A dabbawala literally meaning "person with a box", is a person in the Indian subcontinent, most commonly found in the cities
of Mumbai and Karachi, who is employed in a unique service industry whose primary business is collecting the freshly cooked food in lunch boxes from the residences of the office workers (mostly in the suburbs), delivering it to their respective workplaces and returning back the empty boxes by using various modes of transport. "Tiffin" is an old-fashioned English word for a light lunch or afternoon snack, and sometimes for the box it is carried in. For this reason, the dabbawalas are sometimes called Tiffin Wallahs.
Etymology and historical roots
The word "Dabbawala" in Marathi when literally translated, means "one who carries a box". "Dabba" means a box (usually a cylindrical tin or aluminium container) while "wala" is a ,  suffix, denoting a doer or holder of the preceding word. The closest meaning of the Dabbawala in English would be the "lunch box delivery man". Though this profess seems ion to be simple, it is actually a highly specialized service in Mumbai which is over a century old and has become integral to the cultural life of this city. The concept of the dabbawala originated when India and Pakistan was under British rule. Many British people who came to the colony did not like the local food, so a service was set up to bring lunch to these people in their workplace straight from their home. Nowadays, although Indian and Pakistani business men are the main customers for the dabbawalas, increasingly affluent families employ them instead for lunch delivery to their school aged children. Even though the services provided might include cooking, it primarily consists of only delivery either home-made or in that latter case, food ordered from a restaurant.
Mumbai and Karachi are two very densely populated million cities with huge flows of traffic. Because of this, lengthy commutes to workplaces are common, with many workers traveling by train. Instead of going home for lunch or paying for a meal in a café, many office workers have a cooked meal sent either from their home, or sometimes from a caterer who essentially cooks and delivers the meal in lunch boxes and then have the empty lunch boxes collected and re -
boxes are handed over to a local dabbawala. and is despite the supply chain using no computers or modern technology and most of the delivery staff being illiterate. In 1930.4 errors per million items carried.sent the next day. This is usually done for a monthly fee. hierarchy across the city. The present President of the association is SopanLaxman Mare. who delivers them. The empty boxes. It has been recognized since 2002 to be one of the most reliable supply chains in the world. At each station. Later a charitable trust was registered in 1956 under the name of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust. he informally attempted to unionize the dabbawallas. The commercial arm of this trust was registered in 1968 as Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier's Association.
A collecting Dabbawala on a bicycle A collecting dabbawala. MahadeoHavajiBachche. the service often includes cooking of foods in addition to the delivery. such as a color or symbol. grouped boxes are put in the coaches of trains.
The Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust
This service was originated in 1880. In 1890. collects dabbas either from a worker's home or from the dabba makers. started a lunch delivery service with about 100 men. The dabbawala then takes them to a designated sorting place.
. The meal is cooked in the morning and sent in lunch boxes carried by dabbawalas who have a complex association and . after being given a Six Sigma rating by Forbes Magazine. This indicates less than 3. Nowadays. after lunch. usually on bicycle. The dabbas have some sort of distinguishing mark on them. The markings include therail station to unload the boxes and the building address where the box has to be delivered. are again collected and sent back to the respective houses. with markings to identify the destination of the box (usually there is a designated car for the boxes). where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort (and sometimes bundle) the lunch boxes into groups The .
all with an extremely small nominal fee and with utmost punctuality. some of the dabbawalas were invited to give guest lectures in top business schools of India. gets paid about two to four thousand rupees per month (around £25±50 or US$40±80).however. which is very unusual.000 or 200. since their timing was too precise to permit any flexibility). even on the days of severe weather such asmonsoons. they make less than one mistake in every 6 million deliveries. Dabbawalas are generally well accustomed to the local areas they cater to. The local dabbawalas and population know each other well. Most remarkably in the eyes of many Westerners.
. with the rise of instant communication such as SMS and instant messaging. Each dabbawala. people communicate between home and work by putting messages inside the boxes.
The service is almost always uninterrupted. visited them (he had to fit in with their schedule. and often form bonds of trust.000 dabbawalas. According to a recent survey.000 lunch boxes get moved every day by an estimated 4. Owing to the tremendous publicity. Occasionally. during his visit to India. Forbes Magazine found its reliability to be that of a six sigma standard. The BBC has produced a documentary on dabbawalas.It is estimated that the dabbawala industry grows by 5-10% each year. the success of the dabbawala trade has involved no advanced technology. More than 175. this trend is vanishing. regardless of role. In 2002.500 to 5. and Prince Charles. and use shortcuts and other low profile routes to deliver their goods on time. The New York Times reported in 2007 that the 125-year-old dabbawala industry continues to grow at a rate of 5±10% per year.Prince Charles also invited them to his wedding with Camilla Parker Bowles in London on 9 April 2005.
A dabba. or Indian-style tiffin box.