Grades 4-8 (Dancing Cat Books, 2011)
There is a reason why The Tiffin has been listed as one of Quill & Quire’s 15 “Books of the Year” for 2011. There is a reason why this book is receiving critical acclaim. And there is a reason why I absolutely loved it. Actually there are many reasons.
Narsimhan’s story is crafted around the dabbawallas of modern-day Mumbai, the deliverymen who run hot boxed lunches, or tiffins, to office workers all over the city. This network of runners is so highly organized that only one in six million tiffins never makes its intended destination. However, to the young and pregnant Anahita, who slips a frantic note to her beloved into his daily tiffin, all that matters is that single delivery. And all that matters to young Kunal, 13 years later, is finding out what happened to his mother after it went astray.
Narsimhan writes as one who loves her setting of contemporary Mumbai and no sensory detail is spared. The reader is transported to India, enveloped in the smell of spices cooking in the street and the sensation of cotton clinging to Kunal’s back in the muggy heat of the train station. As in the award-winning Tara Trilogy, Narsimhan has set her story in a faraway land but, this time, she has brought to Canadian children’s fiction a relatively unexplored but very real setting, fostering an added element of cultural exploration and awareness.
Woven into this story is still the magical, mystical feel that Narsimhan’s readers love. While Kunal lives in a very real, very gritty Mumbai, the reader can almost believe he has a fairy-godmother looking out for him. Indeed, maybe he does in the form of Vinayak, the old dabbawalla who takes him under his wing and helps him rediscover family.
In The Tiffin, Mahtab Narsimhan skilfully delivers a beautiful story with that fairy-tale shimmer in a gritty, contemporary setting.