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Mumbai Magic-Dabbawalas

Mumbai is always on the go. There is no concept of night here as in the other parts of the country where people shiver at the thought of moving out at night. Here local trains which are the life lines of the city keep running till 3 O’clock in the morning. The VT station alone, now named after the great Maratha warrior, Shiva Raje Bhosle, called CST, short for Chhatrapti Shivaji Terminus, records 0.3 million passengers daily on it 6 platforms making it the busiest railway stations in the world. Similar is the story of Churchgate station on western line.

After this there are buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws( ply online in the suburbs up to Dadar) to take one to his office. So there is hardly anytime for many people to bring their lunch box with them.

Mumbai’s famous Dabbwala-tiffin carriers- comes into picture to the rescue of such people for whom they bring the tiffin box of  fresh food from their homes to their tables.

Today there are 5000 dabbawalas in Mumbai bringing food for 2,00,000 people daily. This system originated in British times when a Parsi fellow working at a construction site hired a person to bring food at lunch time. The proper system was started in 1890.

The work of dabbawalas these days is closely connected with local trains. Most of the dabbawalas are illiterate but it is hard to believe that their error rate is 1 in 16 millions. They follow a amazingly simple system of alphabets. One example is given below:


On the left side, the marking C indicates the originating dabbawalas code, on top “VP” is the name of station where “C” dabbawala brings the dabbas. In this example it is Ville Parle (VP). Point in the centre (10) destination area, it stands for Nariman Point in South Mumbai. On right side 9 indicates the code of destination dabbawala, M is the building code, Mittal Tower in this case and 16 stands for 16th floor of Mittal Tower.

Earlier they used to tie threads of different colors but nowadays they use the marker pens.

This amazing system has attracted the attention of many management institutes all over the world. Experts from different colleges, institutes are coming to see and learn for themselves the system.

Most prominent was the visit of Prince Charles in 2003. The aim was to show the unique Mumbai system running on Zero modern technology and Zero inputs. Prince invited the Chief of Dabbawala’s to his marriage in England.


Similarly, Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin Airlines visited the dabbawalas, travelled with them in a luggage train from Dadar station to Churchgate. Mr.Branson delivered a lunch box to one of his employees in near churchgate office.


Such is the magic of Dabbawala system, a technology, based on totally human involvement.

2 thoughts on “Mumbai Magic-Dabbawalas”

  1. Only shows that the omnipresent blab about Management that we see everywhere is all much ado about nothing. They teach Management in institutes and make mountains out of molehills. It only takes simple systems like that of the dabbawallas to show that management is all about simplicity.

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