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

Published: June 29, 2014

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



India’s ‘shameful’ adoption record

With 30 million orphans, just 2,500 adoptions took place in India in 2014 RAMA LAKSHMI WASHINGTON POST When Shreya Roy applied to adopt an orphan…
Continue Reading »


Restaurateur faces manslaughter charge after customer died of peanut allergy

IANS London – An Indian restaurant owner in Britain has been charged with manslaughter following the death of a customer after eating curry prepared at…
Continue Reading »

ferocious pets

Exotic Pets: African lioness kept as pet in central Pakistan gives birth to litter of 5 cubs

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS MULTAN, Pakistan — It’s a baby boom for the owner of a pet lioness in central Pakistan. The African lioness named Queen…
Continue Reading »


Vancouver car sales

Planning to buy a new car? Check out what’s on offer at Like It Buy It Vancouver

POSTMEDIA NEWS Act fast to buy your dream car at a discount. A rare new Roush RS3 race car is on sale now for 25…
Continue Reading »

Vancouver Yoga Fashion

Lululemon sees surge in fourth-quarter sales

MICHELLE MCQUIGGE THE CANADIAN PRESS Strong North American sales helped drive fourth-quarter results at Lululemon Athletica Inc., but the Vancouver-based retailer says its hopes for…
Continue Reading »


Canadian YouTube sensation Superwoman meets Bollywood’s ‘Dilwale’

IANS Mumbai – Indo-Canadian YouTube sensation Lilly Singh, famously known as Superwoman, met filmmaker Rohit Shetty and actor Varun Dhawan on the set of their…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Vancouver car sales

Planning to buy a new car? Check out what’s on offer at Like It Buy It Vancouver

POSTMEDIA NEWS Act fast to buy your dream car at a discount. A rare new Roush RS3 race car is on sale now for 25…
Continue Reading »

India-Vancouver Desi

Justin Bieber’s roast on Indian TV on Fools’ Day

IANS New Delhi – Singer Justin Bieber’s infamous ‘roast’, hosted by Kevin Hart, will hit Indian television on April 1, just months after the controversial…
Continue Reading »

messy custody battle-desi lingerie model

Jeremy Renner’s messy divorce from B.C. model gets messier as custody battle rages

VANCOUVER DESI A B.C. woman who was married to Hollywood actor Jeremy Renner is being accused of being a gold digger and blackmailer who has…
Continue Reading »

India-Canada-Vancouver Desi

Indian PM Narendra Modi to visit Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa in April

VANCOUVER DESI Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming to Canada in April, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Wednesday. Modi will be visiting Toronto, Ottawa…
Continue Reading »

India marriage-abuse-prostitution-poverty

Indian child bride became a mother of three at age 14, was forced into prostitution by husband, then abondoned

HINDUSTAN TIMES She was barely 10 when her parents sold her off, became a mother of three by the age of 14 and was abandoned…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood Latest

Bollywood bride

Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma becomes a bride, not for Kohli but 7Up

IANS New Delhi – “Band Baaja Baaraat” actress Anushka Sharma, who was spotted at the India-Australia cricket match in Sydney on Thursday, had decked up…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma’s cricket bomb: I am sooooo happyyy India lost

HINDUSTAN TIMES We have an advice for filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma and it’s a simple one: Think before you tweet. Hot on the heels on…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood actor Salman Khan

Bollywood actor Salman Khan’s statement to be recorded in hit-and-run case

IANS Mumbai – Bollywood mega star Salman Khan will step into the witness box on Friday to record his statement on the 13-year-old hit-and-run case…
Continue Reading »