Gift Culture

by Priyanka Modi

In a world often defined by material pursuits, a powerful and transformative force transcends boundaries, cultures, and generations – the gift culture. This beautiful tapestry of selfless giving, compassion, and genuine human connection can create profound change, not only in individual lives but in the fabric of our communities and societies.

Through the lens of gift culture, I aim to showcase the transformative power of acts of kindness, the impact of genuine human connections, and how this ethos enriches our lives and learning experiences.

We’ll delve into the stories of remarkable individuals who have embraced gift culture as a way of life.

I intend to share the power of gift culture not as an abstract concept but as a vibrant, actionable, and life-enriching force that can reshape the way we learn, connect, and create positive change. As we journey through these tales of generosity and compassion, I encourage you to open your heart to the profound beauty of gift culture, to consider how it can be integrated into your own life and community, and recognize its significance within the larger mission of the Universities Alliance. Together, let’s embrace the spirit of giving and receiving, creating a more compassionate, connected, and harmonious world where the act of gifting becomes a way of being and where the gift of education is a shared treasure we nurture collectively.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Philosophy: A Journey of Connection and Unity

In a world often characterized by technological isolation and rapid change, a recent expedition with my 9-year-old son, Adi, across five diverse states in India brought to life the profound philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam—where the world is one family.

Our decision to forgo conventional hotel stays and instead seek accommodation with friends, family, and kind strangers allowed us to experience the warmth of humanity and embody the essence of this ancient Indian belief.

Our voyage commenced from Ranchi, leading us through Nagpur, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, and back to our starting point. Throughout our journey, we were welcomed with open arms and warm smiles, as genuine kindness and generosity paved the way for unforgettable experiences.

The homes we entered became portals to different cultures, enabling us to savour local cuisine, witness unique family dynamics, and immerse ourselves in a tapestry of traditions.What stood out profoundly was the power of human connections. These genuine bonds, formed with people from diverse backgrounds, reaffirmed that we are all interconnected regardless of our differences.

Adi, with our host in Bangalore

This sentiment beautifully mirrors the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam philosophy—where the world is seen as one extended family. This philosophy encourages us to break barriers, cultivate understanding, and recognize our humanity. The magic of our journey lay in the authentic interactions and the exchange of life stories.

As we sat down to nourish meals and shared experiences, we realized how much we sometimes overlook the beauty of forming meaningful connections. This realization echoes Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’s heart— a profound Sanskrit phrase that translates to “the world is one family.” This ancient Indian philosophy encapsulates the idea that all of humanity is interconnected and every individual is a part of a more prominent global family.

As we navigated through unfamiliar territories and embraced the generosity of strangers, Adi learned firsthand the value of empathy, open-mindedness, and the joy of embracing diversity.

Our journey aligned seamlessly with the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, reinforcing the idea that shared experiences and the threads of human connection unite our global family.

As Adi and I look back on our adventure, we are grateful for the opportunity to have experienced the world as one family, and we eagerly anticipate future escapades that continue to strengthen our global bonds.

As I began searching more about Gift Culture and its existence in the modern world, I came across some amazing stories.

To learn more about our journey-  Read here 

Kishanbhai ji on Gift Culture.

I connected with Kishanbhai ji to understand Gift Culture. He selflessly dedicates his time to volunteering at Gandhi Ashram and Moved by Love, embodying the essence of gift culture. Kishanbhai Ji’s heartfelt commitment to helping others left a lasting impression on me, reinforcing the significance of generosity and compassion in our lives.

He volunteers in the cafe out of love, and he connected me to others who work in these cafes. Though Kishan Bhai has regular work he finds time to volunteer whenever he can at the seva cafe, he connected me to many individuals who shared the stories I am sharing later in the article. Isn’t this a beautiful example of gift culture, we just connected once and he poured his sharing all the contact he knew who could help me.

Seva Cafe in Ahmedabad

Kishan Bhai ji connected me to Brinda, who volunteers for Seva Cafe. This heartwarming blog takes you on a journey to Seva Cafe, a unique and inspiring place where kindness and trust thrive. Brinda, a volunteer at Seva Cafe, shares her incredible experiences and the essence of this beautiful community.

At Seva Cafe, people are not called customers but lovingly called “guests.”

