At a business conference, the other day, a question was posed. ‘What is the most difficult aspect of a dabbawallah’s job?’
The simplest of human desires can translate into the tallest of a business propositions. Isnt it true to every single discipline of life?
The desire for travel from point A to point B has spewed horses, horse carriages, cars, bigger cars and these days has even sent Curiosity across to Mars! From the desire to cloth oneself to having a roof overhead, to showing love to the cat on the corner right upto inventing robots with a soul, new industries have sprung with a frequency of a 3rd grade scam exposed by a fourth grade TV channel !
Each industry providing for suits, boots, countless strategies, long meetings arranged in an amiable ambiance with appropriate snacks, and consultants adding ‘value! Being part of the circus doesn’t mean the clown cant have a good laugh at the circus ! And regular readers know me too well!
Well, well, well, such stuff makes the world go around. Doesn’t it.
The Dabbawallahs of Mumbai have been written about no end. There is enough material about them like this and this , that you can use to fill a full MBA course, heaping hapless students with hoary details and hoards of questions.
Their offering is simple. They get you YOUR home cooked food. On time. And port your lunch box home, while you can walk with a free hand. For a small fee.. That’s the business model. Its done to scale though.
[Wikipedia says : In 2002, Forbes Magazine found its reliability to be that of a six sigma standard. More than 175,000 to 200,000 lunch boxes get moved every day by an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas, all with an extremely small nominal fee and with utmost punctuality. According to a recent survey, they make less than one mistake in every 6 million deliveries, despite most of the delivery staff being illiterate]
How simpler can it get? To think that ‘eating a hot, fresh, home cooked meal everyday at work’ can generate a unique business opportunity and stand for the ingenuity of a city is remarkable isn’t it !
Not to mention the methods that they have deployed and the fame has followed. Consider the acclaim! 6 Sigma ratings. Invitation by royalty. Mentions by management gurus. Film makers and the rest. Thankfully, the Dabbwallahs themselves haven’t let any of this affect them. To this day, home cooked lunch gets to Mumbai’s office goer on time. Every day.
Much has been packed into boxes about their unique methodology that they deploy to do this. With a simple system of marking and a assortment of handcarts, bicycles, innovative hand / head carts and a legion of men can be spotted on any active day, walking the streets with a colourful range of lunch boxes.
And coming back to the meeting where my rambling started. It was one of these conferences where the natty suits amble about with a sense of importance. The gentleman paused and asked with a certain sense of certainty that only accompanied me when I knew what question will be asked the next day in the Physics exam : ‘What is the most difficult aspect of a dabbawallah’s job?’
Timeliness. A tenacity of surviving Mumbai traffic everyday. The ability to memorise so many addresses. Dedication. Passion. Customer service. And all other stuff that would exemplify a consultant’s vocabulary was spoken with charm, elegance and an equanimity. As though they were squeezed out of the same toothpaste!
By then I was already operating on the fringes of my mental capabilities to process pedantic stuff.
Come on, I thought. To carry an array of lunch boxes knowing fully well that a mouth watering spectrum that could arouse every conceivable taste bud was within arms reach, yet to go and deliver it to people in opaque buildings and omnipresent business houses !?!
Now that if that is not tough, what is !?!
6 thoughts on “Whats with the dabba business ?!?”
Trust me! When I read the line ‘What is the most difficult aspect of a dabbawallah’s job?’
My thought was they make sure the lunch is served to its rightful owners on time; without being tempted to gobble up yummy food.
You have concluded the same. What else could be tough??
Unexpected twist at the end! But very rightly so.
you are dead right in your conclusion…
Very well written Kavi. But I tend to disagree with the conclusion. If I was carrying food at break-neck pace, everyday, the last thing I would be interested in would be eating. And that the food is in dabbas that keep the flavours from escaping helps.
It is as tough for them as it is for the staff in any hospitality industry. To succumb to the joys of hot, flavoursome food. Sigh!!
I could realize now and think what a tough job it is! They are an aspect of Incredible India. Hats off!