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Hungry? Would you like a fresh, hot meal from home? Most managers don't have t hat choice. It 's eit her a sandwich, a pizza or a t rip t o t he wine bar/ rest aurant . Unless you live in Mumbai, t hat is, where a small army of 'dabbawal as' picks up 175, 000 lunches f rom homes and delivers t hem t o harried st udent s, managers and workers every working day. At your desk. 12. 30 pm on t he dot . Served hot , of course. And now you can even order over t he Int ernet .
Aft er t he cust omer leaves for work, her lunch is packed int o a t iffi n box provided by t he dabbawal a. A
color-coded not at ion on t he handle ident ifies it s owner and dest inat ion. Once t he dabbawala has
picked up t he t iffin, he moves f ast using a combinat ion of bicycles, t rains and his t wo f eet .
At Mumbai's ci t y st at i ons, t he last link in t he chain, a final relay of dabbawalas fan out t o t he t iffins' dest ined bellies. Lunch hour over, t he whole process moves int o reverse and t he t i ffin boxes ret urn t o suburban homes by 6. 00 pm.
To bet t er underst and t he compl ex sort ing process, let 's t ake an example. At Vile Parl e St at ion, t here
are four groups of dabbawalas. Each has t went y members and each member services 40 cust omers.
That makes 3, 200 t iff in boxes in al l. These 3, 200 boxes are collect ed by 9. 00 am, reach t he st at ion and
are sort ed according t o t heir dest inat ions by 10. 00 am when t he 'Dabbawala Special' t rain arrives.
dabbawalas regroup according t o t he number of boxes t o be delivered in a particul ar area, and not accordi ng to t he groups t hey act ually belong t o. If
In a way, MTBSA's syst em is like t he Int ernet . The Int ernet relies on a concept called packet swit ching. In packet swit ched net works, voice or dat a files are sliced i nt o t iny sachet s, each wit h it s own coded address which directs its routing.
In t he dabbawal as' elegant logist ics syst em, using 25 km of public t ransport , 10 km of f oot work and involving mul tiple transfer points, mist akes rarely happen. Accordi ng to aFor b es 1998 article, one mist ake f or every eight million deliveries is t he norm. How do t hey achieve virt ual six-sigma qualit y with zero document ation? For one, t he syst em limits t he routing and sorti ng to a few central points. Secondly, a simple col our code det ermines not only packet rout ing but packet priorit ising as lunches transfer from train to bicycle to foot.
Descendant s of soldiers of t he legendary Maharasht rian warrior-king Shivaj i, dabbawal as belong t o t he Malva cast e, and arrive in Mumbai from places like Raj gurunagar, Akol a, Ambegaon, Junnar and Maashi . "We believe in employing people from our own communit y. So whenever t here is a vacancy, elders
"Farming earns a pit t ance, compelling us t o move t o t he cit y. And t he t iffin service is a business of reput e since we are not working under anyone. It 's our own busi ness, we are part ners, it conf ers a higher st at us in societ y," says Sambhaj i, anot her dabbawal a. "We earn more t han manyp ad h a- l i kh a (educat ed) graduat es," adds Khengl e smugly.
The proud owner of a BA (Hons) degree, Raghunat h Meghe, president of MTBSA, is a rare graduat e. He want ed t o be a chart ered account ant but couldn't complet e t he course because of f amily probl ems. Of his t hree children, his daught er is a graduat e working at ICICI, one son is a dabbawal a and t he younger son is st ill st udying.
Surprisingly MTBSA is a f airl y recent ent it y: t he service is believed t o have st art ed in t he 1880s but offi cially regist ered it self only in 1968. Growt h in membership is organic and dependent on market condi t i ons.
This decent ral ised organisat ion assumed it s current f orm in 1970, t he most recent dat e of
rest ruct uri ng. Dabbawal as are divided int o sub-groups of fif t een t o 25, each supervised by f our
mukadams. Experienced ol d-t imers, t he mukadams are f amiliar wit h t he colours and codings used in
the complex logistics process.
organisational struct ure, managerial layers or explicit cont rol mechanisms. The rationale behind t he business model is t o push int ernal compet it iveness, which means t hat t he four Vile Parle groups vie wit h each ot her t o acquire new cust omers.
They generally t end t o be middl e-class cit izens who, f or reasons of economy, hygiene, cast e and diet ary restrictions or simply because t hey prefer wholesome food from their kit chen, rely on t he dabbawala t o deliver a home cooked mid-day meal.
New cust omers are generally acquired t hrough ref errals. Some are solicit ed by dabbawalas on railway plat f orms. Addresses are passed on t o t he dabbawala operat ing in t he specific area, who t hen visit s t he cust omer t o f inalize arrangement s. Today cust omers can also log ont o a websit e
Service charges vary from Rs 150 / \u00a32 t o Rs 300 / \u00a34 per t if fi n box per mont h, dependi ng on locat ion and coll ect ion t ime. Money is col lect ed in t he first week of every mont h and remi t t ed t o t he mukadam on t he first Sunday. He t hen divides t he money equally among members of t hat group. It is assumed
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