'THE DABBAWALI'
a story by Madhu Peruvaram

I read a lot about the Dabbawallas of Mumbai. Also heard that their case study is even a subject in many MBA curriculums. Most of my life I spent in Middle East. From the time I started my 1st job in Dubai, my brother in law (and my mentor) told me, if you start eating from hotels, like other lazy bachelors, it will destroy your health. You should cook and eat healthy food; when you go back after working in the Gulf (maybe it is 1 year or be a life time), it’s the same body you have to carry, till the end. If it is still healthy, you are lucky. Like any typical Indian youth, I was used to washing my hands and sitting in front of dining table and eating tasty food, cooked by my Mom and maybe sisters, sometimes. Like all Indian men, I also used to complain about minor ups and downs in flavors and taste, without even knowing, how much effort and love goes in to cooking it.

I was lucky, that, my sister was in Dubai, during my initial days and I was able to stay with her and eat home food. Also, my little niece gave me company in the evenings. I used to forget the pain of parting with my mom and dad, while the toddler played around, filling the house with joy. But my BIL had other plans; he told me the company has given you bachelor accommodation, you have to shift there and start living on your own. Your sister may not be here always; so, you have to learn to live on your own. Learn cooking and how to manage yourself. I felt sad and thought, he is being harsh to me.

I have shifted to the bachelor quarters and started my life with other 3 bachelors. I learned how to cook Chana masala, Chicken curry, Fish masala, moong Dal tadka, Avial and many other recipes, with names and without. My sister told me sadly on the phone, that my little niece is not eating food properly, since I left. Every time food is served, she will sob and ask, “Did Madhu uncle eat food? is he hungry?” I also missed them a lot, although I visited them on most evenings. But I was learning, to cook, to wash my dress and above all to manage my life. Whenever I thought about that experience, I realized, how my brother in law trained me, to become a man, to be an independent person. Whenever I was at crossroads of life, he was there to support me, advise me, give me confidence.

I realized, cooking and washing is not a women’s job. These are basic life skills; all men and women should learn. Then only we can lead a peaceful and healthy life. In the modern family, when both husband and wife are educated and working, there is no job that is destined for only the women or men. Both have to share the chores and enjoy, doing it together.

I think I started writing this, for a different reason and went away from the core subject, as usual. Watching an advertisement film about a brand of Atta brought back memories of a lady who used to serve healthy and tasty meals for me, once upon a time. After decades of life in the Middle East, our family have shifted to India and my next assignment took me to Hyderabad.
First 1 month, till we settled down, we stayed in a service apartment, which provided breakfast and dinner. Lunch was supposed to be in the office. As I learned cooking, during my bachelor days, cooking food was not an issue. I started to stay in a flat, with my friend who joined the company on the same day, as I was. Although he was in project management and I was in Marketing, we found many things in common and decided to rent a flat and cook our food, together. But cooking lunch early morning and packing it, to carry to office looked a bit old fashioned.

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Next day, at office, during lunch time, one lady (may be in her early 30s) walked in to my cubicle and greeted me. She was carrying some bags with her. She told me pleasantly, “HR informed me that, some new managers joined recently. Sir, I supply lunch to all staff in this office, as there is no canteen facility. I bring home cooked lunch on all 5 working days. First month you have to give me Rs.900 and every month Rs.500/-. For the extra Rs.400, I will buy you a warm lunch box for you and write your name on it. I will bring 3 curries and Chapati and rice exactly at 1 PM daily. You don’t have to give advance; you can pay me, when you get salary. I will start bringing lunch from tomorrow. But sir, I server only vegetarian lunch”. I did not get time, to say yes or no. She was busy serving food for others. In between she came running and told me, if you did not bring anything for today, I will provide you some food; you don’t have to pay for it. I told her, I will manage for the day and that I do not eat rice. I eat Chapati or any wheat bread for lunch and dinner. She was surprised, that a South Indian can survive, without eating rice and assured me, sir if you do not want rice, I will increase the number of chapatis for you; don’t worry.

Next day, she brought a new Tiffin set with food for me, with my name on it. The food was neat and tasty. While serving she will always have some comment about that day’s recipe and type of curries. I just kept quiet and ate, whatever she brought. Actually, I enjoyed, the food. It was good quality ingredients and very tasty. Once she asked me, sir, you don’t like my food? I was like, when did I say that? I said, its good, I like it. She said, you never say, if something is good or bad, never say its too spicy or too over cooked or whatever? So, I do not know, how you feel. I told her, if I feel anything wrong, I will say. She said, with a smile, you can tell, when its good also.

One day she said, sir, today I made Punjabi Kadhi, you will sure like it. You should tell me, how you feel, after eating. I was eager to try that, as soon as she was gone. It’s one of the best curries I ever ate. I am used to eating very good curries, at home, as my wife is a very good cook. Whatever she cooks, I can just eat, with closed eyes. I usually do not eat pickles, as I feel, it’s not that healthy. But when my wife is not in town, I search for pickles, she made. It gives me her touch that I miss, the love she put in to it. Then I feel, she is sitting near me and we are eating together.
So, I feel, I am qualified, to judge a recipe. Next day the dabbawali (sorry to use a generic word; she has a name; but I forgot; you know its been quite long) surely asked me how was the curry. I told her it was really good and I loved it. The satisfaction on her face, was very pleasing to see. I realized, selling lunch to us was not just a business for her. It’s a passion. She enjoyed what she was doing. She was proud of her capability and the happiness she was imparting.

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After some days, our company has decided to shift the office, to our new premises, along with the new manufacturing facility. We were busy packing our files, to shift, she came as usual with our lunch. Sir, you are going to shift to the new office soon? I said yes, we will be in the new place in a weeks’ time. She said sadly, “I won’t be serving you lunch there, sir. It’s too far for me. I have got a small baby; I cannot leave her alone for long. Here I got 5-6 offices, to server lunch. That’s enough for me to survive. I got a small Maruti 800; Every day I fill my vehicle with the lunch and my home help assist me to cook and deliver food. I will miss you all. It was nice serving you. I felt; I was parting with a close relative. Whatever work you do, to make a living, if you do it with passion, you will find true happiness and you build good human relations. What else you need in this life? We all need money to live; but if we live to make money, we will always be searching for happiness, in the wrong places.

Best of luck, to that good human being.
Whenever we eat good food, we will surely remember you.

MADHU PERUVARAM 18/02/2019

Source: reddit post


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