Think of Mumbai’s busy life and you cannot help but wonder about its world-renowned dabbawalas. Now, if you’re still unaware of their existence, dabbawalas are the people who transport fresh home-cooked food to working persons on a daily basis. It is said that they are the ones who make Mumbai one of the most preferable cities to work in.
The concept of dabbawalas originated as early as the British Imperial period; 1880 to be specific. During those times, many Indians, working at British firms, would find the British food too hard to accept, and hence, would resort to the men who would not only cook, but also ferry home-cooked food to them at the specified time.
Over the years, the dabbawalas have not only become an integral power structure of the city, but have assimilated with the culture as well. If they go on a strike for a day, more than 60% of the working people of Mumbai would go hungry.
The association of the dabbawalas, the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers’ Association, was registered in 1956 and has an employee strength of around 5,000. They supply around 2,00,000 tiffin boxes daily (which means, they make 4,00,000 transactions on a daily basis) within a time period of 3 hours.
Each dabbawala is an equal shareholder of their society—irrespective of their caste, they are all the same! We, the ones who prefer the quota systems, should indeed learn something from them.
According to a recent survey, the error rate in their supply is around 1 in 16 million transactions, which means that they have an error rate of 0.0001% – which is close to just perfect.
Discipline is the key word for these dabbawalas — while on duty, they not only have to wear white Nehru caps but also carry identity cards. If they are caught drinking alcoholic beverages, then strict penalties are bestowed on them. They have to abide by rules that are no less than those applicable in top corporate houses.
Their services remain simply impeccable even during the harsh monsoons, which are nothing short of tragedy for the rest of the Mumbaikars. For all those troubles and trauma, they receive a meager amount of 6,000 to 10,000 bucks per month depending on how much they deliver.
Although they work for even high profile businessmen and managers, their work is essentially managed manually without any high technological amenities. And their management skills made them deliver a lecture at IIM, Calcutta.
With a turnover of around 50 crores a year, they provide an example on how big business ventures can run on proper human effort, organic skills, low operational costs and capital. Without any intelligent processors, highly qualified operational managers, customer relationship management or any kind of legal department, they come up as a big wonder for corporate gurus.
The best thing about the dabbawalas is that each of them have specific clients to whom they cater their services. Hence, they know their clients pretty well and there remains no space to think about lack of trust and dependency.
During the royal company at the Churchgate Station, the Prince of Wales had himself turned up and congratulated them for their great job.
In order to learn time management, high profile management institutes invite the spokespersons of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers’ Association to deliver lectures. They have been not only to IIM Calcutta and other National institutions but even institutions abroad — UAE and other countries.
Among other achievements, the dabbawalas have their names registered in The Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. They also hold the world record in Best Time Management.
The simplicity and the honesty of dabbawalas won accolades from Harvard University, IIMs and even from Sir Richard Branson, the latter’s praise was won when he saw them working relentlessly at the Churchgate Station. These admirers are only a few among hundreds.