| Taste lingers: Charles talks to Mumbai dabbawallahs in 2003. (PTI)
Mumbai, Feb. 14: The British public may not be too happy with Prince Charles' marriage, but Raghunath Megde is kicked: 'Yeh hamare yaar ki shaadi hai.'
If Camilla Parker Bowles opens all the gifts before walking down the aisle on April 8, she will know she has a wedding present from India no member of the British royalty has ever had. So what if she has to be content with only being called Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall ' and at best Princess Consort, if her husband ascends the throne.
In her gifts, she will find a traditional chhavvari (six yards long) Maharashtrian silk sari and a matching blouse ' probably green in colour. Her husband will not be overlooked either ' he will get a traditional pheta (turban).
These will be gifts to the couple from the dabbawallahs of Mumbai ' the Six Sigma-rated (highest operational efficiency) 'tiffin carriers' who took only hours to decide how they will show their approval to the 56-year-old groom and his 57-year old bride, while Queen Elizabeth took several decades.
There are still many raised eyebrows in the sceptred isle, with the majority of respondents in several snap opinion polls saying they disapproved of the relationship.
But these humble men who keep Mumbai going during lunch hour by ferrying 1.5 lakh dabbas (lunch boxes) containing home-cooked food to offices, schools and colleges, decided to shower the would-be royal couple with their blessings because they consider Prince Charles their special friend.
The white-capped, white-shirted dabbawallahs shot to the limelight when they were awarded the Six Sigma rating, but it was Charles' meeting with them in Mumbai in November 2003 that really helped them. He was the first celebrity who visited them. Megde, president of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin-Box Suppliers' Association, the formal name by which the dabbawallahs are known, said: 'Many people talked about us, but Prince Charles was the first famous person who met us. He encouraged us. He is our friend and we are very happy that he is getting married.'
'Hum isi present se unko pyar jatana chahta hoon (We want to express our love through our presents),' he added.
The gifts will be bought day after tomorrow. Members of the association will be present to select the saree and the turban. 'A navvari (nine-yard sari) would be more traditional, but people abroad don't wear sarees that long,' Megde said.
Which is why Camilla will get only six yards of it, though some would say she could do with nine. The sari will probably be green, because that is the auspicious colour for brides in a Maharashtrian ceremony. 'We will send the gifts through courier,' Megde said.The dabbawallahs don't know how much they can afford, though. There are about 4,000 to 5,000 members in the association, but not everyone is expected to contribute. 'We will ask for contribution from 600 to 700 people. We will ask them to contribute around Rs 10 and Rs 15, or whatever they are capable of,' the president added.
That would be a generous sum. Though a dabbawallah covers 100 to 120 km and can carry up to 25-30 dabbas with zero error every day and has earned a high international profile, they don't earn enough sometimes to keep their own kitchen fire going.'In a good month, a member earns about Rs 4,500,' Megde said. 'But since we are all shareholders, there is no disparity in income.'
Megde, who has addressed the Confederation of Indian Industry and the IIMs, is himself a group leader in Vile Parle. Mumbai is divided into 70-odd 'stations' within the dabbawallah network, and there are group leaders in each station, sometimes more than one for the important ones.
'But there are bad months when schools are closed. Then the income may go down to Rs 1,000,' Megde said. And with the rise in fast food joints and meals available everywhere, the number of people who eat their lunch from dabbas has plateaued.
But Mumbai can't do without dabbawallahs yet. They recently participated in the Mumbai Marathon, the crowds cheering lustily whenever a white cap was sighted.
A white cap may even be sighted on the day of the marriage at Windsor Castle, where the civil ceremony will take place. Is Prince Charles sending an invitation'