With white Gandhi topis perched on their heads and colourful beads rattling in the spokes of their bicycle wheels, Mumbai’s dabbawallas were the star attraction of the BSA Hercules Cyclothon.
Nearly 200 of them, all members of the city’s Dabbawalla Association, showed up at Bandra’s Reclamation ground early on Sunday morning to participate in the 24 km Corporate Race. But covering that distance was a mere cakewalk for these men.
“We cover at least 25 to 30 kms every day while delivering people’s lunch boxes on our cycles,” said Gulab Roudhal (45), a dabbawalla who rode all the way from his home in Grant Road to Bandra for the race. “The exciting part was the experience of riding on the Bandra-Worli sea link for the first time.”
“We are here to show the city that hum bhi kisi se kam nahi (we are no less than others)!” said Vijay Gire, a dabbawalla in his 20s.
Dressed in their every day attire of white cotton shirts, trousers and rubber slippers, the band of dabbawallas strikingly stood out from the crowds wearing t-shirts, cycling shorts and sports shoes.
Many of the participants in the 12-km and 24-km races were regular cyclists, out to show their enthusiasm and support for the first cycle race in the city. “We didn’t need to practise for such a short ride, but we took part to promote health and environment,” said Vikas Tomar, one of the 350 Indian Navy personnel who took part in the Green Ride.
For Shubhendu Bhuta, who founded cyclists.in, an online community for non-professional cyclists in Mumbai, the Cyclothon was an opportunity to promote cycling. “Cycling is healthy, helps you lose weight, and can be used for so many small errands everyday,” said Bhuta, who cycles to work daily from Juhu to Andheri.
Besides Bhuta, a number of foreigners were also spotted on the 24-km stretch. “The traffic was very well regulated on the sea link,” said Lisa Johnson, an American finance professional who moved to Mumbai six months ago. “This race was better organised than the ones I’ve cycled for in East Asian cities.”