The food served is not just a meal; it’s “prasad” – prepared with the right intentions and love. The cafe operates on trust capital, where bills are not given; instead, guests find an empty envelope, leaving it up to them to contribute whatever they feel is appropriate. This gesture reflects the core belief that goodness exists in people’s hearts.

Visiting Seva Cafe is not just about a meal; it’s about forging meaningful connections.

The open kitchen concept allows guests to interact with the chefs and learn more about the people behind the delicious food. 

Seva Cafe goes beyond being just a cafe. It boasts a small library where people can borrow books without any due dates – a testament to the trust instilled in the community. The restaurant also witnesses beautiful connections, as Brinda found her husband there, both sharing a common passion for volunteering.

The spirit of Seva Cafe has inspired similar concepts in different cities. Karma Kitchen in Surat and Seva for Sime in Bengaluru are just a few examples of how this culture of giving and kindness spreads far and wide.

Seva Cafe isn’t just a regular restaurant; it’s a special place filled with kindness and caring. 

Brinda shares this beautiful story from Seva cafe, 

There was a girl who used to go to the cafe and feel really alone in the busy city. Brinda, who worked at Seva Cafe, noticed her and started talking to her. Brinda invited the girl to volunteer at the cafe, and she started coming often. She made many friends there and no longer felt lonely in the city. This shows how Seva Cafe isn’t just about food; it’s a place where people find friends and kindness.

The stories of Brinda and the countless others who have found joy and friendship at Seva Cafe serve as a reminder that goodness and trust can thrive in unexpected places. 

As this culture of giving continues to inspire others, Seva Cafe remains a beacon of hope, showing us all that small acts of kindness can create a ripple effect of love in the world.

Unveiling the Essence of Gift Culture: The Cycle Yatra by Swaraj University.

In Udaipur, a unique cycle journey takes place—one that breaks away from the usual. It’s a ride that connects people beyond things and embraces the power of human bonding. My friend Harsh shared this intriguing tale with me, recounting his profound experiences on his cycle yatra, where people gather with nothing more than their clothes and sleeping bags, leaving behind the weight of money and distractions.

Curiosity led me to question the practicality of sustenance during such journeys. Harsh’s response was a paradigm shift—a revelation that challenged the conditioned mindset of a world reliant on monetary transactions. He shared that the true wealth of human connections emerges in the absence of money and distractions. 

“When you don’t have any money or distractions, you make human connections.”

It’s a reminder that genuine human interaction holds more nourishment than any material possession.

Harsh took me back to his maiden cycle yatra, where circumstances led him and 14 others to seek refuge in a village. The locals embraced them warmly, offering tea, milk, and more. It was a scene of abundance but not of currency. When Harsh questioned their kindness, an elderly man responded profoundly:

“We may not have seen God, but we can see humans. The joy of aiding others connects us to the divine.”

This simple yet profound ideology resonated with Harsh, altering the trajectory of his life.“As Harsh emphasised, This happiness he gets from helping people connects him to god.” – Old ManGift culture thrives on the principle of giving without expecting tangible returns. It has existed quietly amidst us all along, awaiting our acknowledgement. The stories he shared further solidified this notion.

One such tale transports us to a moment when Harsh decided to walk barefoot. Destiny led him to Jordan, where he navigated its streets without shoes. In a marketplace, a young girl approached him, offering her pair of shoes. Later, Harsh discovered that these shoes were shared among five family members. The profundity of her gesture left me speechless, highlighting the unparalleled depth of human generosity.

Harsh’s narratives etch a vivid picture of a world driven by connections and kindness. In a gift culture, money assumes a role, yet it’s not the driving force. As Harsh puts it, Money is a tool, not the driving force.

In a universe where kindness binds us, and generosity knows no bounds, the stories Harsh unveiled remind us that every individual has a gift to offer, regardless of material possession. As we journey through life, may we embrace the gift culture’s essence, where humanity becomes the currency that genuinely enriches our existence.

To watch more on Cycle Yatra – Cycle Yatra

Hulchul Cafe hosted by Shikshantar

Let’s delve into the story of my newfound friend, Pankaj, who recently introduced me to the intriguing Hulchul Cafe nestled within the heart of Shikshantar in Udaipur. Every Saturday evening, this cafe becomes a hub of activity, drawing people from diverse backgrounds. Here, the focus shifts from what divides us to what unites us—a celebration of human connection.

