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Anjali Jhangiani
Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Illustrator Abhijeet Kini is out with a new comic introducing a local superhero

Mumbai is famous for a number of things, among them is the service of the city’s dabbawalas. This army of delivery men who make sure that working professionals receive hot food on time for lunch can very well be called the lifeline of the city. Recognising their importance, SodaBottleOpenerWala, an Irani Cafe chain in the city, commissioned a comic book on them as part of their Spirit of Bombay campaign. 

Sharing his experience of working on the project, illustrator Abhijeet Kini says, “One of the many things Mumbai stands for is the legacy of the city’s dabbawalas. Come rain, come hail, you know your tiffin will be picked up and delivered correctly and on time,” and adds, “My wife did the writing for the comic and I did the illustration. Together we are Kini studios. We thought of portraying the dabbawala as nothing less than a superhero because they truly are extraordinary.”

While Kini’s only memory of interacting with a dabbawala was way back when he was in school, he says he is aware of the amazing way in which their system works and how famous they are all over the world. “My mother used to send dabba for my father while he was working. I was in school that time. I remember that the dabbawala used to be at my doorstep at the exact minute he committed to picking up the tiffin. There were no delays or mix-ups. But as a kid, I did not know the magnitude of their organisation or what a brilliant system they have. I got to know about all this in my 20s when I read about Prince Charles meeting them and how their business model is used as a case study in business schools across the country. I’ve seen them loading and unloading their tiffins in the local train,” says he. 

The artist is fascinated with the system they follow. “Some of the dabbawalas are illiterate, but they still they manage to understand the code and make the deliveries correctly. They have a fail-proof system which is baffling but so simple at its core, and that is amazing,” he says. 

While doing his research on this community, Kini found a Parsi connection. “We had a tight deadline, so our research for this project was primarily done on the internet. We came across a lot of facts that were nice to read about the dabbawalas. In fact when we talk of the Parsi community, we know that they have contributed a lot towards the economy and development of the country. And interestingly, we found a Parsi connect when we were researching about the dabbawalas,” he says, adding, “Apparently, during the British Raj, there was a Parsi fellow working in a bank who wanted home-cooked meals for lunch. He hired a Maharashtrian man to pick up his tiffin from home and deliver it to him at his office. This delivery man then recognised the potential of the service he provided to turn into a big business. He knew that there would be many like the good Parsi man who wanted home-cooked food delivered hot during lunch time at their work places,” says he.  

The storyline of Kini’s comic is simple. It’s about a little boy who has to present a show-and-tell in class about a superhero. Confused about which superhero to pick, he approaches his parents. They tell him about the friendly neighbourhood superhero — the dabbawala. “We didn’t want to make the comic too preachy. We’ve kept it fun and light. The parents tell the boy about the dabbawalas and impressed with what he hears, the boy goes on to make a presentation on the dabbawala for his school’s show-and-tell,” says Kini. 

The artist has taken this comic to a few comic cons recently, but it will officially be launched at the preview of the Spirit of Bombay exhibition at the Palladium, Mumbai on June 14. All the proceeds from the sale of the comic will be donated to the Mumbai Dabbawala Association.
Currently, the artist is busy going through a few scripts for Tinkle comics, and plans to work on a new series of Angry Maushi comics. “She’s still angry,” he ends.

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