People who once fed the entire city of Mumbai are now living on charity, waiting for someone to feed them, taking loans to make ends meet as they had to head back to their hilly villages in the Sahyadri range due to Mumbai's lifeline, dabbawalas, a workforce, which is unique to Mumbai, losing their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The city was robbed off its lunch hour on March 19, when the dabbawala association suspended its operation, and has failed to limp back to normalcy due to no local trains running in the city.
The association stares at starvation as they are without a livelihood and no help has been offered to them by the Maharashtra government. They have been around the city and ensuring that home-cooked food reaches every nook and corner of Mumbai for over a century now.
Raghunath Medge, president of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association, while talking to the International Business Times, India, stated, "This is the first time in 130 years when we are facing an unprecedented situation. No one is going to office and no one needs food now. We have no orders and hence no job. There was no option for us but to return back to our villages and live off our meager savings, which is over."
It should be noted that a 2010 study by Harvard Business School had graded the 5000-strong workforce as six sigma, which means the dabbawalas make fewer than 3.4 mistakes per 10 lakh deliveries.
Waiting for normalcy to return
The third-generation Dabbawala, Medge, added two sigmas out of this were our dabbawalas, two were the local trains and another two were our cycles. "We totally depend on local trains for our work and if they don't work, Mumbai cannot get its dabbas."
They do not have bank accounts and there are many people who are yet to pay them but because they do not do online transactions. Those who do have bank accounts have seen their customers declining their phone calls and not paying them their dues. Their life came to a standstill all of a sudden when the lockdown was announced.
Another spokesperson of the association, Vinod Shetty, said that till normalcy does not return, services will not be starting anytime soon.
Mumbai is a city, which never sleeps and its spirit has never got bogged down by calamities but coronavirus has put the city's resilience to test.
Shetty clearly added that their work might not resume till the coronavirus pandemic does not end. Cyclone Nisarga added to their woes as most of them live in areas that got affected with Nisarga. Their homes, food stores and crops took the hit.
With nowhere to go and grim times, these dabbawalas still remain hopeful that Mumbai will dust off and limp back to life for which they pray every single day.