Pankaj’s experience at the cafe was nothing short of delightful. The atmosphere was abuzz with conversations, and the sight of volunteers bustling around, serving food, added to the communal spirit. What caught his attention was the absence of traditional bills. Instead, gift boxes adorned the space, allowing patrons to contribute as they felt moved. The motto “bill se nahi dil se” encapsulated the philosophy—payment from the heart.

“Bill se nahi dil se.” – Hulchul Cafe 

Pankaj found that the essence of the cafe extended beyond mere networking; it was an avenue to revel in shared experiences. Here, conversations flowed effortlessly among individuals with diverse vocations—sustainability enthusiasts, photographers, musicians, lawyers, medical students—all converging under one roof.

 It wasn’t just about connections but about creating a space where each person could find joy.

“You can feel the energy around you, don’t feel lonely.” – Pankaj.

Pankaj’s experience within this enchanting cafe underscores the innate need for communal spaces that remind us of our interconnectedness and the profound impact of heartfelt interactions.

The auto service by Udai Bhai 

While exploring gift culture, I came across the inspiring tale of Udai, a compassionate soul who embarked on a remarkable journey to give back to society. Udai’s transformation began when he started volunteering in Ahmedabad, where he discovered that seva, or helping others, not only cleanses one’s external actions but also purifies the soul within.

Driven by a deep sense of purpose, Udai offered his auto services to the people of Ahmedabad with a unique twist. Instead of asking for payment, he wholeheartedly embraced the concept of gift culture. His auto became a haven of kindness and generosity, equipped with toys for kids, food and snacks, mineral water, and even a library for book lovers.

The most beautiful aspect of taking a ride in Udai’s auto was that there was no need to pay. Each ride had already been gifted by the previous traveler, allowing a chain of kindness to flow organically. Supported wholeheartedly by his loving family, including his wife and children, Udai believed in the power of right intentions and serving from the heart, knowing that the rest would naturally fall into place.

Udai’s selfless service and genuine intentions attracted widespread attention. He caught the eye of the media and became a source of inspiration for many, even drawing visits from celebrities. Beyond serving as an auto driver, Udai extended his kindness to tourists, taking them on heritage tours to explore the wonders of Gujarat.

Udai’ Bhai’s story is a shining example of gift culture in action, exemplifying how one individual’s commitment to giving can create a ripple effect of love and compassion. Through his acts of seva, Udai offers physical support to those in need and ignites a sense of purpose and hope within the hearts of all who encounter his boundless generosity. His journey showcases the beauty and potential of gift culture. This ethos transcends mere transactions and cultivates a world where the spirit of giving flourishes, leaving a lasting impact on the lives it touches.

Udai Bhai also emphasized that “Athithi Devo Bhava” is a Sanskrit phrase that translates to “The Guest is God” in English. It is a cherished cultural concept deeply rooted in Indian tradition and hospitality. The essence of this concept lies in treating guests with the utmost respect, care, and warmth as if they were divine beings visiting our homes.

Udai Bhai and his Auto

Hospitality in Indian culture goes beyond merely offering food and shelter. It involves wholeheartedly attending to guests’ needs, ensuring their comfort, and making them feel like honoured family members. The host considers it an honour and privilege to serve their guests, and they do so with genuine humility and warmth.

My mother told me a touching anecdote about her grandmother—a devoted Kabir Panthi (follower of the saint Kabir). Her grandmother’s home was a sanctuary of hospitality, where every guest was received with open arms and open hearts. Even when unannounced visitors arrived, her grandmother’s response was never a refusal but a generous sharing of her food and a comfortable resting place. The story not only exemplifies the spirit of Athithi Devo Bhava but also reflects the essence of selflessness and empathy that transcends time.

The path forward ….

When we started this journey we were unsure how it would turn out, but we were overwhelmed by how different people received us in different places. We’ve come to cherish the joy of reaching out to others, meeting new people, and opening our hearts to receive the warmth of their friendship. It has taught us that in giving and receiving, we create a beautiful cycle of love and understanding that transcends cultural barriers and unites us as human beings.

Moving forward, we’ve decided to embrace this culture of connection and gift-giving in our daily lives. We’ll continue to reach out to people, build bridges of friendship, and share the magic of genuine human interactions.

