Mumbai's loyal tiffin-carriers: 'We will ride the storm'

Oct 31, 2020

Mumbai, the financial and the entertainment capital of India, has a 130-year-old history of food delivery services, hailed by modern marketeers for its delivery model. The unique institution of Mumbai’s 'dabbawalas' - the tiffin or lunchbox carriers -has been the culinary lifeline in the well-oiled corporate machinery of India’s most populous city. Amidst the hustle-bustle of the fast-paced city life, a hot, freshly-cooked lunch changes several hands and travels through at least three modes of transport - cycle, pushcart and train - in its journey from the kitchen of a customer - anywhere in the city - to his or her work or study place. This decades-old delivery service, which was started by Mahadeo Havaji Bachche in Colaba, downtown Mumbai, in 1890, used to be done by over 5,000 dabbawalas. It was a common scene to see dabbawalas, attired in their spotless white shirts and trousers and Gandhi cap, with their quaint delivery system of trays and boxes, balanced on head or carried by cycles and pushcarts in better times. They were once a part and parcel of Mumbai’s cityscape. But with the coronavirus pandemic that brought the world to a halt, the unique food distribution network has witnessed a huge setback with many tiffin carriers rendered jobless, or taking another job, or forced to leave the city.

But despite setbacks to their trade, the dabbawalas are optimistic of riding the storm and keeping their time-honored delivery tradition alive. 

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