Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The ‘true’ hero!

Mr Harakhchand Sawla - the 'true hero'

Today I came across a wonderful article forwarded by a good hearted person: Shurik Menezes (who happens to be my brother’s friend), which was originally posted by a noble soul: Rekhaa John on Facebook. I thought of sharing this with all my readers. Please see the brief description about the good deeds of Mr Harakhchand Sawla – the true hero!

A young man in his thirties used to stand on the footpath opposite the famous Tata Cancer Hospital at Mumbai and stare at the crowd in front- fear plainly written upon the faces of the patients standing at death's door; their relatives with equally grim faces running around.. These sights disturbed him greatly.

Most of the patients were poor people from distant towns. They had no idea whom to meet, or what to do. They had no money for medicines, not even food. The young man, heavily depressed, would return home. 'Something should be done for these people', he would. think. He was haunted by the thought day and night. At last he found a way-

He rented out his own hotel that was doing good business and raised some money. From these funds he started a charitable activity right opposite Tata Cancer Hospital, on the pavement next to Kondaji Building. He himself had no idea that the activity would continue to flourish even after the passage of 27 years. 

The activity consisted of providing free meals for cancer patients and their relatives. Many people in the vicinity approved of this activity. Beginning with fifty, the number of beneficiaries soon rose to hundred, two hundred, three hundred. As the numbers of patients increased, so did the number of helping hands.

As years rolled by, the activity continued; undeterred by the change of seasons, come winter, summer or even the dreaded monsoon of Mumbai. The number of beneficiaries soon reached 700. Mr Harakhchand Sawla, for that was the name of the pioneer, did not stop here. He started supplying free medicines for the needy. In fact, he started a medicine bank, enlisting voluntary services of three doctors and three pharmacists. A toy banks was opened for kids suffering from cancer. 

The 'Jeevan Jyot' trust founded by Mr Sawla now runs more than 60 humanitarian projects. Sawla, now 57 years old, works with the same vigour. A thousand salutes to his boundless energy and his monumental contribution!

There are people in this country who look upon Sachin Tendulkar as 'God'- for playing 200 test matches in 20 years, few hundred one day matches, and scoring 100 centuries and 30,000 runs. But hardly anyone knows Harakhchand Sawla, leave alone call him 'God' for feeding free lunches to 10 to 12 lac cancer patients and their relatives. We owe this discrepancy to our mass media! 

Crores of devotees hunting for 'God' in Vithoba temple at Pandharpur, Sai temple at Shirdi, Balaji temple at Tirupati will never find 'God'. God resides in our vicinity. But we, like mad men run after 'god-men', styled variously as Bapu, Maharaj or Baba. All Babas, Maharajs and Bapus become multi-millionnaires, but our difficulties, agonies and disasters persist unabated till death. 

For last 27 years, millions of cancer patients and their relatives have found 'God', in the form of Harakhchand Sawla.

As you forward interesting jokes and poems instantly, do forward this message. Mr Sawla deserves his fair share of fame!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Seva Cafe Serves Generosity on a Platter

- by Smita Pranav Kothari, syndicated from, Apr 29, 2013

The milieu at Shantivan, a garden in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill area, on February 17 was like a hangover from Valentine’s Day. Placards displaying messages like ‘Love is all we need’ were tied to tree branches and hearts were chalked with bounty throughout the green sprawl. Except that it wasn’t an ode to Cupid. The occasion was the second monthly lunch hosted by Seva Café.
Omnipresent at the venue was a bespectacled man in khadi kurta-pyjama. He, along with other volunteers, was welcoming the guests and explaining the concept of the café—here, patrons aren’t charged for the food they’re served, instead they are free to pay whatever they want. Or, they can walk out without shelling out a single penny.

Meet Siddharth Sthalekar, who was orchestrating this “generosity enterprise” with ease. About three years ago, he was the co-head of the derivatives trading desk and the head of algorithmic trading at Edelweiss Capital. A typical day for this financier then would begin when the gong woke up Dalal Street at 9 am. That was when he would appear on CNBC, dressed in a crisp, formal shirt and tie, and share his expertise on accumulating stocks.

