Saturday, 21 June 2008

Mumbai Dabbawallahs are in news again

And guess where? In Dubai! Yes in Dubai!

A conference of chartered accountants in Dubai this week, which heard presentations on topics like wealth structuring crisis, India's cost competitiveness, Middle East equity markets and commodities cycle, was perked up by a presentation on Mumbai's ubiquitous dabbawalas.

Invited by the Dubai chapter of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, Manish Tripathi, honorary director of Mumbai's dabbawalas, gave a presentation on the trade wearing a now globally recognizable dabbawala white cap and swearing with his hand on a tiffin box that he would “say the truth and nothing but truth” about his trade.

“Believe me, I will give you so much knowledge about dabbawalas that any of you can come to Mumbai and start working as a dabbawala,” he told an over-1,000 strong audience at a five start hotel here.

“Our work revolves around a few beliefs - the most important ones of which are sticking to time and believing that work is worship,” he said.

There are around 5,000 dabbawalas in Mumbai today delivering around 200,000 tiffin-boxes amounting to 400,000 transactions every day - first delivering the tiffin boxes and then delivering the empty boxes back home.

Every dabbawala has to report for duty at their designated locations at precisely 9:30 a.m. The dabbawalas work in a high pressure environment in traffic-congested Mumbai as they move dabbas on foot, carts and local trains to deliver the food to their customers across various places in India's commercial capital.

“Our workers just have the basic knowledge of alphabets and numerals which help them write the codes on the tiffin boxes.”

The process begins early in the morning. Cooked food is picked up from houses and caterers by dabbawallahs and taken to the nearest railway station. There, the different tiffin boxes are sorted out for specific destination stations and loaded on to large, rectangular trays accordingly.

Each tray can hold up to 40 boxes. These trays then travel in local trains down to various stations. At each station, there are another set of dabbawallahs who quickly take the dabbas meant to be distributed in that area and push in dabbas meant for other stations.

At each station, the boxes are once more sorted for localities and offices and taken there by handcarts or sometimes carried by individuals

The boxes are placed in the offices' reception area by 12.30 pm and are picked up from the same spot by the deliverer a couple of hours later.

The whole process then starts again in the reverse. The boxes are picked up from the offices, taken to the nearest station and sorted for their journey home.

Forbes magazine gave this service its highest quality rating of Sigma 6, which means that per million transactions, there is just an error of one.

Explaining the major features of the dabbawalas's supply chain management, Tripathi, who had given similar presentations at IIMs, Stanford University and George Washington State University among others, said: “Zero percent reliance on fuel, zero percent use of modern technology, zero percent investment, zero percent disputes, 99.99 percent performance rate and 100 percent customer satisfaction.”

While our NRI cousins have to make do with fast food cuisine and put on extra pounds, we, in India, can enjoy the luxury of home-cooked food, thanks to our hardworking and responsible dabbawallahs…….Aint we lucky living in Mumbai?


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The name "Bombay" was derived from 'Bom Bahia' (The Good Bay),

.... a name given by Portuguese sailor Francis Almeida, in 1508 ....“Bounce back Mumbai” it is called by the locals, it is a city that has been through a lot in the recent past – floods, bomb blasts, riots – and come out stronger each time.

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