WHO ARE DABBAWALAS?
Dabbawalas are people who pick up home-made lunch boxes from individual homes or dabba makers and deliver them to their designated recipients (family members) at their offices. Dabba literally means boxes, in this case, lunch boxes. In India common lunch boxes are called tiffin or tiffin boxes. Tiffin is an Indian English word for a light midday meal or luncheon.
In 1890 in Mumbai, called Bombay at the time, a Parasi banker wanted to have a home cooked meal in his office and created the first ever dabbawala to have his lunch delivered from home to his office on a regular basis. Other people liked the idea, thus the lunch delivery services started to spread. Mahadeo Havaji Bachche who saw an opportunity in the industry started a lunch delivery service business with 100 dabbawalas with a delivery format that is still carried on today.
FASCINATING FACT ABOUT DABBAWALAS
The amazing thing about dabbawalas which fascinates many is that many of dabbawalas are of limited literacy, however they boast a very high accuracy. In fact, it is said that an error occur 1 in 6 million chances. How they manage delivery without errors is with their special coding system which was developed by found fathers and evolved into the current format.
DABBAWALA DELIVERY SYSTEM
Dabbawals take public transportation such as a train and relay lunch boxes at different stages of delivery process. The coding system consists of colors, numbers and letters to indicate the collecting points, sorting and destination stations, and handling dabbawalas at destinations with offices and floors. The empty lunch boxes are picked up in the afternoon to be taken back to their perspective homes.
Want to watch dabbawalas?
Where to find dabbawalas?
You can see dabbawalas in action all over Mumbai, but the most popular place for tourists to see them is by the Churchgate Station where dabbawalas bring out and sort the tiffins before taking them to workplaces. If you get to the Churchgate Station, go across the street in front of the West Railway Headquarters Building where dabbawalas congregate.
What time can you see dabbawalas?
They usually start arriving around 11:00 a.m.
What do they look like?
Most of them wear a white kurtas (blouses) with Gandhi caps or topis on their heads. They are often on a bicycle or with a wooden cart to deliver tiffins.
LEARN MORE ABOUT DABBAWALAS
As I wrote above, a mistake by dabbawalas hardly ever happens. However, what could happen if it does? There is a beautiful movie “The Lunchbox” where a story unfolds between a man and a woman who have never met because of a mistake that happened during a tiffin delivery. You can see dabbawalas in action and on a train and daily scenes of trains and people at stations in Mumbai in the movie. “The Lunchbox” is artistically done.
It is a great movie to watch before coming to Mumbai if you plan on traveling. If you are moving to Mumbai in the future, it will make you get excited about the new life in Mumbai! The sky looks dark in the movie because the story takes place during the monsoon season which actually goes well with the story. However, I would like to add that Mumbai is actually a very sunny and cheerful city outside of the monsoon season.