People who deeply care for each other often foster loving and familial, long-term relationships. Mahtab Narsimhan’s the tiffin shows how Kunal, a boy abandoned by his mother, finds an unexpected family among the local dabbawallas and a fatherly figure in the elderly dabbawalla Vinayak. Family is not confined to people bonded by blood, but includes those who are not related, yet still care for each other’s safety and wellbeing. Kunal enlists the aid of the dabbawallas to help reunite him with his mother, and in doing so they eventually become a part of the family he dearly longs for.
When Kunal meets the dabbawallas, he sees that they are already a tightly knit family. Upon returning home one night, he hears the merry sounds of the dabbawallas and thinks that they are partying without him because “He did not belong to their family [so] they hadn’t included him in their celebrations. ” (Narsimhan 145). However, Kunal later learns that the dabbawallas had gathered to help write notes to find his mother because they know how badly Kunal wants to find her. The wish to help the young boy indicates that they have already accepted him as part of their own family.
Kunal is abashed by his earlier disappointment in not being invited to what he assumes was a celebration. So, he makes “a promise to himself; no matter where he was... he would never forget the dabbawallas, or their kindness. ” (147). He understands that the dabbawallas’ commitment to helping him find his mother goes beyond that of friends’, and their desire to help him find a place where he can feel like he belongs, is the desire of people who truly care about him; a family. The day that the notes are being delivered, Kunal worries that his mother may not receive a note or decide to not return to him.
One dabbawalla assures Kunal that they will find his mother, leading Kunal to reflect, “How willingly he and the others had jumped in to help him. These were friends to whom he’d be indebted for life, whether the plan succeeded or not” (150). Kunal realizes that the dabbawallas have become like a family through all their efforts to help him find his mother; which shows their deep affection for him. Despite the lack of a blood relation between them, the dabbawallas show so much love for Kunal, that they eventually do become a family.
Kunal leaves the dhaba for his own safety, and the elderly dabbawalla Vinayak offers his home as a refuge resulting in the two forming a strong bond, similar to that between a father and son. When Kunal jumps on the train tracks to save a tiffin, Vinayak is terrified for Kunal’s safety because Kunal reminds him of someone he loved dearly and has lost. Kunal insists that Vinayak tell him who the person was by likening himself to being Vinayak’s son; to which Vinayak responds, “That is why I was so afraid for you, for me, if I lost you. ” (128).
Vinayak’s response indicates that he loves Kunal like a son and with his fatherly affection comes a concern for Kunal’s safety. Kunal’s affection for Vinayak is then tested when Vinayak later suffers from a heart attack and the hospital says that only family members may visit patients. Wanting to visit Vinayak, Kunal’s response is, “‘I’m his son, his only family. ’ ... He had never been so sure of anything. ” (134). Though Kunal is not related to Vinayak, he still refers to himself as Vinayak’s son and says it with such confidence; which indicates how he feels comfortable enough with their relationship to think of Vinayak as a father.
When Kunal finally meets his mother, she shows little regret for never trying contact him and acts like a stranger before walking away from her son. Oblivious to this encounter, fellow dabbawalla Nikhil asks Kunal if he still wants to look for his mother the next day even though Vinayak is now hospitalized; to which Kunal replies “No... I already have a family” (183). This statement refers to how Kunal finds a strong fatherly figure in his long time acquaintance Vinayak, and together the two people who lost their respective families create a strong familial bond.
Kunal is not related to any of the dabbawallas nor Vinayak, yet he still finds a family among them. Vinayak becomes a fatherly figure to him and the dabbawallas become a family always ready to look out for Kunal, unlike his birth mother. Kunal learns that family is not just a defining label for people who share the same DNA or are related through blood ties; it goes beyond that to define relationships that have evolved between strangers into bonds that are just as, if not stronger than those within a true family.