Dabbawallas: The Lifeline Of Mumbai


The concept of the Dabbawalla is well and a truly out-of-the-box or rather an out-of-the-Dabba concept. This service is unique to Mumbai city and is perhaps the most unique of its kind in the world.

The simple, humble Dabbawalla has captured the imagination of the world and has been covered by media names like the BBC, The New York Times and The Guardian, among others. It has become a case study at the Harvard and has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for most number of Dabbas carried on head. Indeed, it is the backbone of the Mumbai office folk

Come rain or shine, the Dabbawalla is everywhere in the busy, buzzing and bustling megalopolis of Mumbai. He is a welcome sight, seen hurrying about on the streets, on trains and in office lobbies. Like a gigantic, invisible smoothly oiled machine, the delivery system runs quietly and efficiently feeds millions of Mumbaikars every single day.


So what really is the system? How does it actually work? What’s the story behind the flawlessness?

A Dabbawallah is someone who carries and delivers food in a box. It’s as simple and complex as it sounds!

For starters, here’s a bit of history to digest. It all started in 1890 when a resourceful young man in Mumbai, Mr Mahadeo Havaji Bacche, launched a lunch delivery service, with a team of  hundred energetic men, to serve meals to British administrators and Parsi’s who worked in offices.  In 1930, he tried to create a union of the Dabbawallas and years later, in 1968, the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association was formed. Mr Raghunath Megde is the current president.

Now for the main course: the working of the supply chain management. First, the Dabbawalla collects the lunch Dabba on a bicycle. Each Dabba has a color code or a distinguishing mark. Next, he takes them to a place where he along with other Dabbawallas sort them. After this is done, the lot of Dabbas are placed quickly in coaches of trains and marked according to the destinations. The markings include the destination and the address to where it has to be delivered.

Now for the sweet finale, at each station the Dabbas are given to a specific Dabbawalla who then drops off the lunch box to the customer.

Don’t mistake them for a ‘catering’ service. 5000 odd dabbawalas deliver roughly 2,00,000 ‘home-cooked’ lunches each day, to and from home, moving on bicycles, trains and on foot.

dabba changes hands at least 6 times in transit before it reaches the consumer. The same is the case in its return journey as an empty box. Pretty cool eh? It’s an amazing journey and makes you wonder how they handle it so smoothly. Basically, the team work and time management is brilliant, something we can definitely learn from.

The entire system ensures that no mistakes happen whatsoever, though it is said that perhaps one mistake happens in eight million deliveries, which is still astonishing and it’s this consistency that has earned them a six sigma rating

A Dabbawalla earns around RS 8000 – 10,000/ per month, but the service they offer is invaluable. Imagine a Mumbaikar’s life without this wonderful support system.

Three cheers to this innovation par excellence and next time you spot a Dabbwalla, don’t forget to smile!



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s