A cool air swept him, as he entered the air conditioned ” Plaza” building. He rushed towards the lift, it was 1:15pm, he was already late by 5whole minutes.  There were people waiting for him at the office. He pressed 17 in the lift. The other occupants in the lift were too busy to even look at one another. But Ramesh, loved to observe the people around him. Many faces entered and left the lift as they reached the 17th floor.Four of them got down along with Ramesh on the 17th floor. None, seemed to have noticed Ramesh. But Ramesh knew everyone by their name.

He entered the office, the peon greeted him. “Ramesh bhai, you are late today”. Ramesh winked at him. He was carrying dabbas of food. He individually delivered the dabbas to every table. “Sharma ji, Good afternoon. Have your lunch on time”. And so on. Few greeted him,few nodded and few did not bother. But Ramesh never missed anyone. He would deliver the dabbas and then sit there for sometime, talk with the peon. But mostly, he waited for the smile on the faces, as they tasted his food. Few smiled, few were too busy to understand the taste. Ramesh would then move on to his next destination.

His typical day would start before dawn. He would leave even before sunrise to procure fresh fish from the market, then move onto the vegetable market. Buy chicken from the shop nearby and head back home. Then he would start cooking. Food was his speciality and cooking, his passion. He would plan for the menu, a night before. He would clean, cut and chop all the ingredients and cook with his heart. He would never repeat the menu for two consecutive days. He had a small client base, but was happy with it. He had plans for expanding his business but, for that he needed money. Which at this stage was not enough. He often dreamt about opening a small restaurant. People coming to his restaurant, enjoying food and having a good time.

He lived alone. He never had a family of his own. He was brought up in an orphanage, where, he managed to complete his graduation. But instead of searching for a job, he started his small catering business with the money he saved by working part time in the kitchen of a restaurant. He started out with just one client, but now he had quiet a few. He had little money, but he never compromised on the quality of food. His charges also were lower as compared to the other dabbawalas. More than food, he wanted to deliver happiness. Out of his small clientele, he had special attachment with the office on the 17th floor of the Plaza building.

One day he reached the office before time, delivered the dabbas to the individual table, greeting everyone. But he didn’t wait. Nobody, but the peon noticed this unusual behaviour.  But, before he could ask Ramesh, he was gone. And within 10mins there was total chaos on the 17th floor. As everyone opened their individual dabbas, they were shocked to see that half of the items in the dabbas was missing. Sharma ji’s dabba had only chapattis, Vikram’s had only rice and daal, Kirti’s had chicken and mixed veg and so on. Not a single dabba was properly arranged. The hungry and the angry, were complaining loudly and criticising about the lousy Ramesh. Even those who didn’t know the name of the dabbawala, became aware of the mistake Ramesh had made. They had no option, but to share their dabbas with each other. They left their cubicles for the conference room. Where annoyingly they shared each others food. No doubt, the food was as delicious as it always was, but criticism and complains did not subside. Ramesh has gone crazy, he is out of his mind, wasted so much of our time, I could have finished my work, if not for this Ramesh, etc etc etc.

In the evening,  when Ramesh came to collect the dabbas, most of the employees have left, but the peon was there. He narrated the whole incident. All Ramesh did was smiled, and said that this would never happen again. But the next afternoon, the same thing happened again. The infuriated employees again rushed to the conference room, but this time they were more organised while eating. They definitely did not forget to criticise Ramesh, but amidst all this, they also talked to each other. Sharma ji’s daughter had just cracked IIT, and Vikram was about to tie a knot, Kirti’s son had fractured his leg and so on. The happy hour was soon over. Ramesh as usualmcame to collect the empty dabbas in the evening,   he could sense the fear in the peon’s eyes. The peon delivered the warning issued by the bosses. Another day of this and they will cancel your dabbas. Ramesh assured him that it won’t be repeated.

But, three days later, Ramesh repeated his mistake once again. And then again on the following day. The angry and the hungry again rushed to the conference room. But, this time it was less of Ramesh and more of Vikram, Sharma ji, Kirti and the rest. They talked, they laughed, they joked and they ate. But yet, they were angry on Ramesh. In the evening the peon handed Ramesh a letter from the employees. Ramesh opened the letter to see that he has lost his clientele on the 17th floor. They no longer needed his services. Ramesh left the building. But he was not sad. He had a feeling of immense satisfaction.

Next day a new dabbawala delivered food to the 17th floor. Vikram without a second thought headed towards the conference room, soon the others followed. The food was nothing compared to that of Ramesh’s, but they talked and joked and ate together.

Next day, during lunch, the peon went to give them water. For the first time, someone inquired him, “Did you have your lunch. He replied, ” No, sir, Ramesh used to get me a free dabba everyday. Now that he is not there, I have to go outside to have my lunch. I usually take my lunch after all of you have finshed eating. So once you are done. I will go for lunch. But I am happy to see, that for the first time in so many years, all of you are enjoying your lunch. Thanks to Ramesh for switching the tiffins. His mistake has transformed this office.”

The hustle and bustle stopped. All of a sudden, there was complete silence in the room. They have just realised what Ramesh has done. Sharma ji, offered a plate to the peon, who very hesitantly accepted it. Vikram was fiddling his pocket for his cell phone. He had a very urgent call to make. He hurriedly dialled a number, the phone was on speaker, when a very familiar voice answered, ” Don’t worry, Sir ji, I will be there at 1:10pm tomorrow,  with your dabbas.”  ” You better be”, shouted everyone.

Three years later, Ramesh has managed to rent a small place for his much dreamt about restaurant. He also continued his catering business. He had a good client base now. He hung a board outside his restaurant,  it read ” LIFE IS BUSY, BUT WE CAN BE FREE.”

( When I started writing this blog, I thought I was writing about Ramesh, but as I proceeded, I felt that indeed I was writing about a little bit of Ramesh in all of us. Most of the time we all end up eating our meals with our tensios, work, cell phones, laptops. Why can’t we just sit an enjoy our meals with our family and friends. Afterall which cook does not want his dishes to be appreciated, be it a chef, mother, wife or daughter, husband, son, etc.?)