Doing good isn’t easy

Today is Christmas, a day where we are supposed to access our ‘giving’ side. It’s a little scary, considering the way in which our ‘giving’ and ‘taking’ sides are so lopsided! But such conjectures aside, in a conversation a few days ago with a restaurant entrepreneur, the difficulty of being good in the conventional sense was driven home with some telling lessons.

When he started his operations a couple of years ago, he had no previous experience. So apart from finding the right people, deciding on the menu and the prices, he had to learn literally by trial and error, since he could not pay for professional help – being a lean start-up. The idea was to keep costs as low as possible and work the rest from the day to day hiccups and insights that every customer brought in.

One significant learning was in managing the amount of food to be cooked every day – and there were days on which they went completely wrong. They thought that old age homes would be more than happy to take the extras. Sure they were and he sent the food off only to be assailed by complaints that the food was bad and causing problems for the inmates. On investigation, they found that the old age home was getting food from about seven-eight sources and all the food would be mixed up. So, it became really difficult to say which restaurant food was the culprit.

So, it was decided that orphanages could be an alternative. Sure enough, orphanages were grateful for the food and then, the complaints began again. This time, they found that the orphanage did not have storage facilities and they were unable to handle a load of food on certain days. The children were being served food that had not been properly preserved and obviously, it had gone bad.

A little desperate, they decided that the slum close by would be more than happy to get food for free. It worked, for a few days and then, as the restaurant got better at managing inventory, there were days on which they had nothing to give away. This brought about a completely unexpected turn of events. Belligerent slum dwellers lined up late in the night and demanded to be fed – turning what was an act of kindness into a privilege they took for granted!

Fed up, they began to give the leftovers to the neighbourhood stray dogs and this proved to be the only viable solution. As the restaurant owner sagely explained – “Dogs do not complain, and ever since, we’ve had no problems. Food is not wasted anymore” Well, animal activists would probably not be too happy!

We are quick to judge people by their actions – assuming that they have not considered options. Since I don’t run a restaurant, I would have suggested the exact alternatives they tried and believed it would solve the problem. We have a set of quick fixes in our mind based on our reading or on conventions – and that is what we operate with. The ground realities are completely different. As an aside, have you seen the scorn with which beggars now look at one and 2 rupee coins?