Posts Tagged ‘tiffin’

lunchbox, irrfan khan, dabbawala, mumbai

A lunchbox, prepared by a young housewife for her husband, is delivered in error to Saajan Fernandes (played by Irrfan Khan) at his office in Mumbai.

I recently watched an enjoyable film The Lunchbox made in 2013 by first-time director Ritesh Batra, set in modern-day Mumbai. A lunchbox is delivered to the wrong person, and this leads a young housewife, who is ignored by her husband, and an older man, who is about to retire, to correspond with each other through notes in the lunchbox, both seeking an escape from the frustrations of their lives. It is a delightful and engaging film.

The backdrop to the film is Mumbai’s remarkably efficient lunchbox delivery system that collects stacked metal boxes containing lunches that have been prepared by wives and mothers, from the suburban homes of thousands of workers in the morning, delivers the boxes to workplaces in time for lunch, and then returns the empty boxes to the customer’s house in the afternoon.

lunchbox, nimrat kaur, dabbawala, mumbai

Saajan, curious as to where the lunch has come from, places a note in the lunchbox that is then sent back to Ila (played by Nimrat Kaur), and they start exchanging notes.

In the credits at the end of the film it mentions that the film was made with the support of the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers’ Association. Tiffin was originally the name in British India for a light meal taken in the heat of the day between breakfast and dinner, and the container in which the food was stored, usually a cylindrical tin or aluminium container, was known in Urdu as a dabba, meaning a box. The person who carries a tiffin box is known as a dabbawala (also spelt dabbawalla or dabbawallah), and the film shows hundreds of dabbawalas in action. ‘Wala’ is a suffix used to denote a person performing a task relating to a particular thing, so the closest meaning of dabbawala in English is ‘lunch box delivery man’.

The lunch delivery service was started in 1890 by Mahadeo Havaji Bachche with about a hundred men. In 1956, a charitable trust was registered in  under the name of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust, with the commercial arm of the trust being registered in 1968 with the name of Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association. In Mumbai, between 175,000 and 200,000 lunch boxes are transported by 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas, all for the extremely low charge of 300 rupees per month (about £3.20 or $5 in 2014) with the utmost punctuality and reliability.

dabbawala, lunchbox, dabba, mumbai

A dabbawala loads up his bicycle with lunchboxes collected from homes nearby, to take them to the nearest sorting point.

A collecting dabbawala, usually on bicycle, collects the dabbas either from a worker’s home or from dabba makers, who prepare the meals in central kitchens. The dabbawala then takes them to a designated sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort (and sometimes bundle) the lunch boxes into groups. The grouped boxes are put on trains at railway stations, usually in carriages designated for the boxes. As many of the carriers are of limited literacy, the dabbas are marked in several ways: (1) abbreviations for collection points, (2) a colour code for the starting station, (3) a number for the destination station, and (4) markings for the handling dabbawala at the destination, to identify where the box has to be delivered to ie. the building and the floor. A detailed explanation of the markings can be seen here.

dabbawala, lunchbox, dabba, mumbai

Dabbawalas push a cart loaded with dabbas from a sorting point to the local railway station.

The service is almost always uninterrupted, even on the days of severe weather such as monsoons. Dabbawalas are familiar with their local area, using shortcuts to deliver their goods on time. In the past, people would communicate between home and work by putting messages inside the boxes, as in the film, but this practice is disappearing with the rise of phone texting. Delivery requests are now often made through text messaging.

Each dabbawala is required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of a bicycle, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and white topi or cap. Each month there is a division of the earnings of each unit, and each dabbawala, regardless of role, is paid about 8,000 rupees per month (about £80 or $125 in 2014). Many dabbawalas belong to the Varkari sect of Maharashtra in which Tukaram’s teachings of helping each other is central to their efficiency and motivation. (more…)

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fry's five boys, chocolate, wrapper

A Fry’s Five Boys chocolate wrapper. The bars were marked off into five segments, each with one of the faces stamped into the chocolate. The bars originally cost 1d when launched in 1902, that’s just under half of 1p in today’s money.

Fry’s Five Boys was a solid milk chocolate bar that was once the most recognised chocolate bar in the world. It was still being sold until its withdrawal in 1976. But who remembers it now?

It was first sold by J S Fry & Sons of Bristol in 1902 with a wrapper showing not five boys, but the face of one boy, in a sailor suit, with five different expressions representing his anticipation and experience of eating the chocolate bar. Beneath each face was a caption:

Desperation, Pacification, Expectation, Acclamation, Realization [with a ‘z’]

The five pictures were photographs taken in 1885 and were used by J S Fry & Sons in its advertising; appearing on enamelled metal signs displayed outside confectioners, on posters and in newspapers. The boy was Lindsay Poulton, aged five, and his father and grandfather took the photographs for which Fry’s paid £200, a very large sum at the time, to have exclusive use of them.

Lindsay Poulton was still around in 1960s when he was tracked down by the Bristol Evening Post to Rhode Island in the USA. Mr Poulton remembered the photographic session well, particularly the Desperation shot, when his grandfather induced the necessary look, and the tears, by placing a cloth soaked in photographer’s ammonia around his grandson’s neck!

fry's five boys, chocolate, enamelled sign

The five faces of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate on an enamelled metal sign. Desperation – no chocolate, Pacification – the promise of chocolate, Expectation – the prospect of chocolate, Acclamation – happiness at receiving chocolate, and Realization – eating the chocolate, and discovering that it is a Fry’s milk chocolate bar!

So when the chocolate bar was introduced in 1902 with its distinctive wrapper, the Five Boys image became irretrievably connected with it.

There was also a bar called Fry’s Five Centres produced from 1934 to 1992 but this shouldn’t be confused with the Five Boys bar. Five Centres was like today’s Fry’s Chocolate Cream, a fondant centre enclosed in dark chocolate, but with different flavoured centres. Strawberry, orange, raspberry, lemon and pineapple at first, then later on, coffee, lime, and blackcurrant replaced strawberry, lemon and pineapple.

I can remember Five Boys from the 1950s and 1960s. I thought the pictures of the boy were a bit weird, even scary.

Incidentally J S Fry & Sons started with Joseph Fry, a Quaker apothecary, making chocolate in Bristol around 1759. The Quakers were formed as a protest against the established Church and its members were debarred from many public and civic offices, and professions such as medicine or the law were not open to them. This is why so many Quakers gravitated towards business and commerce. As Quakers were concerned about levels of alcohol misuse in the population at large, the move into chocolate that began with cocoa drinks was therefore a reaction against the perceived misery and deprivation caused by alcohol.

(more…)

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