On one such morning in 2010, even as he was offering investors advice on what stocks to buy and sell, Sthelekar had the hint of a smile on his face. So much so that the cameraman asked him what’s brewing. Little could he explain to him then that the decision that he had taken—to throw it all away—had lit up his poker face that morning.

For some time, the 31-year-old Mumbaikar had been contemplating quitting his cushy job to explore if there is an alternative to the premise of accumulation that seemed to drive individuals in the corporate world. When he finally took the plunge, he set out to travel across India with his wife Lahar, a freelancing interior designer who graduated from the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) in Ahmedabad. Over the next six months, as they visited several non-profit organisations, they woke up to the concept of gift economy where goods and services are extended without any formal quid pro quo. This motto formed the cornerstone of Moved by Love, an incubator at Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, which carries out various projects.

One such project, Seva Café, was in hibernation. Sthalekar, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate, and his wife became its core volunteers and helped reopen it in September 2011. Seva Café practises giving, the antithesis to accumulation. At the café, volunteers cook and serve meals every week from Thursday to Sunday for free.

What is Sthalekar’s takeaway from the experiment? The proof that customers have kept the café running by paying up even when they could have got away without it. That there are enough people not governed by greed—something he had set out to test in the first place.

However, Sthalekar admits that the transition in his mind from market to trust economy did not occur overnight. “Initially, I used to put price tags on customers as they walked into the café,” he says. That’s in tune with the rationale of profit maximisation that business schools teach and the corporate world practises. So, Sthalekar often spent more time at the table of a potential Mr 3,000 compared to the table of a tea-stall owner, who was in his perception Mr 100. Then, his “noble friends”, including his wife and other volunteers, stepped in and pointed out the flaw in his approach, prompting a course correction.

However, running the café till eternity is not the objective of this entrepreneur. In fact, it’s quite on the contrary. Sthalekar says the ultimate aim of this gift-economy project is to shut it down. “If the aim was to keep the café open forever, we would have gone with a presentation to the Bill Gates Foundation and asked for a corpus.”

The idea, he says, is to trust the assumption that every individual, irrespective of his economic standing, can be generous. Seva Café provides a space for people to practice generosity by recognising the selfless giving of the volunteers. But, in the long term, Sthalekar hopes that people will develop the habit of being generous even outside the café—in all environments and circumstances. When this would happen, Sthalekar would lock the doors of Seva Café and put the sign ‘Mission Accomplished’ on it. “When there will be enough generosity in the world, there would be no need for the café,” he says.
Although Sthalekar doesn’t know when this will happen, he says he is optimistic as he is coming in touch with more and more people who are generous. The other situation in which the café would close, he says, is if it does not receive enough support from volunteers and/or customers. This has not happened for seven years, even from before he joined the project.

In the beginning, Sthalekar confesses, he could not fathom the motive of gift-economy projects. Given his background, it was a huge deviation from the aim of multiplying revenues manifold. He recollects that when he was at Edelweiss, he used to entertain clients with lavish dinners and alcohol at five-star hotels to extract the best deals from them. He doesn’t deny that he enjoyed the high life and his work per se, but instances like those made him question the morality beneath his work. “The contradiction of charging my corporate card for an expensive bottle of champagne when I knew there are hungry people on the street did not align with my values,” he says.

That led to a constant struggle in his conscience. At one level, he was carrying the stern face expected of a financier. But the realisation that the efficiency which money provides is skewed took him closer and closer to the decision of moving on. “It was brewing inside me,” he says. He found moral support from some unexpected quarters—his boss at Edelweiss. When he told him that he would quit, his seemingly-capitalist boss opened up to him about a secret desire that he nurtures in his heart: He wanted to build an ashram for old people. This reaffirmed his conviction that people are generous by nature, but they act in correspondence with the space they are in.

