Dabbawalas- Essay By Malavika Krishna

  • Contributed by : Malavika Krishna
  • Status : Parent
  • Mode : Medium
  • Article type : Essay for Children
  • Target Age Group : 11-15 Years

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Looking out of the balcony from my flat, almost every day I can see people on cycles with a box filled with these old-fashioned tiffins. Not able to contain my curiosity, I asked one day who these people were. It was so surprising that the answer came from my brother-“They are the dabbawalas.”

“Dabbawalas ?” Unfortunately, or fortunately all that he did was give me his civics textbook, with a bookmarked page. What I saw was a group of people, similar to those I saw, under the case study titled ‘Dabbawalas’. Going through that two-paged case study I understood that these people in question were actually a group of organised food-deliverers. Started in 1890 with about a hundred men by Mahadeo Harivanji Bachche, this system has become one of the world’s best food-delivery systems.

This tiffin-lunch box is considered as one of the most effective concepts; a lunch that is made at home during the morning and delivered right to your workplace. This homemade lunch has become a relief to those office workers who cannot go back home to have lunch. Instead of having hotel food, they can easily receive these homely ‘dabbas’ from the dabbawalas.  These dabbas are actually cylindrical steel tiffin boxes arranged one on top of another in tiers. The bottom-most is the biggest and contains the rice, while the others have curry, salad and deserts. Since it is made in different families, especially by the women in the family, this is also a source of income to people without much expense. This also creates a method of employment to many from the poorer sections of the society. Since they are not using plastic products, this is also an eco-friendly way and a healthy approach.

The best part of this that intrigued me was that this has been going for more than 130 years, without any technology to coordinate them, and it is said that the chances of a dabbawala being late or making a mistake in the orders is one in six million deliveries. It’s completely powered and backed-up by people. It is not a simple operation to feed more than a thousand people every day. They use a system of symbols and colour coding and the details of the orders are done by hand. A mathematically organised arrangement ferried out by a huge group of mostly illiterate people coming from rural backgrounds. Bicycles through busy roads and the Indian Railways with busy crowds are their mode of delivering the dabbas. The dabbawalas can be identified easily wearing an old-style white kurta and the traditional Gandhi cap. This voraciously busy and heavily complex system works so well that it has even been studied by economists around the world.  And they not only deliver food, but there is also a post-lunch mechanism where the tiffin boxes are returned through these same dabbawalas.

These workers live with the philosophy that ‘Anna Daan Mahaa Daan’ ,translated as donation of food is the greatest form of charity . Amidst the  western and fast-food chains, the dabbawalas have still not lost their flare. The success of the dabbawalas did not stop with Mumbai. They expanded to places inside and outside India, making them almost like an international chain. After all, who would not fancy such a cheap and healthy homemade good delivered right to your doorstep.

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