Thursday, May 26, 2016

Dabbawalla Wonderfulness

So, the other thing in Mumbai that I was excited to see were the DABBAWALLAS!!  We almost didn't get to see them, because our main day in Mumbai was a Sunday, and they don't work on Sunday.  But I told the guide I realllllllllllllly wanted to see them, so we found time to take a peek before heading to the airport!

Two dabbawallas ready to sort lunches
Dabbawallas are one of a kind, the only ones in the world I think.  They are basically a LUNCH DELIVERY SYSTEM, but it is very intricate!!!  Every work day the dabbawallas stop at people's homes (I am gonna go out on a limb here and just gender this up, because I think the genders I will pick are right in this instance about 98% of the time...) - they stop at houses and pick up the hot lunches that MEN'S WIVES have cooked for them.  Indian people have different versions of "lunch boxes" than we are used to in America.  Theirs are called tiffin boxes and they are super cool metal multi-compartment round boxes that stack and look like this:
A few lunches on the sidewalk - soon they will get sorted with loads of others and prepped for delivery
So, the wife cooks a lunch, puts the different bits of it in each compartment (naan, rice, savory dish...) and then usually puts the tiffin inside an insulated pack.  The dabbawalla stops by the house, picks it up (along with all of the other lunches on his route (yes, dabbawallas are MALE), then takes them all to the train station.  There they are loaded onto a train in the luggage compartment, transported to another station (we saw the action at the main terminal), and brought out to a sidewalk across from the station.

Dabbawalla carrying lunches - next up is to SORT them
Each tiffin box or insulated bag has a CLIENT NUMBER on it.  Many of the dabbah wallas are uneducated and iliterate, but gosh darn it those fellas know where each tiffin is to be delivered!!  They seperate the lunches into delivery routes, load them onto wooden carts, then set about delivering them!!!  It is so cool! They deliver over 200,000 tiffin boxes EVERY DAY and there are around 5,000 dabbawallas!!  Our guide told us that one week a year they ALL TAKE VACATION at the same week.  I guess it is eating out at a cafe for the business men that week, eh?? 

The carts really get loaded down....

Did I mention that they carry the loaded wooden cart on their HEAD several times during the process?

Dabbawalla!  Color me excited to have witnessed them in action
They pick up all of the tiffin boxes by 10:30 am, get them all delivered to the correct places by 1:00 pm, then eat their OWN lunches before REVERSING the job - going back to each office, picking up the tiffin box, returning them all to the station, then taking them back to the home where they belong!  And keep in mind, multiple dabbawallas touch each lunch box, it is not one guy picking it up and keeping track of it the whole time.  They work as a TEAM and never make mistakes!  This is even though the ADDRESSES are not written on the lunches, just their special code!!

Tiffin Boxes with the special codes on them - only the dabbawallas know what they mean I think
Of course, over their 125 year history, the dabbawallas have evolved and gotten a bit more sophisticated.  There have been movies made about them (which I am excited to watch when we get back home!) and someone even set up a website for them.  You can see it here:  Dabbawalla site

The dabbawallas are exactly the sort of thing I love to experience in other countries.  To me, the cultural things like dabbawallas are more interesting than historical monuments.  I love to see how people really LIVE in other parts of the world!!

The make it look easy in this photo, but it isn't!
Well, that is it for Mumbai.  Our hotel here was sort of scuzzy, so we were ready to jump on IndiGo Airways and head to VARKALA in Southern India! 

Thanks for letting us watch you work, dabbawallas!!


Kirsten Ghatasheh said...

Ok....this is cool but I am very confused as to why folks don't just bring their own dabbawalla to work WITH them?

Kirsten Ghatasheh said...

Ok....this is cool but I am very confused as to why folks don't just bring their own dabbawalla to work WITH them?

STG said...

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! This is something I also wondered, Kirsten. :) But they would not bring the DABBAWALLA with them to work, the dabbawalla is the lunch delivery GUY. In our culture they would carry their own tiffin box (lunch box) to work. I am not sure WHY they do not. But when you think in reverse, we could also ask WHY DO WE CARRY OUR OWN and not have a cool delivery system!!! :) Hahahaha.