Mumbai's dabbawallahs had a royal visitor on Tuesday -- the Prince of Wales -- who met with the union leaders to find out about this unique food supply service that has featured in Forbes magazine.
Prince Charles in India: Complete coverage
On the last leg of his nine-day India tour, Prince Charles spent 20 minutes with the dabbawallahs, who deliver tiffin boxes to thousands of individuals every day across the length and breadth of this sprawling metropolis.
The dabbawallahs pick up an individual's lunch box from his residence or caterer in the suburbs and deliver the same to him in his office in the city, travelling anywhere from 20 to 60 km in the bargain.
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The process is reversed later in the day and the lunch box is delivered back home to be kept ready for the next day. Their flawless management system of picking up, sorting and delivering dabbas, and the reverse process has become the stuff of legends.
Raghunath D Medge, president, Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust, the organisation that runs this service, was elated by Prince Charles' visit. "We are glad that this 'raja of England' (King of England) is interested in our work. Tragically, no leader of India has ever inquired about our work and our troubles," he said.
Medge and the organisation's secretary, Gangaram Talekar, garlanded the Prince, placed a shawl on him, and offered him a white Gandhi cap, which he politely declined to wear.
This brief ceremony took place on the premises of the Western Railway Headquarters, opposite Churchgate station in south Mumbai.
Medge and Talekar then explained the intricacies of their business to the Prince, showing him a long rectangle tray that carries up to 40 boxes. They explained how the boxes that are collected from various houses in the suburbs are sorted and sent to specific stations, where they are sorted to be sent to various offices.
Churchgate station is one of the most important and busy stations im Mumbai, being the final stop for Mumbai's central business district, Nariman Point.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus on the Central Railways is another important destination.
Prince Charles was taken along the footpath outside the railway headquarters and shown how the lunch boxes are sorted as per a colour code that is understood only by the dabbawallahs.
The dabbawallahs greeted the Prince with a 'namaste', which he reciprocated.
Prince Charles broke the protocol, refusing to stay behind a police line. Instead, he walked right up to where the dabbawallahs were seated and walked down the footpath, shaking hands. His gesture clearly cheered the dabbawallahs.
Later, he also met with members of the public lined up behind the dabbawallahs. After thanking the dabbawallahs, the Prince drove away to Oberoi Hotel for his next scheduled programme.
Explaining the rationale for the Prince's visit to the dabbawallahs, a British High Commission official said the idea was to show him something that was unique to Mumbai. "I don't think any other city anywhere in the world or even India has such a system," she said, adding, "also, the Prince of Wales is always keen to meet people, so we felt this would be ideal."
She said that as per her knowledge, Prince Charles would be the first VVIP to visit the dabbawallahs.