Probably during my grandmom’s times the vessels and dabbas were made of stainless steel and the middle class could afford only a few. So the first thing that families did was get their name and date engraved on the dabba/vessel. This also protected the dabba as it was used to identify when found in someone else’s household. During the later years, some of the restaurants also followed the engraving “Stolen from ..”, in the hope that the thief would be ashamed to steal, in vain. The families mostly being joint had only large containers used for storing all staples like dals, flour, and also snacks/sweets made during festivals perhaps
Advent of the tiffin carrier
As time progressed the families became smaller. Also, people started working away from their homes and traveled larger distances each morning making it unviable to get back home for lunch. This was the start of the carry your food to work when you didn’t work in a factory. Most factories served their workers a huge lunch at a very small price. A lot of them made the most of it (more about it sometime else ). So the ones that needed to carry food probably made good with the engraved dabbas either bought or gifted by someone. The gifted dabbas had names of who gifted it to whom and on which date and occasion.Some of the families even had a multi-layer tiffin carrier which helped with the food not getting all mixed up in a single container. The next improvement in this area was the Indian need to eat food hot, while Bombay had the dabbawalas the rest of the country had to procure the “hot case”.The hot case was a show-off in the office and was somehow mistaken to keep food fresh as well.
The just in case dabbas
Indian middle-class households never throw two things, the newspapers, and the dabbas. These dabbas are the ones that have been sent by a restaurant for their food delivery. The dabbas are carefully cleaned, wiped, and stored for a rainy day. When indeed a rainy day happens ,these dabbas are used for packing giveaways of extra food the caterer made to the relatives OR that cake to be packed for children who didn’t turn up.That’s when everyone who wanted to giveaway these lovelies is confronted with the “See I told you”. Builders, and carpenters please take note and build an extra storage space for these temporarily preowned loved ones.The capacity of the storage can be determined based on Swiggy/Zomato order history. I would put the empty glass bottles from Nestle,Nescafe,Nandini etc in the same category though some of them may be actually used to store stuff.
The Russian doll dabbas
Some companies make these dabbas which attract the Indian householder as much as the Russian doll did in the past. A dabba in a dabba in a dabba and more, you get the idea. The purpose apparently is to store stuff to be used in long term in the largest dabba, to the smallest one for immediate daily use and everything in-between left to the owner’s imagination. While the world was recommending Think BIG, the moms were busy thinking how small and cute can these fellas get and kept shopping endlessly .The trouble began when the number of dabbas become too many and one didn’t know which dabba had what. Then came the post-it notes inside the larger dabbas , the cute little fellas were just that ,cute and useless.
The king of dabbas
Last known ,the king of dabbas was released into the world as a panacea for all issues known to mankind. Lasts forever, guaranteed for life , if broken you can get them replaced for new ones so on and so forth. The marketing was the best India has seen perhaps .Every household worth its salt had started to hoard these for every purpose ranging from storage to transportation to tiffin carriers. Some even took household franchises as agents .
Yes, I am talking about Tupperware and the success of the product was so huge that the imitations hit the market immediately with every possible term ending with a ‘ware.. These products were so protected that many children and husbands have gone back to school/work to retrieve the forgotten dabba before they head back home. They would rather lose a limb than the king.
After all this I have stopped thinking of “Dabba nan maga” as an insult .. Proud to be treated as a loved one …Don’t even get me started on the dabbas in the fridge, that needs separate “ treatment “ .