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Now, dabbawalas demand to be paid to pose for foreign tourists

Move over, professional models. It is the celebrated dabbawalas of the city who have now started demanding money to pose for pictures when foreign tourists come to see them.


Smile, you’re on camera: Having shot to international fame in recent years following all-round recognition of their near-flawless system of lunchbox delivery, dabbawalas are now firmly on the list of tourist attractions. Pic/Nimesh Dave

“When one of our guides went with a group of foreign tourists to Churchgate railway station, where the dabbawalas gather in the morning, a dabbawala told them to stop clicking their pictures and asked whether they had obtained permission to take the pictures,” tour operator Anil Shetty (name changed) said. “He asked for Rs 25,000 and soon raised it to Rs 50,000 to allow the foreigners to click pictures of the dabbawalas present at the spot and to give the tourists some information.”

Having shot to international fame in recent years following all-round recognition of their near-flawless system of lunchbox delivery, dabbawalas are now firmly on the list of tourist attractions.

As fascinated foreigners are brought by agents to Churchgate railway station to see the lunch delivery system at work, your average dabbawala feels it is only fair to charge for photographs since the people in the travel business take up his time but do not voluntarily offer him a cut from the money they charge the tourists.

Agents say there is also a feeling among dabbawalas that the foreigners sell the photographs abroad to tap the interest generated in dabbawalas of late.

The money is usually demanded from the agents who bring the foreign tourists. And no, Rs 1,000-2000 will not suffice, say agents.

“It is very bad that we Indians are spoiling our image before guests from abroad,” Shetty said. “The dabbawalas are demanding too much from me. They have a misconception that we take a lot of money from tourists. They also feel that these tourists who take their pictures might be selling these photos back home and making large sums of money from it. But that is not the case with all foreign tourists.”

A guide, Ravi Kumar (name changed), who takes foreign tourist around on Mumbai darshan, said he had also been asked whether permission had been taken to click pictures when showing a foreign tourist the dabbawalas’ way of working.

“We made these dabbawalas famous and now they are quoting a price for their fame,” Kumar said. “It was very embarrassing for me when I was showing a foreign tourist how the dabbawalas operate and suddenly one dabbawala shouted, ‘Why are you clicking pictures and have you any permission to take the pictures?’”

Yamnaji Ghule, president of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier Charity Trust, said they only ask travel agents to make a reasonable donation.

“The tourists come to us in the morning at Churchgate railway station and keep taking our pictures. They come with an agent and we tell them that they can come to our office and donate us some money — around Rs 5,000 — for our organisation as we allow them to take our pictures and give them so much of information about our work,” Ghule said. “We have never demanded any more than this amount.” 

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