Much has been written about Mumbai's dabbawalas. They've been the subject of documentaries, got invited to Prince Charles and Camilla's wedding and lecture students at bschools.
Now those humble but iconic aluminium dabbas are part of a sculpture! Yup, that's a picture of an installation at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Mumbai. Pretty cool, I thought.
On the other hand, I'm not sure about the long term prospects of dabbawalas. Yes, as the BBC notes, every morning 65-year-old Dhondu Chaudhary picks up a lunchbox from Arpana Rao's home in the suburbs of Mumbai.
Mrs Rao relies on Mr Chaudhary to get her husband's daily lunch delivered to Mumbai's financial district where he works. That is about an hour away from her home - and looking after her new baby means she barely has time for herself, let alone find the time to deliver a tiffin, or lunchbox, to her husband's office.
But, er, for how long? This model where ladies lovingly cook lunches for their toiling husbands will eventually die out, I think. But that won't be the end of 'home cooked tiffins'. Housewives and small businesses operating on a commercial basis will grow in number and use the dabba distribution method.
Meeanwhile, the dabbawalas realise they must do something to 'change with the times'. So they have launched a website - mydabbawala.com, making it easier for prospective customers to contact them. Not a very well designed - or functional - site but a small step forward.
You can 'apply dabba online' - which currently means you can email them your interest in their services. But why not go a step further and have a listing of those from whom you can actually order a lunch. Assuming you are a young bachelor, have a wife who can't/ won't cook for you or happen to be a wife in need of a dabba at office?
That would increase 'dabba traffic' much faster. The listing could be on the basis of kind of food served - veg/ non veg, Punjabi, Gujarati, Goan etc. Day-wise menus and prices could be given as well. In fact, in the longer run, the dabbawalas could install a payment gateway and charge a small fee for every monthly order processed through their site.
Lastly, I have no idea why they are selling a mug with a butterfly design on their website. Given all the amazing publicity they've got - wouldn't it make sense to sell dabbas as tourist souvenirs? Not just on the website but on Colaba Causeway.
I'm sure it'd get listed by Lonely Planet and those crazy foreigners will find some novel use for 'em. Just like the imaginative mind which conjured that sculpture!