The new Indus Valley café at Bharat Nivas experiments with a novel idea of sharing
It's an unusual ‘Indian' zen at Bharat Nivas. Giant terracotta pots slumber besides black bamboo screens, and granite grinding stones sit amidst the grey-pebbled ground. A tree rustles, stippling shadows over the sprawling courtyard sprinkled with tables of blue-orange Athangudi tiles. A lilting Urdu melody streams out its love-laden notes as the aromas of an Indian kitchen curl out with the afternoon breeze.
The Indus Valley café made its debut in Auroville on 1st January 2006 ; one more addition to the growing list of eateries in Auroville. What is unusual about this one is its policy on pricing – there is none! “If you like, you contribute for the next person who may eat after you,” says Dhruv, one of the creators of the space. “Actually we hope that Aurovilians will contribute in other ways – like cooking, serving and even eating here occasionally.”
This unusual concept he says is not as novel as it appears to be. He explains that ancient India did not have the concept of selling food. “To put a price on food was considered vulgar. Food was always an offering – a basic amenity. Even now if you are travelling or visiting someone, people would offer and share food with you even if they didn't know you.”
The concept of the Indus Valley café unfolded gradually. “The Kalakendra building was initially planned to be a restaurant,” explains Dhruv. “But over the years, it morphed into an art centre and gallery. And to have a café to complement an art gallery was irresistible!”
With almost 15 eateries now in Auroville, isn't yet another one unnecessary? “Not at all,” he answers. “The International Zone has no such facility and there is a need in this area; especially with some exhibition or the other going on here or at the Tibetan pavilion, performances at the auditorium, or other activities happening constantly at Bharat Nivas.”
Serving simple home-style vegetarian Indian food with a daily lunch buffet, the café caters to a niche market. “The menu does not compete with other restaurants in Auroville,” says Dhruv. Food is prepared by Geetha, an Aurovilian from the Kutch area of Gujarat who specializes in Gujarati food, and Maharaj Ganpath from Rajasthan. “Maharaj is the title bestowed to highly respected chefs.”
On the economics of the experiment, Dhruv believes that it is too early to comment. “We have had people who have given a couple of hundred rupees for a cup of tea; we also have people who contribute according to the approximate material value of food… and then we have people who are supporting us even if they don't come regularly. We know that somewhere the idea shakes people up; even we find it difficult to detach our minds from evaluating the food that is consumed in terms of money. And that will take some time. But as an idea, people tell us it is very close to what Auroville should be!”