Vancouver’s Indian Summer Festival draws on centuries of history (w/ photos)

The Dabbawalas of Mumbai

Picture 1 of 16

Submitted/ Shahid Datawala


Born and raised in India, Vancouver’s Sirish Rao never thought twice about the workers he’d see “bustling around” Mumbai train stations carrying a sea of tin lunch boxes in giant wooden crates perched atop their heads.

According to Rao, now artistic director of Vancouver’s Indian Summer Festival (which kicks off Thursday and runs until July 12), the workers are widely known across the city as “Dabbawalas,” which translates to “one who carries a box.” They’re part of Mumbai’s daily chaos, racing through streets and transit hubs to provide a lunch courier service that delivers hot, homemade lunches to workers in the downtown city centre. They begin their day in the outskirts of Mumbai, visiting suburban family homes to pick up the meals, then cycle, walk or take public transport to deliver the goods by the lunch hour.

The Dabbawalas of Mumbai happen to be one of Indian Summer Festival’s highlight events this year, as two workers have agreed to travel to Vancouver for a seminar to share their stories, organizational methods and tips for entrepreneurial success.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when Forbes Magazine, Harvard Business School and even Richard Branson started showing an interest in the Dabbawalas’ work, that Rao and many others realized these integral figures of the hectic Mumbai scene were part of one of the “most efficient organizations on the planet,” as they’re known for never making a mistake.

“The organization feeds off the fact that Indians like home-cooked food and hot food,” said Rao. “I’d hear about them all the time.”

“(But) you kind of look around and you don’t know that these guys are so amazing in what they do.”

Indian Summer Festival, now in its fourth year, started out rooted in Indian literature and has since expanded to include all of South Asia in a celebration of art, ideas and diversity through its showcase of local and internationally known South Asian artists.

This year’s eight-day festival offers a range of events from movies in the park, to yoga and bhangra classes, storytelling workshops, speaker series with authors and filmmakers and food tastings.

And while Mumbai’s Dabbawalas may seem an unlikely match for ISF, these workers, in fact, “fit in,” said Rao, as they’re artists themselves.

“If you’re from Bombay and you try to take a suburban train, that itself is an achievement,” Rao said with a laugh. “We want to offer ideas and here is something that’s driven by human passion.

“It’s a story, it’s a narrative — that’s what it’s driven by … this quintessential India, strange story.”

“We have speakers of all kinds — why not entrepreneurs?”

It’s this wide scope that makes ISF so classically Indian, said Rao, which results in “an unusual festival for North America.”

“Here, what normally happens is festivals are very clear about what genre they’re operating in — music, film or literature,” he said. “In India we’re more used to a festival that melds various disciplines.”

“This is a place where worlds meet in every way — disciplines, audiences, artists.”

The goal is to create an intriguing and exciting dialogue that is global in scope.

“We’re offering different perspectives on the world,” said Rao.


Event Details:

Lunchbox Legends: The Dabbawalas of Mumbai — Thursday July 10, 6 p.m., SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, $25

For more information and event listings visit

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



U.S. teen pilot seeking record for around-the-world flight dies in ocean crash, Pakistan-born father missing

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS INDIANAPOLIS — A U.S. teenager who was attempting to set a record for an around-the-world flight was killed when his plane crashed…
Continue Reading »

Surrey-weight lifter-Commonwealth Games-Glasgow

Surrey weightlifter Parm Phangura bound for Commonwealth Games

MICHAEL BOOTH SURREY NOW FLEETWOOD — 163+205=368. That stark equation scrawled in the top corner of a chalkboard means little to a casual observer, but…
Continue Reading »

British Columbia

Ferocious tyrannosaurs might have roamed in packs, newly discovered B.C. footprints suggest

THE CANADIAN PRESS VANCOUVER — Fossilized footprints uncovered in northeastern British Columbia suggest the ferocious tyrannosaurs that ruled the Earth 70 million years ago just…
Continue Reading »


Surrey-weight lifter-Commonwealth Games-Glasgow

Surrey weightlifter Parm Phangura bound for Commonwealth Games

MICHAEL BOOTH SURREY NOW FLEETWOOD — 163+205=368. That stark equation scrawled in the top corner of a chalkboard means little to a casual observer, but…
Continue Reading »

BC man charged in Syria terrorism

Burnaby man accused of joining Islamist fighters in Syria (w/video)

DOUGLAS QUAN AND TIFFANY CRAWFORD POSTMEDIA NEWS A British Columbia man accused of taking up arms in Syria has become the first person to be…
Continue Reading »

Surrey-Gurdwara president-wife

Funeral set for wife of former Surrey Sikh temple president who died after alleged domestic assault

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI The funeral for Surrey wife and mother Narinder Singh Kalsi, who died in hospital after an alleged domestic-related incident, will take…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...


Tipsy British tourist asked to leave church after mistaking it for a disco

CEN AGENCY A tipsy British tourist had to be asked to leave a church in Crete where he started dancing after local kids told him…
Continue Reading »

BC Sikhs

Frustrated Port of Metro Vancouver truckers want government to push companies to comply with action plan

THE CANADIAN PRESS VANCOUVER — Drivers servicing the country’s largest port urged government on Monday to take swift action against trucking companies, which they say…
Continue Reading »

Rashida Samji

B.C. Securities Commission finds Vancouver woman who ran a Ponzi scheme committed $100 million fraud

ALMAS MEHERALLY VANCOUVER DESI VANCOUVER – A B.C. Securities Commission panel has found that a Vancouver woman and two companies she controlled committed a $100-million fraud….
Continue Reading »


Canada balks at returning Indian statue of a woman believed stolen from Khajuraho temple

DOUGLAS QUAN POSTMEDIA NEWS  India is trying to repatriate a “voluptuous” 12th-century statue of a woman with a parrot on her bare shoulder that somehow…
Continue Reading »


TransLink says human error caused SkyTrain meltdown Monday

The SkyTrain power outage that stranded thousands of commuters Monday afternoon was caused by human error, according to TransLink. An experienced electrician was installing a…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood Latest

Slam! The Tour  poster Horizdesi

Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone gear up for Bollywood extravaganzas in Vancouver, Toronto and the U.S.

IANS New Delhi – Superstar Shah Rukh Khan is ready to shake a leg with his fans in the US after a gap of 10…
Continue Reading »

Actress Alia Bhatt attends the Highway premiere during 64th Berlinale International Film Festival at Zoo Palast on February 13, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.Clemens Bilan/Getty Images

Alia Bhatt feels she’s too young to team up with Bollywood’s Khans

IANS Mumbai – Bollywood’s reigning Khans are in their late 40s and 21-year-old Alia Bhatt feels she needs to look more matured to look convincing…
Continue Reading »

Priyanka Chopra

If Hollywood has Hilary Swank, we have Priyanka Chopra: Bollywood filmmaker

IANS Mumbai – Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali compares Priyanka Chopra with “Million Dollar Baby” star Hilary Swank insisting that only “Barfi” star could pull of…
Continue Reading »