Ashok Dhokale, back in his native Mulshi, works at a construction site

PUNE: Ashok Dhokale, a ‘dabbawala‘ from Mumbai, has been forced to work as a construction labourer at a site near his villge, Dhokalwadi, in Mulshi taluka after staying unemployed for nearly three months because of the lockdown. Dhokale was earning Rs20,000 a month as a ‘dabbawala’ but now gets Rs 400 per day.
“Riding a bicycle with lunchboxes for 50km everyday was far easier than an entire day’s work here. But I have no option as I have to provide for my family,” he told TOI at the construction site, around 40km from here.
Four more ‘dabbawala’ families returned to Dhokalwadi village along with Dhokale’s family. They too have taken up other jobs.
Kisan Dhokale, another dabbawala, said, “We do not own any farm land but, thankfully, we have our own houses here. Otherwise, we would have been in big trouble during the Covid-19 outbreak.”
Hanumant Surve, president of Mulshi taluka Sarpanch Parishad, said most of the dabbawalas in Mumbai are from Pune district. “Apart from Mulshi taluka, dabbawalas are also based in Maval, Junnar, Khed and Ambegaon talukas. There must be around 5,000 of them. Most of them have taken up daily wage jobs now,” he said.
Ashok Dhokale said offices in Mumbai had closed after the lockdown was declared. “Our business depends heavily on daily office-goers. We simply had to return to Pune district,” he said. Dhokale, who was staying in a rented accommodation near Vakola bridge in Santacruz, Mumbai, somehow managed to get a vehicle and returned to Dhokalwadi with his wife and two sons. His elder son is a graduate while the younger one is a final-year student. “The rent for my room in Mumbai was Rs6,000. I will have to pay rent for three months once we return to Mumbai,” he said.
Dhokale said he would travel from Santacruz to Andheri and Kurla on his bicycle everyday. “Even though I had to travel around 50km daily, I had my own business. Here I have to work for someone else. If I owned farm land here, I wouldn’t have shifted to Mumbai,” he said.
Dhokale’s wife Laxmi worked as a domestic help in residential complexes in mumbai. “But after the lockdown, we were not allowed to enter the building premises. My salary for March is pending. If I would have got that money, it would have certainly helped us in the present situation,” she said.
They are hoping to get back to the grind in Mumbai. Despite the hustle and bustle, it’s “Mumbai meri jaan” for them.

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