prepared ‘poha’ (flattened rice) and ‘nimbu-pani’ (sweet lemon water) at home, in the early hours of the morning. We then went to a nearby garden, where people throng for walking, jogging etc. A beautiful ‘rangoli’ (decorative design on a floor) with flowers was made, just inside the entrance. Poha went into paper-bowls and nimbu-pani in plastic glasses. And the fun began…
We offered them to people walking by. The first reactions were puzzled, or plain curious. Who are we? What are we doing? And why? Are we selling something? If not, what’s the catch? When we asked them to have fresh poha and lime juice, they were hesitant. But, we were persistent. Some smiled and asked, why are we distributing these? Is it a festival, a special occasion…? We replied, no, just out of love. No strings attached, no expectations. In disbelief, they followed with, which organisation, institution…? We are just a bunch of friends, we answered. They furtively tried looking for a banner of an organisation or a symbol or anything that can subside their curiosity about this undefined act. What maximum they could find, was a poster that said ‘food + love = prasad’. Finding no clue whatsoever, they were flabbergasted, but still gave it another shot; ok, but there must be a message. What was our message?

Soon, some old people started having it. Children were not only having it, but also demanding more for their friends. A group of ladies started appreciating the mint leaves we put in the lime juice. Now seeing people relishing it, others stopped too. Asking the similar set of questions in different variations and then settling down to having the hot poha and / or cool nimbu-pani, with a smile on their faces. Seeing those smiles and the hint of blessing in their eyes, it felt as if, more than the happiness we were giving, was the happiness we were receiving.
The caretaker of the garden emerged and asked, what we are doing. When told, he was very appreciative and said, had he known earlier, he would have arranged for media to cover such benevolent initiative. An old gentleman, regular to the park, sat with us and talked, his eyes welling up with emotions. More such initiatives should happen, he said. People were happily surprised, felt a little better about the world in general, about the society and most importantly, about themselves. Some even decided to do something similar. Youngsters were talking to each other that there is hope…still.
And slowly but steadily, the poha and nimbu-pani finished. What wasn’t finished…was the hope. The hope that, the children who enjoyed it without a care, would remember this and care for others, when they grow up. The hope that, the youngsters will talk to their peer group about this unique scene in a garden (some took photographs from their mobile) and spread the message. The hope that, the people who experienced an act of pure selfless serving – an offering made without any expectations of return, will pay it forward. The hope that, they will do a good selfless deed to others, as we did it to them. Perhaps, that was our message.
People are basically generous, but the environment around makes them sceptical. Initiatives like this gives them a signal that their surrounding space is positive. Habituated of listening to negative news, this comes like a breath of fresh air. It brings them closer to their own kind true selves and start a ripple effect. Today, they are the recipient of a selfless act, tomorrow they will be the initiator. And by doing so, they will start another ripple…which will then cause more ripples to follow…and so on. It is like, you can count the number of seeds in a fruit, but the number of fruits in a seed…is countless. Hope, we provided that seed, of a selfless deed, which will cause a change indeed. Perhaps, that was our motive.

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