Barefoot Lunch-Box Delivery of Mumbai
I have just finished reading the incredible book Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts who escaped from an Australian jail and ended up in Bombay (Mumbai) where he got in to all kinds of crazy and dangerous situations. It is a huge chunk of a book, but written so well. Some parts of it are very hard to stomach, making it similar in some ways to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. In reading the book Gregory mentions the incredible phenomenon of the lunch-box delivery system that has been running in Mumbai since 1880. It is a fascinating daily event. It seems the lunch-boxes are called dabba or tiffins and the carriers are called wala and they even have their own website called My Dabbawala. Seems like something that might be good for school lunches…yum!
We were riding in a taxi along Mahatma Gandhi Road past Flora Fountain and towards Victoria Station. It was an hour before noon, and the swash of traffic that coursed through the stone canyon was swollen by large numbers of runners pushing tiffin carts. The runners collected lunches from homes and apartments, and placed them in tin cylinders called jalpaans, or tiffins. They pushed huge trays of the tiffins on long wooden carts, six men and more to a cart. Through the heavy metal-traffic of buses, trucks scooters, and cars, they made deliveries at offices and businesses all over the city. None but the men and women who operated the service knew exactly how it was done: how barely literate men evolved the bafflingly complex system of symbols, colors and key numbers to mark and identify the cylinders; how, day after day, hundreds of thousands of those identical containers swept through the city on their wooden axles, oiled with sweat, and reached the right man or woman, among millions, every time; and how all that was achieved at a cost measured in cents rather than dollars. Magic, the trick that connects the ordinary to the impossible, was the invisible river that ran through every street and beating heart in Bombay in those years, and nothing, from the postal service to the pleading of beggars, worked without a measure of it. P65-66
Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts