UAE | Society

Dabbawalas of Mumbai: On time, every time

Dubai learns business lessons from Mumbai’s efficient delivery boys

  • By Shafaat Shahbandari, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 15:38 June 4, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Courtesy: Datamatrix
  • Arvind Talekar, a spokesperson for Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust, with Ali Al Kamali, Managing Director of Datamatrix during a leadership conference in Dubai.

Dubai: They have attracted attention from the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Bipasha Basu, they have been honoured by Prince Charles of Britain, they have been featured in countless television documentaries, they have been awarded six sigma ratings for best management and now its Dubai’s turn to celebrate the humble dabbawalas (delivery boys) of Mumbai, who bring thousands of Mumbaikars food on time, every time.

Believe it or not, with 5,000 workers, 200,000 customers, 400,000 transactions per day, no accountant, no manager and virtually no errors; Mumbai’s celebrated dabbawalas are a marvel that is hard to believe. No wonder they have been featured in television series Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

On Tuesday, they were featured in a leadership conference in Dubai’s most famous hotel, Burj Al Arab, where a spokesperson for the association that runs the unique enterprise took business executives and government officials through the nitty-gritties of their daily operations.

“We don’t use technology, because we don’t need to use it. Technology may fail but our dabbawalas don’t, come rain or sunshine they are on time, every time,” enthused Arvind Talekar, a spokesperson for Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust.

Talekar was addressing business and government leaders at 3rd UAE Government Organisations 3rd and 4th Line Leaders Development Conference, where a visibly amazed audience wondered how a bunch of mostly illiterate individuals run a gigantic supply chain industry, without any modern amenities or infrastructure.

“The only technology we use is Mumbai’s lifeline, the local trains, without which we wouldn’t been able to carryout such a huge task. Most people in Mumbai are dependent on the trains because it is the most efficient medium with great connectivity and the city is so vast, its virtually impossible to move quickly without trains,” said Talekar, who is a third generation member of his family to be associated with the delivery business.

He says, like him, around 80 per cent of dabbawalas, have a long-standing link to the service, with sons taking over from fathers and grandfathers.

It is a story of time-tested values of hard work, commitment and punctuality that started more than 120 years ago and continues till date with great success.

“It was started by Mahadev Bache in 1890 and later registered as a charitable trust in 1956. The trust has grown from one man to an organisation of 5,000, who are mostly descendants of old dabbawalas and it’s in our blood to serve people honestly,” opined Talekar.

The daily operations begin around 9am in the morning, when individual dabbawalas go to the homes of their customers to pick their tiffin boxes. Each dabbawala carries around 40 tiffins at a time in wooden crates mounted on the head or on bicycles or hand-pulled carts.

The tiffins are then delivered to the nearest railway stations, where a group of dabbawalas sort the tiffins according to their destinations and deliver to the customer at his work place before 12.30pm.

Each tiffin is coded with a unique combination of alpha-numericals and handled by six-seven dabbawalas on the way to its destination.

The entire city Mumbai is divided according railways stations in the vicinity, with each station manned by 20 dabbawalas and a supervisor, who manages the affairs at the designated station and stands in, in case of an absence.

The Guinness record holding enterprise covers a distance of 70 kilometres and takes break for a week only once in a year.

The enterprise as a whole is non-profitmaking, while each dabbawala earns a salary of around Rs9,000 (Dh600) to Rs11,000 (Dh730) per month.

“It is wonderful story of hardwork, grit and passion. As business leaders it teaches us a lot of lessons in time management, hard work etc. It also shows that you don’t necessarily have to go to big business schools to learn business, you can learn from anywhere if you actually wants to learn,” said Ali Al Kamali, Managing Director of Datamatrix, who organised the conference.

Comments (10)

  1. Added 16:40 June 5, 2013

    Initial headlines in GN read "Dibbawalas of Mumbai " which was quite unfortunate for almost 24 hours online. Whereas the article stated dabbawalas. Guess GN needs sound proof reading with the headlines to begin with. These folks have toiled their way to the top and to every business school worldwide. Can we give them this little respect they deserve? They have proved their worth, be it Guiness book of world records, Ripleys believe it or not, expensive business schools worldwide etc as a case study and guess what, with absolutely NO technology or managment gurus to undertake their day to day job and still carry on with a SMILE. Salute you Mumbaikar Dabbawalas....Amche Mumbai!!!

    M. Rodriguez, Abu dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 15:04 June 5, 2013

    Dibbawalas have always done Mumbai and India proud. The city is so incomplete without them.

    Rashida, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 14:31 June 5, 2013

    "Each dabbawala earns a salary of around Rs9,000 (Dh600) to Rs11,000 (Dh730) per month." It is wonderful story of hard work, grit and passion." I salute these dibbawalas for their commitment to duty despite hard work at minimal salaries.

    Suresh Kumar, Dubai, India

  4. Added 12:49 June 5, 2013

    KUDOS to Sir- Mr.Ali Al Kamali, Managing Director of Datamatrix, who organized this conference for these Dibbawalas, welcoming them to Dubai. HAT's OFF to all humble DIBBAWALAS of Mumbai and now Welcome to Dubai: Without technology the system is working. Great sign of further prosperity is also there in Dubai too. So start with Dubai, than Expand/Widen your Dibba Business in UAE . No doubt will take time to settle, but GO AHEAD ALL OUT. Deserving ones will flourish in any part of the World and in every corner and Dibbawalas are one of them. Good-Luck & GOD BLESS.

    Merzy Merchant, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 12:21 June 5, 2013

    Proud to say that its in INDIA.

    Sreyas, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 12:15 June 5, 2013

    proud to be a Mumbaikar.

    rose, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 12:13 June 5, 2013

    great work dibbawalas, we've got to learn a lot from them. we even though we are educated, earning high salaries sulk when increment does not come in for the work that we are doing. hats off to them who earn meagerly even then are on their feet no matter whether it is rain or storm determined to be on time and deliver lunchboxes. we need to inculcate humility and responsibility of what we do in ourselves. God bless them

    rose, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 11:58 June 5, 2013

    They are GREAT you can see them all over MUMBAI.

    M.I.Kola, Dubai, India

  9. Added 11:18 June 5, 2013

    It's wonderful work that they do to save other people's money and time. I always watch them doing this and they should be appreciated for their work. They are so dedicated and hard working, and their health is always perfect because work is a gym for them. And we, who sit for 9 to 10 hours in the office, feel tired all the time. I wish them a good life and great success in their business and I hope they continue doing this without any technological interference.

    velly fernandes, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 10:19 June 5, 2013

    It is absolutely amazing their promise of delivery on time, every time. I have taken their service while I was in Mumbai. They are so humble, dedicated, and passionate. Sometimes when I have a tough day, I even wondered how they do it no matter what the problems. Now they even have a service of delivering not used food and donated food to those who need. Indeed it is worth learning from them. It is in all of us, we need to only perfect it and practice it. My Best Wishes are with Them.

    Sunil, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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