Lunch in Mumbai

lunch box image

I went to see a wonderful Indian film last night at the Ramor Theatre, The Lunch Box. It was set in Mumbai and was a slow moving film set within the frame of the frenetic and bustling tenor of a lunch delivery service in the city, which, when I googled, I discovered is called the Dabbawala. It is an extraordinary service:

 ‘Dabbawallah is a person in India, most commonly in Mumbai, who is part of a delivery system that collects hot food in lunch boxes from the residences of workers in the late morning, delivers the lunches to the workplace utilizing various modes of transport, predominantly bicycles and the railway trains, and returns the empty boxes to the customer’s residence that afternoon. They are also made use of by prominent meal suppliers in Mumbai where they ferry ready, cooked meals from central kitchens to the customers and back.

In this film, the lunch made by the lonely young wife for her ‘never at home’ working husband is delivered to the wrong person: an older, rather grumpy widower about to retire. The lunches look delicious and come in five cylindrical, silver lidded bowls that lock into each other, containing breads, curries, vegetables. They are then put in a vac pac holder to keep warm. But the story is about the notes that the mother and the widower exchange.

His first note complains of too much salt. She responds by putting too much chilli in one dish.  But from there on in the notes  in the lunch box are used by each character as a means of expressing a fear, a thought, not necessarily seeking attention or advice but looking for a listener. For me, the film is about the importance of expression.

Interestingly, in Mumbai a number of languages are used: Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, English, Telugu, Konkani, Dangii, Varhadii and Hindi. Ironically enough, this must serve to lessen communication in one the most populated cities in the world. In the film, the language in the notes that the audience saw was English but there were sub titles for the conversation, which I think was Hindi or Gujariti, though often greetings, or phrases were also in English. Language and expression certainly does get complicated in our gobal world.

But what I found  interesting was the content of the notes. They were simple observations, personal reflections, memories. They did not seek advice, or solutions. They were exchanges. But this simple exchange of written words engendered interest and excitement  for each of the characters and led  each one to create change in their lives.

I don’t want to give more away so I won’t discuss it further, but watching the film, I recognised the importance of my own need to state, tell, and describe what I see, hear, and feel. It provides me with  form, reason and  context. Maybe we are losing this in our virtual world.

I lost someone once, and one of the things I missed most what not being able to write notes and messages to that person describing how beautiful an autumnal evening was, or how the morning sun light behind my curtains suffused my bedroom in a glory of soft expectation. In losing him I lost a conduit of expression.

Freedom of expression isn’t only a political and social right, it stems from a basic human need. I recommend the film.



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