There are days when he has his doubts about the choices he has made. “On some days, I do feel ‘what I am doing here, travelling on a train when my friend owns a BMW?’” he says. Nevertheless, his experiment of living on people’s generosity affirms to him that it is possible to sustain oneself by giving. “The litmus test of this experiment is that if I create value for the society, the society will support me,” he says.

Even though Sthalekar’s ultimate dream is to shut down the café, for now, he wants to open more Seva Cafés across the country. It pops up once a month in Pune and Bangalore. In January, he decided to try his luck in Mumbai. He was apprehensive, unsure of how the financial capital would react to a pursuit completely non-material. “We decided it would be a one-off experiment. But because the response was overwhelming, we served Mumbai in Feburary too and are scheduled to hold another gathering in late-March,” he says.

On both occasions, Seva Café served about 100 guests comprising an eclectic background—from professionals to slum children. Although they had anticipated serving about 60-70 patrons, the participation of a dozen-plus volunteers from the city came as a bonus and helped them enhance the scale of hospitality by a notch.

However, for Sthalekar, opening more cafés is just the means to the end: The day when people will make giving a way of life and these spaces will become redundant. It is hard to believe that the images of Sthalekar Google juxtaposes are of the same person: One clad in a loose khadi kurta, sporting a French beard and wearing a hearty smile; the other a snapshot of him in the CNBC show. Ask him and he’ll tell you that maybe they aren’t the same person. Today, if Siddarth Sthalekar were to appear on the CNBC show, he would advise investors to give all their stocks away.
You can visit Seva Cafe online at

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
Kahlil Gibran

Seva Cafe ?

Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads Rs.0 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 dine after you."

That's Seva Cafe, a experiment in 'peer to peer' generosity.
Driven by volunteers and operated by modest staff, our meals are cooked and served with love, and offered to the guest as a genuine gift. To complete the full circle of giving and sustain this experiment, guests make contributions in the spirit of pay-it-forward to those who will come after them. In keeping this chain going, the generosity of both guests and volunteers helps to create a future that moves from transaction to trust, from self-oriented isolation to shared commitment, and from fear of scarcity to celebration of abundance.

About Seva Cafe
At Seva Cafe, they serve with the spirit of "Atithi Devo Bhava" which translates to "The Guest is God," a deep and ancient Indian view that honors each guest with reverence. All are used to the concept of offering a meal to family or a friend who visits our home, but at Seva Cafe, they extend this generosity to a stranger they don't even know. The guests are told we trust them to accept this gift and pay forward the generosity so that this experiment can continue.

When you dine at Seva Cafe, you are not viewed as a customer, but instead as our treasured guest, as part of our family.
Seva means service. When immersed in the heart of Seva, one finds a pathway to the Divine, and it’s this connectedness to which we ultimately aspire. Volunteering at Seva Cafe is a conscious exercise in staying tuned to that deep and true space of genuine service.
As more participate in the joy of giving, the more the experiment thrives. It begins with a single gift: first given, then received... multiplied, and given again, in a growing chain of kindness and care. We hope this Circle of Giving leaves you feeling more nourished, and inspired to carry the experiment forward.
All costs and income are made transparent, and 100% of any profits are used to support social service projects!

Living is Giving has been the motto at Seva Cafe.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

True Youth Icon !

Once upon a time, there lived young Krishnan all of 29, a Maduraite. He trained himself in Hotel Management and culinary skills. He worked in a Five Star Hotel and got a lucrative job offer in Switzerland. It was a dream come true. He decided to visit Madurai to bid farewell to all. But fate had other plans for him… The sight of the old and uncared for, starving was not new to Krishnan. India was full of such sights. Sleep deserted me that night as the old man’s image kept flitting in and out of my mind.” What is this human nature! It gets moved by such sights never to be forgotten. You would expect Krishnan to now sigh and say, ‘Ah, but what difference can I make after all..’ and continue Swiss-ward. But there you will be mistaken. His Swiss journey never happened. He HAD to act to orient himself to change the plight of these people.
The destitute.