The journey left a lasting impression on Adi, offering him a profound understanding of the art of giving. He has more appreciation for people and the things he has. He wants to donate stuff he does not use; he plans to share his skills and knowledge with people who need it. This experience has helped him open his eyes to living meaningfully. 

Whether it’s the transformative space of Seva Cafe, where the act of nourishing extends beyond the plate, or the heartwarming journey shared with Udai Bhai, whose auto became a vehicle of kindness, these stories illuminate the potential for gift culture to flourish in modern contexts. 

How can gift culture be part of our lives? 

Gift culture can be a meaningful and enriching part of our lives by fostering a sense of generosity, gratitude, and community. Here are some ways to incorporate gift culture into our daily lives:

Practice Random Acts of Kindness: Engage in small acts without expecting anything in return. This could be holding the door for someone, helping a neighbour with their groceries, or leaving an encouraging note for a colleague.

Share Your Skills: Offer your skills and expertise to others. Whether teaching a friend a new hobby, mentoring a colleague, or providing pro bono services to a non-profit organization, sharing your knowledge can be a powerful gift.

Gift-giving: Embrace the joy of giving gifts for no specific reason. It could be a thoughtful book, a handmade craft, or a simple note of appreciation. Remember, the gesture counts, not the value of the gift.

Community Initiatives: Get involved in local community projects and initiatives. Volunteering your time and energy to support community needs is a form of gifting back to society.

Time and Presence: Sometimes, the most valuable gift you can give is your time and presence. Spend quality time with loved ones, engage in deep conversations, and be fully present in the moment. 

Barter and Trade: Explore barter and trade systems within your community or social circle. Exchange goods or services directly with others, bypassing traditional monetary transactions. 

Support Crowdfunding and Crowdsourcing: Contribute to crowdfunding campaigns and crowdsourced projects that align with your values. These platforms often rely on the generosity of a community to bring ideas to life.

Food Sharing: Share excess food with neighbours or donate to local food banks. Reducing food waste and ensuring that others have access to nutritious meals is a generous act.

Gift Economies: Consider participating in or establishing gift economy networks where individuals freely give and receive goods and services, creating a sense of abundance and community. 

Cultivate Gratitude: Foster a mindset of gratitude by acknowledging and appreciating the gifts you receive in your life. Gratitude encourages a cycle of giving and receiving.

Teach Generosity: Instill the values of generosity and gifting in the younger generation. Encourage children to share their toys, time, and kindness with others. 

By incorporating these practices into our lives, we can contribute to a culture of giving and receiving, enriching our relationships and creating a sense of interconnectedness within our communities. Gift culture reminds us that acts of kindness and generosity can profoundly impact our well-being and the world around us.

The Power of Gift Culture 

In the realm of the Ecoversities Alliance, gift culture is not just an abstract concept; it’s a living practice. It’s a vibrant reminder that learning is a collective endeavour, where each person contributes, and in doing so, we create a web of interconnected knowledge and compassion. 

Gift culture is the glue that binds together a community of learners, teachers, and dreamers who believe in the power of giving and receiving. It’s a foundation which highlights a new narrative of existing – one that values relationships, fosters a sense of belonging, and recognizes the profound potential in every individual. 

It is my hope that the stories shared within this article inspire you to embrace the spirit of gift culture, not as a mere concept but as a way of life. Let us weave this ethos into the very fabric of our existence, creating a world where the act of giving becomes our greatest gift to each other and where the Ecoversities Alliance continues to nurture the seeds of love, learning, and community, sowing the seeds of a more beautiful, interconnected world.

I am thankful to all the people who are so kind to share their stories with me, Manish, Kishanbhai, Harsh, Uday ji, Brinda, and Pankaj. 

About the Author

I am Priyanka Modi, a dedicated advocate for alternate learning and skill development. Inspired by my son and fueled by a desire to challenge traditional education norms, I explore diverse learning methods within my family and share my insights through my blog at At the core of my mission is the desire to create awareness about the myriad educational options and empower young people to carve out their unique paths in life. Whether advocating for free learning, designing lifestyle choices that align with individual interests, or fostering a supportive community of learners, I aim to inspire others to embrace alternative approaches to education and discover the joy of self-directed learning. Join me on this journey by subscribing to my newsletter at

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