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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 February 2005, 13:08 GMT
Tiffin time for Charles and Camilla
By Harsh Kabra
BBC News, Pune

Prince of Wales in Mumbai
Prince Charles met the tiffin-carriers during his visit to Mumbai in 2003
Amid the hoard of wedding presents to be showered on Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles will be a little something from the famous lunch-box carriers of Mumbai.

They are pooling money to buy a traditional Indian headdress for Prince Charles and a sari, blouse and bangles for Camilla for their 8 April wedding.

Two years ago, during a visit to India, Prince Charles met the white-capped tiffin carriers and came away impressed.

Mumbai has an estimated 5,000 tiffin carriers - locally known as dabbawallahs- who deliver about 175,000 lunch boxes daily in a century-old tradition.

"Tiffin" is an old English word meaning midday snack.

Unforgettable meeting

The dabbawallahs collect lunch boxes from the suburban homes of nearly 200,000 customers and deliver them at their offices and factories at lunchtime.

Prince Charles gave us so much importance. He chose to meet us instead of the high-profile people
Raghunath Medge (R),
tiffin carriers association

A unique tracking system ensures that all the lunch boxes reach their rightful owners in time, earning a rating of 99.99% for precision and accuracy from Forbes magazine.

That's one error in eight million deliveries.

The tiffin carriers say that they can never forget their meeting with the Prince of Wales.

"It was because of his visit that people around the world came to know about our work. For the first time in our 114-year history, our achievements were noticed," says Raghunath Medge, chief of the tiffin carriers association.

"Prince Charles gave us so much importance. He chose to meet us instead of the high profile people."

So when they heard of the royal wedding from newspapers, the tiffin carriers decided to send presents.

It is considered auspicious in Maharashtra state to give a green nine-metre silk sari with a traditional zari border and green bangles to a bride to wish her luck.

Zari is a type of thread made of fine gold or silver wire woven into fabrics.

Common sight

"Camilla may face problems wearing a long sari, so we have decided to gift her a six-metre sari," says Mr Medge.

Laxmibai Bagade making a delivery
The service is fast, courteous and efficient

The gifts and delivery to Buckingham Palace by courier will set back the tiffin carriers $60 - and most of them will be contributing.

The tiffin carriers typically earn anything between $80 and $95 a month.

The vocation of supplying tiffin in Mumbai began in 1890, when the British and Parsi communities in the city needed convenience lunches.

Today, their punctuality and self-developed management system has left management experts around the world awestruck.

The lunch boxes travel on trains, cycles and wooden carriers, passing through as many as four hands before finally landing at the customer's table.

The tiffin suppliers have successfully survived the onslaught of the fast-food industry.

"There's no substitute for home-made food," says Mr Medge.

Hot lunch - a tiffin lady's burden
27 Aug 04 |  South Asia
In pictures: Charles in India
04 Nov 03 |  Photo Gallery

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