For the city that never sleeps and carries with it the dreams and hope of millions, rains are the biggest roadblock Mumbai faces year after year! Monsoon every year brings life to a standstill in the Financial Capital as problems of water logging and traffic congestion are predominant. For the fourth consecutive year, rain has brought the city to a pause

Dabbawalas are an intrinsic part of what Mumbai as a city is! It is the sight of the saviours in white Nehru Caps that enables the city to go to work without a break! Behind the idea that this city never sleeps, is a legion of these brave hearts who pick up the lunch boxes, deliver the food and return the empty boxes later in the afternoon.

It all started in 1890: Mahadeo Bhavaji Bachche was the first ever Dabbawala.  At the beginning, it was for delivering food to a British officer and a Parsi banker but soon it went on to become a flourishing business. He started a lunch delivery service with about hundred men working with him. Bachche unionized the Dabbawalas in 1930, however, informally. In 1956, a charitable trust under the name of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust was registered. Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association is the name under which the commercial arm of the Trust was finally registered in 1968.

The First and only time they went on a strike was in 2011: The Dabbawalas put an end to their streak of 120 years of non-stop service in August 2011. The Dabbawalas of Mumbai, who delivered lunch boxes even during the July 26 floods in 2005, went for a strike to support Anna Hazare in his campaign against corruption. Over 5000 Dabbawalas were reported to have joined the rally to support Hazare’s campaign that started from Mumbai Churchgate to Azad Maidan. The city, which has 2,00,000 lunch boxes delivered around by Dabbawalas every day, was lucky that the day of the strike fell on the Parsi New Year’s Day, which is a holiday in Maharashtra.

Certified Efficiency and accuracy: The rate of error of the Dabbawalas in Mumbai is about 1 in 16 million deliveries. It is because of their Six Sigma performance that the supply chain is an ISO 9001:2000 certified company. It is interesting to know that the Dabbawalas are today, a benchmark of efficient logistical service when most of the people working have never gone to school after 8th standard and many being illiterate. 

Colour Coding for identifying lunchboxes: Just because they don’t use computers doesn’t mean they don’t have their own technology. Every lunch box has a color-coded notation attached to the handle which lets them know who the owner is and where the box as to be delivered. The colour coding is used not just for identifying the owner and the route but also to identify the priority of the lunch box. Based on the priority, the box would be delivered on foot, on cycle or by train.

Their organisation skills were topic of research and studies: In 2005, the Indian Institute of Management had published a case study of the management technique implemented in the delivery routine of the Dabbawalas Mumbai. They described the working technique of the Dabbawalas of Bombay as an “outstanding example of excellence in logistics”. Five years later, the incredibly efficient delivery system of the company intrigued Harvard Business School as well who carried out their own study on the subject in 2010. Various aspects of the work culture of the Dabbawalas were put forward in the Ph.D. research of Pawan G. Agarwal in 2001 named “A Study & Logistics & Supply Chain Management of Dabbawala in Mumbai”

That time when a Dabbawala was on the Guinness Book of World Records: Dabbawalas are known for carrying more than one tiffin crates and deliver all around the city. However, this Dabbawala, Prakash Baly Bachche, made it to the sets of Guinness World Records – Ab India Todega. He carried three tiffin crates on his head which may not sound much but it is quite Herculean a task. One crate is about 6-7 feet long and carrying three of them and not upsetting the food is a job that not many Dabbawalas can pull off. Baly Bachche did an amazing job carrying three crates on his head and put his name in the Guinness Records on 21 March 2011.

Giving food to the slum children: A very interesting practice has been started by the Dabbawalas of Mumbai and it is called “Share My Dabba”. The Dabbawalas have noticed that a number of people do not eat the entire food packed in their boxes. Therefore, the Dabbawalas ask whoever not finishing the meal off and leaving some food inside the box, to stick the “Share my Dabba” sticker on the handle. This is considered an approval of the owner to let the Dabbawala distribute the leftover food among the children in the slums of Mumbai.

The time when Prince Charles wanted to meet them: Their most honourable fan is someone from the British Royalty, Prince of Wales, Prince Charles. He was visiting India in 2003 and he was in Mumbai during November. Charles was supposed to meet the famous Dabbawalas of Mumbai at Churchgate station and felicitate them for them for their brilliant services and remarkable achievements. The meeting did take place but the Dabbawalas of Mumbai were too busy to allot a second more than twenty minutes out of their busy schedule to meet and greet Prince Charles.

The Dabbawala’s gift on Prince Charles’ wedding: Although they were able to spend only twenty minutes with the Prince of Wales, they did strike a chord with him in the short rendezvous. Therefore, when they heard of the Prince’s wedding with long-term lover Camilla Parker, about 500 Dabbawalas contributed Rs 10-20 each and bought a saree for the bride and a Maharashtrian turban for the groom.

Corporate sharks needed their help for marketing: The Dabbawalas of Mumbai can be spotted all over the city and they travel to every nook and corner. Big brands such as Microsoft and HUL had made attempts to distributes flyers and advertisement materials through the network of the Dabbawalas on several occasions. The idea was implemented and carried out for a few days as a trial ran before it was scrapped. The Dabbawalas found that the extra time required to fix flyers and ad materials to the dabbas are actually creating interruptions in their tight model of work!

These people who stop at nothing have been blocked by the rain! "We did not collect the tiffins today, because of the water-logging across the city. Our people find hard to wade through their cycle in knee-deep water," Mumbai Dabbawalas Association's spokesperson Subhash Talekar said on July 10th 2018!