The true hero !
Starting by cooking in his mother’s kitchen, and distributing food packets to the starving, mentally ill across the city he had to sometimes wash and bathe them, and feed them three meals a day. Literally. India has one quarter of the world’s hungry population and is facing an acute shortage of proper food resources. In such a scenario, N. Krishnan has taken the lead to change things in Madurai, to begin with. With a Maruti van that was donated by a well wisher, he reaches out to 120 people across Madurai giving them clean and home cooked food, never compromising on quality. With potable water filled in used plastic bottles collected from hotels, and steaming hot food, Krishnan brings a smile to the faces of the destitute. Some recognize his face, acknowledge the service, and even await his arrival. While some are in no condition to recognize him. He still goes on, hoping he can make a difference. He sure does.

With an estimate of 500 mentally ill people roaming the streets of Madurai, he strives to reach out to as many as possible while his perennial fear is that even if he fails to go one day, these people would start eating out of garbage again. Run entirely on donations from well wishers who contribute for the meals, his family chips in to make ends meet. He also puts his culinary skills to use by running a catering service that can serve 500 people. The profit from this serves to meet the needs of Akshaya Trust he started in 2002. Dismay of parents turned to supporting every stage of his growth and today he has been recognized in a few forums for his excellence and dedication to humanitarian service. He also won the CNN Heroes award in 2008. Success rests lightly on his shoulders however, as he works incessantly for his cause. Hunger is one of the most agonizing human experiences.

Deriving his energy and drive from the need to end the misery of Hunger in humans, he continues undaunted. Today he plans to establish a home for the mentally deranged women and feed, care for them. And so, many of the poor and hungry breathe easier, thanks to committed individuals such as these. With conscious action by every individual in their limited capacity, a difference can be made. Ask Mr. N Krishnan. Akshaya Trust can be contacted at 91-0452-4353439 or 91-98433-19933 or

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Design For Jobs

In 2006, veteran techies Dipak Basu, his wife Radha and a group of social entrepreneurs set up Anudip Foundation in West Bengal to provide employment to villagers through IT. 

The idea was to provide market-aligned skills,set up training centres in IT and English, and empower young people, says Radha. Farmer Atanu Mondal of Ashurali village in the Sunderbans is just one beneficiary. I have worked on transcriptions and on other projects in India and the US, he says. Since 2009 Anudip has set up district level outsourcing centres employing their own graduates to execute global and local projects. The road ahead is tough. It requires changing the work ethic of rural people and the mindset of urban employers, says Dipak. That’s Anudips biggest challenge !

A Light Touch !


Just outside Bangalore, J Gajendran runs a small business enabled by his solar panels.
His neighbours, who have mobile phones but don’t have access to electricity, pay him Rs 5 per hour to plug their phones into his solar-powered batteries. This is possible, thanks to Magsaysay Award - winner Harish Hande whose Selco Solar creates solar energy products such as CFL and LED lamps, heaters and cooking stoves.

They are currently being used in 1.3 lakh households in Karnataka,Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar and West Bengal. It is extremely important for Indian enterprises to balance social, financial and environmental sustainability. That is the only way the social fabric of the country can be stable, says Hande.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Little Drops Of Life !

He thirsts for transformation !

For 27 years Gourisankar Ghosh has tapped at an idea: providing potable water to Indias villages.
That simple vision came alive three years ago in Hyderabad as Waterlife and has now spread across eight states.

Explains Ghosh: Rural population is increasing by the hour.Complete dependence on government for safe drinking water is not practical. The solution is to use technology and distribute water in small zones. Waterlife’s biggest test came in West Bengal when at least 50,000 villagers were saved from arcenicosis, a waterborne disease that leads to skin cancer.

Life-saving steps like this make Waterlife confident of delivering safe water to all Indian states by 2020!