Mahtab Narsimhan


Amit’s replacement, panting and dripping with sweat, flapped towards them with an ungainly gait. Four pairs of arms slid the carrier to the ground and, with machine-like precision, started sorting. Until the tiffins were further sorted according to final destination, none of the carriers could be loaded on the train. People were already climbing aboard, blocking the entrance.

“Jaldi,” said Vinayak, urging them on. His team members’ hands were blurs as they obeyed him. The metal tiffin cases clanged against each other, adding to the cacophony.

Within seconds the sorting was done. The sound of the horn pierced the air again and the train started moving. Four dabbawallas ran alongside and slid their carriers into separate compartments, onto the toes of commuters who crowded the open doors. A volley of yells and curses fell on deaf ears as the men jumped in. The train clattered over the steel tracks, settling into its familiar staccato rhythm.

Already exhausted from the sprint to the station, Amit’s replacement was the last to get on. He slid the heavy carrier into a compartment. Something blocked its way and half the carrier still hung out. The train gathered speed. He jogged alongside, trying to shove the carrier inside.

“Get in and pull, you moron!” Vinayak yelled out to the dabbawalla’s receding back. The crowds moved in and Vinayak lost sight of him.

The compartment had almost reached the edge of the platform when the dabbawalla managed to jump on board. He pushed the passengers aside and dragged the carrier in just as they passed a telephone pole. A corner of the carrier slammed against the pole with a resounding crack.

A tiffin at the very end leaped into the air, somersaulted towards the glistening steel tracks, and rolled to a standstill on a wooden sleeper.

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