Soon, dabbawalas won’t just drop off lunch, but cook it too | India News

Sexagenarian Yamnaji Ghule is a worried man. The second generation dabbawala is not sure what to make of his future emerging from a pandemic that dished out a blow to his decades-old vocation of delivering cooked lunches to Mumbai’s officegoers.
The world of lunchbox carriers has been a resilient lot — constantly reinventing itself — English lessons, computer literacy, women entering the all-male bastion. Now, the modern dabbawala is in for yet another change: they will no longer just be dropping off lunch, but cooking too if asked.
They will rustle up a seven-day rotating menu of home-style lunches in a “cloud kitchen” at Saki Naka, aimed at time-starved millennials. “Some of our dabbawalas and their wives are currently being trained by an F&B expert and we should be launching our service by mid-June,” said Ritesh Andre, 25, a 4th-generation dabbawala with an MBA degree.
Mumbai’s 130-year-old dabba distribution fleet has been a legendary workforce of 5,000 tiffin carriers — picking up food from home cooks and delivering to two lakh office-goers on their cycles and by local trains. “We’ve worked through the worst situations… but never seen anything like this before. My team of seven dabbawalas used to make around 20 deliveries in a day, but now, not more than four,” said the veteran tiffinwala who had returned to his village in Pune to farm for the first eight months of Covid.
“I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years, it’s the only work I know,” Ghule frets. As Covid changed culinary culture, delivering hot lunches that would fetch dabbawalas Rs 14,000 to 20,000 monthly was suddenly down to nil.
Following lockdown, 3,000 dabbawalas retreated to hometowns. “When offices started opening up last June, we were able to restart our services but with 300-400 dabbawalas. Now in the second lockdown, there’s work for only 100-150,” explained Ulhas Shantaram Muke, president of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust.
But there is no turning back. “We’re creating a website where people can directly place their orders. One can choose between monthly or annual subscriptions and we’re also introducing online money transfer,” says Andre. “The idea is to use their unique sorting skills to diversify, generate employment, bring stability and pride in what is India’s oldest food delivery chain.”

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