Climbing a flight of stairs on the busy outer lane of South Delhi’s Satyaniketan market, you are ushered into a small room. At least 10-12 tables are crammed together to form a seating area, much in the fashion of other eateries in this market. Like me, if you’ve read about the place before coming, you are wary in a way you’re not at other restaurants/cafes you frequent. You’ve sorted all technicalities – a switch next to your table to draw their attention, placards for special requests, and a notepad for writing the order code.
While you are prepared to see them in action. The things that you are not prepared for are gazing at them involuntarily for longer than required, not being able to concentrate on your food when the servers are around, and smiling more than you would at waiters employed at your regular restaurants. And in doing so, you unconsciously classify them into the ‘other’ category, defeating the very purpose of this cafe. If that’s not you, at least I am guilty.
My first visit to the Echoes cafe highlighted for me that inclusion does not end at opportunity. Rather, inclusion sprouts from it. By employing these differently-abled, young boys; the owners might have taken the first step toward their alleviation but they have much ground to cover. Entrusting the differently-abled staff with all aspects of business including serving, cooking and management as well as having women on board are both great goals as set by the owner Kshitij Behl. These goals must continually evolve and extend to other aspects if the restaurant strives for more than just business and mercy visits. From serving great food to sensitising the customers, and from empowering employees by giving comparable salaries to developing high-self esteem in them through growth opportunities, the inclusion agenda must be multi-faceted.
As customers, we of course have a big part to play. We can further the initiative by paying more than just one curious visit and by leaving a genuine feedback unmarred by sympathy (My penne pasta arrabiata was pretty average). We must aim for our conduct around the staff to not betray the end-purpose of creating a ‘normal’ working space for them. And that will happen when we get to know them better and communicate with them. The more you visit, the more you ease up, and the more you see them engaged with their work like you would with yours, the more you shatter the walls of exclusion. If exclusion must co-exist still, it should be of the measly treatment that we are guilty of giving to the waiters in India in general. Echoes has stirred quite a few good chords with its brilliant concept, and if done right it can create music even for the ears of deaf and mute.