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The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan
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The Tiffin

by Mahtab Narsimhan

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12 year old Kunal doesn't know much about his mom, except that she dropped him off with a friend and never came back for him. He works as a slave for a cruel foster family, and he dreams of escaping his horrible life. When a kindly dabbawalla (deliveryman) Vinayak offers to give him a place to live, and help him possibly escape from being a waiter, he jumps at the idea, and then has some of his own. He is determined to use the tiffin carriers to get a note to his mother and get reunited. This is an intriguing story, moreso because there are parts that never get answered, and are left up to the reader's imagination. I loved the descriptions of Bombay and the busy life of the dabbawallas. This author is also the one who wrote The Third Eye, The Silver Anklet and The Deadly Conch. ( )
  JRlibrary | Oct 31, 2011 |
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! ( )
  ElizaJane | Sep 21, 2011 |
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When a note placed in a delivered lunch tin (a tiffin) is lost Kunal is seperated from his mother and ends up living as a slave. While learning to deliver tiffins with the help of an old friend Kunal hatches a plant that could reunite him with his mother and a better life.

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