211. The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan

The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan (Canada) only

Pages: 192
Ages: 9+
Finished: Sept. 18, 2011
First Published: Sept. 1, 2011 (Canada)
Publisher: Dancing Cat Books
Genre: juvenile, realistic fiction, India, Bombay
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

April 1982

My dearest A,
I'm so scared!  You have to meet me tonight...

Anahita stared at the note.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Cormorant Books.

Reason for Reading:  I am a fan of the author.

The city of Bombay, India has a 150 year old tradition of delivering hot lunches to business workers in metal tins called tiffins.  This is a complicated business and yet it has a reputation of losing only one box per every six million.  The opening chapter is a flashback to a story of one such lost box and the rest of the book comes back to the present to show the consequences that lost lunch had for one person.  Kunal, who was left with the Seths as a baby, has been raised as their slave working in their restaurant with no wages, beat by the owner and shown no love by either him or his wife.  He has one customer, an old man, who is in charge of the tiffin business at the nearby rail station who eventually takes him in and gets him a job at a nice restaurant.  Now Kunal makes some friends and can devote his time to finding his real mother and finding out why she never came back for him.

Beautifully written book, with a easy going third person narrative that catches your attention right away.  The story takes one down into the underbelly of Indian life where the poor, the orphaned, the down-on-their-luck work and survive and where the mean, nasty and or criminal prey upon them.  At times I thought I was reading about Victorian life, but no I had to remind myself this was life today for the poor and just getting by in Bombay today.  The story is full of pathos, Kunal has been dealt a hard life and he lives on dreams for a brighter future, for a family.  As he goes looking for that family he ends up finding it in the least likely of places.

Not only a wonderful, heart-wrending story but also one with plenty of insight into Indian daily life and culture.  I found it very interesting and entertaining.  I loved Kunal as a character and rooted for him right from the beginning, hoping for the ending that eventually came to pass.  I still find the idea of the tiffins strange.  Maybe 150 years ago it was a good idea, but now?   It seems a pretty complicated way to get a hot lunch.  They must have thermoses and microwaves in business districts in India.  Why can't people take their lunch to work with them like the rest of us?  If they want it hot, put it in a thermos or microwave it.  Tiffins are a very strange concept to this Canadian!  A great read and certainly both unique and different from the usual fare available for juvenile readers these days.  Well done.  Recommended!


  1. The idea that the story is based on such an old tradition of delivering hot lunches really caught my attention. It sounds like a different way to tell a story, which is a nice change.

  2. Hi Nicola,

    This is quite a departure from my usual genre of fantasy. Glad you loved it and thanks for the great review!

    Best wishes,

  3. Harvard Business College did a study of this system. How so many thousands of lunches are picked and delivered correctly each day by a system of totally illiterate people who operate the system with only symbols. I have seen a documentary on this and it is an amazing lifestyle. From father to son it goes on and on.


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