Mumbai’s dabbawalas – the humble but famous management gurus who ferry thousands of tiffin boxes across the city – are now immortalised in a comic book.”Tina and Tiffin”, the dabbawalas’ story of struggles and travails, is told through the eyes of a little girl Tina who wonders how her father manages to eat lunch when he never carries a tiffin from home.
“Tina would tell her mother how she packed her tiffin box which she carried with her to school. But what about Papa?” Subhash Talekar, spokesperson for Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust (NMTBST), told IANS Saturday.Pawan Agarwal, who did a doctoral research thesis on the dabbawalas, goes to Tina’s school and explains to her everything about the dabbawalas – which forms the story of the comic book penned by him (Agarwal).
The concept for the comic book came to Gangaram Talekar, a former NMTBST office-bearer who was invited to London a couple of years ago for the inauguration promo of UK hotelier Jamal Irani’s “Tiffin Bytes” restaurant’s fifth branch on the Bank Street.Talekar and a couple of others, clad in their traditional outfit and carrying a tiffin rack on their heads, attracted a lot of attention.
A small girl among the onlookers told her mother that “some alien relics” had come to their city, but her mother who knew and had read a lot about dabbawalas gently explained the reality.”The child was impressed by her mother’s story and after we returned, we toyed with the idea of creating awareness among the younger generation through a comic book,” Subhash said.
They contacted Agarwal and asked him to pen a comic book specifically from the viewpoint of a child, in an attractive and easy-to-understand manner.”We plan to distribute it among one million school children in Mumbai, starting with all municipal schools. Since we cannot afford the huge costs behind this, we plan to rope in sponsors for the project,” Subhash said.
Though the book is in English, there are plans to bring it out in Marathi, Hindi and other languages depending on the requirements.Mumbai’s nearly 5,000 dabbawalas have carved a global niche for themselves for their efficient to-and-fro daily delivery of nearly 200,000 lunch boxes around the city.
They have become the subject of international management and research studies, won accolades from around the world and are invited to top international business and celebrity events.Research papers, books, articles, documentaries and films have been made on the life, times and work of the dabbawalas in the past few decades, and now a comic book. What next?