India's Best-known and Most Efficient Networking - the Mumbai's Dabbawala System 

Lesson to Learn from Dabbawala...
by Vilma D`Souza, Mumbai

India's Best-known and Most Efficient Networking - the Mumbai's Dabbawala System

MumbaI, Sep 14: Just like the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. A similar philosophy could perhaps be applied to the Dabbawala system and all its fame.

Although some may look down upon this business, yet its impact on the lives of the Mumbai-vasis cannot be ignored. Dabba is a Hindi word for a tiffin container and dabbawala means a person who carries these containers - what is commonly known as 'bhuti' in Konkani. The word itself brings to one's mind the home-made food and its aroma; the rest of it just follows.

I have seen them right from the time I was a kid. As I would get ready to go to school, the dabbawala would come at the gate of the building gate and wait with his bicycle. My mom would just hurry for the only reason is that the dabbawala would wait.

My mom is usually a person who does not bother even if her husband would wait for hours for her nor would she hurry for someone's wedding or funeral. However, the dabbawala is the only person whom my mom was punctual towards, or would reports to on time, rather. 

For those who have not heard about the dabbawalas or about their service, this topic would come as a nuance. Let me explain the whole funda of the dabbawala and their business.

I have not studied them for long. But having seen them right from the time when I was small until I could complete my college, I can confidently say, they have all the business management qualities which are essential for an MBA to possess.

The tiffin carrier service is believed to have originated in the 19th century. These are people who pick up tiffins from homes and deliver to offices, and this practice is prominent among people travelling in the crowded trains of Mumbai, hiring the services of the dabbawalas. Yet, for all that, the fee charged is minimal.

They start with the first team of people who go around for their pick-up rounds in the morning from the residential areas and deliver the consignment to the nearest railway station.

Thereafter the role of the other team comes up to take it from the first railway station to the railway station closest to the destination. The next team takes charge of collecting the dabbas from that station to the exact destination.

In spite of the all the dabbas being similar in their appearance, there is hardly any report of a wrong dabba being delivered. The secret behind this is a widely-used system employed to separate them with some sort of a code.

And one of the most significant incidents on my mind is that when we had shifted our residence, the change in the dabbawala became a matter of great concern.

My dad was enjoying the freshly-packed lunch from home. Although it was being delivered to his office hot at lunchtime by the dabbawala, he had spoken to the dabbawalas just at one instance, that too, when he had enrolled himself on their list. And when we approached a dabbawala in Malad, we had to go through a long round of investigation.

However, whatever may be the cause of disagreement with any dabbawala, there is always unity among them.  If one of them has some "uncch-nichh" (argument) with any of their customers then no one - mind you, absolutely no one in the whole of Mumbai Dabbawala Committee - would agree to deliver the dabba for you.

Moreover, words of the dabbawalas are regarded as arrows sent through the bows, which cannot be taken back. Whatever is said once cannot be changed. If a holiday is declared by the committee, no matter what happens, they would not go back on that.

But their story does not end here. There is a lot to learn from them. Even Prince Charles was greatly inspired by them during his visit to India, so much so that for  his wedding he invited the dabbawalas to England. The most remarkable aspect of this was that no one else from India was invited. 

Let it be a news channels or other source of media and communication, they portrait the picture of these dabbawalas as an ultimate example of unity and solidarity. The BBC has produced a documentary on dabbawalas.

So, friends, all of you who have read this and are just concentrating on their work profile or on their community, take a cue, inspiration and get motivated by them and live united as a community.

This is where each one is concerned about the welfare of the other. Perhaps  the most suitable message for the mankind.