The Dabbawalas of Mumbai have been a driving force in the city for over 130 years. Bearing rain, heat, cold, and even terror attacks, they have served Mumbaikars by providing meals to over two lakh people across the city on a daily basis.
However, the lockdown has been particularly hard on them. After nearly six months of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, when the entire city came to a standstill, these Dabbawalas were rendered helpless with no way to earn a livelihood. Uncertainty of the future was looming large on them.
They appealed to people to donate cycles to them as they could not afford to pay the maintenance costs of their rusted cycles, which had been lying outside the railway stations for six months now.
The Rotary Club of Bombay Airport (RCBA) took the initiative to give them a platform by inviting them as speakers in their regular club-meeting on Zoom (held on October 5, 2020), and support them to earn their livelihood by providing what they needed most: Cycles.
The invited session was attended by District Governor Rtn. Sunnil Mehra and First Lady Rtn. Shilpi Mehra, apart from Presidents of seven other Rotary Clubs of District 3141 and over 125 members of RCBA and guests. In a highly interactive session, the Dabbawalas enlightened the audience with the science of their coding and delivery system, which even caught attention of Britain’s Prince Charles, and then became the subject of Management Studies at Harvard and various other Ivy League Schools. Their simplicity and honesty touched many a hearts and help started pouring in, in different forms.
On learning about the plight of Dabbawalas, DG Sunnil took it upon himself to provide a long-term solution to their problems. RCBA President, Rtn. Nitin Mehta spearheaded the campaign to raise fund for donating 150 brand new customized bicycles to the Dabbawalas, to put them back in business.
On November 11, 2020 in a special ceremony, organised with all necessary precautions for the pandemic, 150 cycles were handed over to the Dabbawalas, who attended the event in person. Additionally, 150 sarees were handed over to them for their spouses.
The event was graced by Advocate Ashish Shelar, MLA (Vandre West Assembly), Ward Corporator Alka Tai Kerkar and District Governor of Rotary 3141, Sunnil Mehra. RCBA members and other rotarians attended this event. The excitement and happiness of Dabbawalas had to be seen to believe.
DG Sunnil had a meeting with the President and trustees of the Dabbawalas association, and shared details of a project especially worked upon for them — a business opportunity for the Dabbawalas, to help them stand on their own feet, with the necessary financial aid in place. The proposal is under consideration, with an additional one to empower the women of the household that could provide them a stable income.
All in all, things seem to be changing for the Dabbawalas of Mumbai, and they are certainly looking forward to it!