Before seventies or sixties, workingwomen were as sparse as hotels. It was the accepted and safe practice to consume only home-prepared food, cooked with love and affection by the family women. Their counterparts of today are called “housewives” - sounds like ‘houseflies’, or with some polish, “homemakers”.
Workingmen preferred warm home food. They were used to fresh food from their childhood days – from ovens to plates to palates! Nowadays, they are spoilt by fast food, junk food and cold food which have made them more flexible and adaptable! Their palates can take anything.
Let me remember the carrierwallas who have helped us bring fresh food, sometimes still steaming, to our workplaces. “Carrier-wallas” would pick up the lunchboxes from homes and deliver them to the desk of the man at his work place and took back the empty box and deposited back home before evening. In our city then, workplaces would be close enough from homes and one could reach in less than half an hour of cycling. It was a small city.
In the early 60s, both my uncle and father were working in the same campus and so my grandmother would pack and send two sets of lunchboxes in two bags. There was a carrierwalla who was appointed for this job and he served us for many years. He would come to our house around noon on his bicycle after collecting lunch boxes from other customers [usually working in the same place] esp. in the vicinity. I do not remember his name but almost every day my grandmother used to give him a glass of lemon juice or buttermilk esp. on hot summer days. He would gleefully accept it, remove slippers outside, enter the verandah, remove his cap and drink without laying his lips on the glass – a hygienic practice. There were two heavy-duty bags made to order so that it could take the load and shape of the round base of the 3-tier lunchbox and long loops that was enough to hang on the bicycle handle bar. My uncle died in 1967 and this man continued for some time before my father chose to come home for lunch as it was an hour break and just a 10-minute bicycle ride.
Much later when I joined work, after my father’s death, there was one who brought my lunch box to my workplace. He was an elderly man. He served for many years before situations gave way to another man who served until I bought a scooter which is taking me home at lunch time since then. That terminated the services of the carrierwalla to me. It has been about two decades since that happened and I still see the same carrierwalla doing the same tough routine for others who need the services.
Taking 15-20 lunchboxes with food in it on the bicycle is no easy job. It requires stamina and strong legs to pedal the bicycle with all the weight on the handle and behind the saddle. He would push the vehicle in upward gradients, which is a pathetic sight. His hard work would earn him just enough money to sustain himself and his family. The other elderly man I told about was delivering the box to his childhood classmate who was in an important position in the office. Speak about destinies.
I’ll not elaborate on the much renown “Dabbawallas of Mumbai” which is an organized system of carrying lunch boxes from home to work desk and back. It is amazing how they use codes to mark the destinations! Take a look at their website here: http://www.mydabbawala.com/general/aboutdabbawala.htm Wikipedia has this to inform us: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dabbawala