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'Prince Charles made us feel like family'

By PRASANNA D ZORE
September 09, 2022 13:48 IST
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'We will be celebrating our friend's ascension as king by distributing sweets.'

IMAGE: Prince Charles, now King Charles III of Great Britain, meets dabbawallahs, during his visit to Mumbai. Photograph: Reuters

Subhash Talekar and Sopankaka Mare -- two dabbawallahs, Mumbai's famous food couriers who deliver meals across the city -- fondly remember the prince who has now taken over the reins as the monarch of Great Britain.

Talekar, whose father met Prince Charles when he visited Mumbai in 2004, watched the visit from close quarters.

Sopankaka, who along with Raghunath Medge, attended the then prince Charles wedding's Camellia Parker Bowles, in 2005.

Subhash Talekar and Sopankaka Mare shares memories of their encounters with Charles in conversations with Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com.

Subhash Talekar: 'Prince Charles, our gora Vitthal'

When Prince Charles watched a BBC documentary on Mumbai's dabbawallahs, he was fascinated by the system we had developed to serve our customers.

He was mighty impressed with the punctuality with which we served our customers in Mumbai despite all the hardships we face in doing so.

He was also fascinated by our work ethic and efficiency that he decided, on the spur of that moment (when he watched the documentary), that whenever he visited India he would come and meet us.

He was curious to know how we managed such a huge task everyday with machine-like precision and efficiency.

He keenly desired to meet us and that was quite evident from his warmth when he met us for 20 minutes.

He wanted to see from close quarters how Mumbai's dabbawallahs worked.

So, when he came to Mumbai in 2003 he visited us. It was a royal visit.

He enquired about how we ride bicycles, how we lift crates full of tiffins on our heads, if this practice hurts our necks and spine, if we use some special codes to deliver meals without mixing them up and how we deliver tiffins to so many people with punctuality.

To make it a truly unforgettable experience we gifted him a copy of Dyaneshwari (a translation of the Bhagwad Gita in simple Marathi language that would take the message of the sacred text to the common man), a dabba, a traditional topi (hat), Kolhapuri chappals (the famous leather footwear from Kolhapur) and a shawl.

The day Prince Charles met us (in 2003) it was Ekadashi (the eleventh lunar day of the two lunar phases considered very auspicious by the dabbawallahs).

On this day we visit the Vitthal temple (an avatar of Lord Krishna) to seek his darshan and pray for the well-being of mankind. Our Vitthal is kala (the idol of Lord Vitthal and his wife Rukmini is carved out of black stone) but on that day gora Vitthal aamhala bhetla (we met a fair Vitthal).

In our puraan (mythological texts) there is mention of a stone (parees) that turns iron into gold. His visit was like parees to us, but even though we did not turn into gold by his touch we did have a golden spotlight on us dabbawalas since that day.

When we came to know about his second marriage to Camellia Parker Bowles in 2005 we decided to send him aaher (a traditional gift hamper -- either money or some present -- that is given to the bride and groom) as a gesture of our friendship.

The aaher was a traditional attire that brides and grooms in Maharashtra adorn on their wedding day.

For the bride, we sent him a nine yard Paithani (a traditional, much sought after sari that has intricately woven peacocks motifs on it) and kurta lehenga and Puneri pheta (traditional turban from Pune) for the groom.

In the 20 minutes that he met us we all got endeared to him -- and he to us -- and after receiving our aaher as a gesture of our warm friendship, he invited two dabbawallahs to attend his marriage ceremony.

While Prince Charles did not wear the aaher we sent him it was sent to the museum at Buckingham Palace. We are very happy that our gift got so much respect from Prince Charles.

After the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, our friend Prince Charles has now been anointed as King Charles and that has made all dabbawallahs very proud and happy.

Today being Ganesh visarjan (a big celebration across Maharashtra that witnesses the Ganesh immersion on the tenth day of the Ganesh festival) so most of us will be very busy. But tomorrow onwards we will be celebrating our friend's ascension as king by distributing sweets. We also plan to congratulate him by sending him presents.

We will also pray to Lord Vitthal for his well-being and long and happy life.

***

Sopankaka Mare: 'He made us feel like family'

When Prince Charles came to visit us we decided to meet him on a footpath in Churchgate (south Mumbai) as the footpath is our business workplace. Such is is humility he did not hesitate at all to meet us on the footpath.

When he left us we had never imagined that he would invite us for his wedding and seek our blessings on such a momentous day of his life.

Our joy knew no bounds and our hearts were filled with joy when we received the invitation to his wedding. We thought that his visit to us was just a fluke, but the thought that he remembered us long after the visit and was kind enough to invite us made us very proud about our friendship with Prince Charles.

Our airfare to London was sponsored by Air India and our stay in London was taken care of by the Taj group.

His wedding was spread over two days and I remember meeting him on his wedding day.

Rani Padmini Devi from Rajasthan was graceful enough to be our interlocutor.

We congratulated him for his marriage and wished him a blissful married life with a Namaste. We spoke in Hindi and Rani Padmini translated for us. She told us that Prince Charles was very excited and happy to see us there and thanked us for accepting his invitation to attend his wedding.

We danced with all the royal guests at his wedding and he too made us feel we were a part of his family.

Prince Charles ensured that our eight-day stay was comfortable and we were looked after well. He arranged for our sightseeing as tourists.

We are very happy that he has now become the king of Great Britain.

All the dabbawallahs wish him the best for his journey as a King and hope that he lives as long as his mother.

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PRASANNA D ZORE / Rediff.com
 
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