While cleaning my kitchen cabinets I found my lunch box right at the end in a corner. I took it in my hand and suddenly it was all nostalgia. Holding it in my hand, I had so many memories flooding to me and I realized these boxes play a much bigger role in our lives than just carrying food. They build memories, everlasting memories. They help you to learn, care, evolve and most importantly, share!
“Dabba” as I call my lunchbox and I think most of the Indians do too. Dabba has a much more homely and affectionate feel to it than lunch box.
When I was a school going girl, we looked forward to our break. We wanted to finish our dabbas as early as possible and go out and play so it had to be something quick to finish. In my days, it was not compulsory to carry roti-sabzi or snacks prescribed by school, so it used to be chips, biscuits or sandwiches. We used to finish it and run to play. Dabbas would also help us to learn something about our friends. My mom would pack me chips whenever she was unwell, and everyone knew that my mom was unwell if there were chips in the dabba. My friend’s mom would fast on Mondays and her dabba would have sabudana wadas or khichadi and we all looked forward to Mondays. That’s the first important value that a dabba teaches – “sharing.”
Now I pack my daughter a nutritious snack, which comes back unfinished, but if I send her something interesting (junk, usually), it comes back really clean with a complaint – “my friends eat my food too, you should have packed more!” My niece was telling me recently that her grandma makes excellent shrikhand, and whenever she takes it in her dabba, nothing remains for her to eat so she has to eat her friend’s food. Finally, she started taking two, one for herself and another for her friends.
I worked with a big IT company and had a good fortune of having that lunch hour with my colleagues. It was certainly a special time. We all would gather together at 1 PM and would be curious about what’s in everyone’s “dabba.” The lunch hour used to be about enjoying each other’s food with great conversations. Conversations are quintessential to make the experience of sharing a dabba great. A wide range of topics from in-law troubles, bitching about bosses or colleagues who aren’t at the table, a client or a customer who is giving trouble, pulling someone’s leg, office romances and gossips were discussed. Exchanging recipes and views happens over lunch time. We used to have potlucks in office, and it would unite the team whereby everyone would chip in and take responsibility of bringing their best cooked recipes. Dabbas have better team building impact than team building exercises.
Now that I am writing about it, I realize that the dabba plays such an important role in learning and appreciating other cultures and to an extent, incorporating those cultures in our lives from a food perspective. You invariably have a vegetarian whose religion doesn’t allow meat or onions or garlic to be consumed and everyone ensures not to cross those lines. They also broaden your food palette. You eat something new that you like and try making it at home and do your part in spreading the taste of the culture.
I have also used dabba as a lie detector test on my daughter. I religiously pack her roti sabzi and she would bring it back saying either it was very spicy or oily. Most of the time it looked untouched. One day I packed her favourite pasta and reminded her to eat her lunch before she left for the school. After she came back from school I asked her if she finished her lunch. She responded with “you always make sabzi so spicy I couldn’t eat”. Make sure you finish what your mom pack or you will find yourself in mom’s dabba trap.
Another unique and unexplored aspect of the dabba is carrying out romantic gestures. A friend of mine would pack a dessert or some interesting snack in her husband’s lunch box and would slip a love note like “I love you” or “I miss you.” I think that is more romantic then typing up a WhatsApp message. It shows the effort that she took to bring a smile on her husband’s face when he might have least expected it.
Before I sign off, I am sharing one more dabba memory that my daughter doesn’t allow me to forget. On Janmashtami, her school was having a small function and they were going to make dahi kala (a mix of curd and puffed rice to be offered to Lord Krishna) in school and sent a note to send an empty tiffin. I assumed the kids will get to eat there and some will be sent back home, and I sent an empty box. It turned out that all kids were supposed to get their normal dabba and an empty one. My daughter was the only one who didn’t have anything, and her teachers managed to give her some food in the break. Normally she doesn’t remember anything I tell her even if it’s 4 minutes ago, but this happened when she was in nursery and she still reminds me of that incident.
Do you have any memorable dabba memory? Do share it in comments!