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Bombay Lunch Box – India 10:28min

Here is the transcript in .doc format for Bombay lunchbox india transcript


A muggy monsoon dawn in Mumbai
It’s the brief quiet before the daily storm of activity sweeps across Indian’s commercial capital
This city of 17 million is infamous for its crowds and chaos
But Mumbai is also renowned for its meals on wheels
Whatever the weather, Bikaji religiously does his morning rounds
While many people are barely finishing breakfast, he is collecting lunches for desk-bound workers
[1:00] He is the nexus between home and office, husband and housewife, mother and son
Curry and rice … I cooked: chicken, curry and rice … and salad
Mrs. Lalipuria puts the notion of ‘a cut lunch’ to shame
She’s been making long distance lunches for nearly half a century
First for her now-retired husband, and then for her son Manoosh
(unclear – don’t let my son eat outside) … outside food is no good … dirty … the food is not so healthy
And no, Manoosh is not a school boy, he’s 43 and married
but his working wife certainly won’t make Manoosh lunch and don’t even suggest that he might step into the kitchen
No way! I’m not a good cook. I don’t know cooking.
But the problem for domestically-challenged Manoosh is that he leaves for work long before the onions even start frying so somehow, mother and son need to be united
Enter the mighty tiffin or dabba; the great Indian lunch box
But a dabba is not much use without a walla
Together they make one of Mumbai’s most remarkable institutions; the dabbawalla
[3:07] Since 1890 a closed community has been providing a low tech lunch delivery service
Bikaji picks up about a dozen dabbas and brings them to the local station
Here they are sorted according to an intricate system of codes, colours and numbers … and passed on to the next stage of the network
Thanks to trust and cooperation, dabbas are passed from one team to the next, zigzagging across the city
[4:03] The system is all the more ingenious when we consider Mumbai’s 5000 dubbawallas can barely read or write
and they must contend with one of the world’s most congested civic infrastructures yet their success ratio is astounding
dubbawallas get more 99.99 (ninety-nine point nine nine) per cent of their deliveries right
but, despite a strike rate even the don would have admired, their days might be numbered
[4:49] What began as a service for British administrators, too pretentious to be seen carrying their lunch, peaked in the 1950s
And is today slowly petering out
Still – 150,000 workers in this concrete jungle will today get their home-cooked meal on time
Forbes magazine rates the dubbawallas productivity on a par with the biggest global corporations
And for a monthly fee of just six dollars the likes of Manoosh think they’re a legend in his lunch time
If they’re not there for a day, I find it difficult; I have to go to a restaurant, stand in a long queue and God knows what I am eating there
It’s risky?
It’s risky, yeah
Mumbai Belly?
Yes, it is … it is risky, you can’t be 100% sure, I would say
[5: 49] In a city with as many food rules as there are religions, matching the dabba to the desk is about much more than just pleasing fussy eaters
If a Muslim’s beef biriyani got mixed up with a Jain’s strictly vegetarian dahl and rice, it wouldn’t be pretty
[6:10] But reliability is not the dubbawallas downfall
As more Mumbai women work, fewer are cooking
The likes of Manoosh know that his mum’s lunches can’t last forever
I’ll try my luck with my wife, and if she says no, then I don’t know what I’ll do
Yes, I think that is an important reason why perhaps the dubbawallas jobs have, are now … going …bit by bit
It’s because the woman has started working, and she’s got a job and therefore she is not at home to pack this tiffin and send for her loving husband
The demise of the housewife is only part of the story
The opening up of the Indian economy over the last decade has also changed the face of Mumbai
[6:58] With more money to spend, India’s expanding middle class is venturing out, they’re generating a new brand of food consumer
We have nice restaurants opening up but, um, … most of them are not really good
They are laying a lot more emphasis on ambiance and things like that, on very fancy-sounding names
But I’ve had the experience of, um, eating a really lousy dinner at a very posh restaurant recently and I was quite aghast because we ended up paying 12,000 rupees
and the only thing good that day was the Californian wine that we drank
[7:38] The ubiquitous global food chains are grabbing some of that market
but so, too are a new flavour of savvy local eateries
You won’t find the average clerk or regular office worker perhaps going to McDonald’s too often
Sure, he’ll try it out once or twice but he is going to come back to basics
Dosa Diner is a new chain selling funky Indian food, which is not too adventurous
We don’t really see ourselves competing traditionally against another restaurant, um, we are trying to get people out of their houses and, to that extent, we’re really competing with, with home food
And that means the dabbawallas?
And sadly, that is the dabbawallas
[8:27] For Mumbai’s Hindu nationalist leaders, self-appointed cultural custodians, at stake is much more than just the fate of the dabbawallas
They fear the very fabric of Indian society is unravelling
That the sacred bond between husband and wife may soon be broken
I think the very alarming thing got our housewives, according to me, because whatever dialogue we have between me and my wife is always about the food which she cooks, you know
If she stops cooking then the dialogue will stop, and that is my fear
Because you know, otherwise, for lifetime, I would never talk to my wife
[9:03] Yet the humble dabbawallas seem the most at ease
They’re convinced they’ll keep earning their $200 (two hundred dollars) a month, for some time to come
After all, they have the union to look after them; the honourable company of tiffin box carriers
[9:40] After lunch, as the dabbwallas reverse the morning’s journey, returning the empty tiffins, it’s hard to imagine Mumbai without them
Their city might be changing, and demand for this extraordinary cooperative may be diminishing, the dabbawallas believe their courier service will survive, or else the mighty Indian family might not

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