Andrew sent me the video below about the dabbawala system in Mumbai. It is an awe-inspiring system built on intricacies and timeliness. Considering the irony of Indian Standard Time where everything runs late, your lunch does not. Your lunch is there come hell or monsoon season.
Since British rule in India, it is common to have your lunch delivered to you. Not a fast food restaurant you called to order, but your lunch from home cooked by your wife or grandmother. They cook the delicious Indian food in the morning and a dabbawala picks it up for the journey to your office desk.
A dabbawalla is someone who carries lunch. It translates from Marathi with dabba or ‘tiffin/box’ and walla or ‘man.’ Walla is used to reflect a profession. Milkwalla is the guy who sells/delivers milk, eggwalla sells eggs, flowerwalla sells flowers and so forth. It is a cool name for them.
Now, if you can imagine your sambo having your husmanskost delivered to your office in central Stockholm at noon everyday for the cost of pennies, you would go wild with happiness. In Mumbai, for $3-5 a month, your lunch will be delivered for real. Yes, that’s a the month price, not the day price.
And how does the system work? Simple, with 4000-5000 dabbawallas who transport at least 175,000 lunches a day. Because many dabbawallas are illiterate, they color code and mark with letters and numbers (they have to learn the bare minimum) that mark the destination train station, building, floor, name.
With so many dabbas picked up, dropped off, and picked up again, you would think the fail rate is high, but it’s not. Forbes magazine considers the delivery system to be of six sigma standard, that is, maximum efficiency of 99.99966% or better. That’s just a couple of messed up deliveries of 16 million; amazing efficiency coming from people who earn $125 a month in a country that never works on time.
Now, if only someone would deliver a hot lunch of färsk potatis and lax to my desk.