A Look at Dabbawalas ( Tiffin Carriers ) of Mumbai

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One facet of Mumbai life is unique. This is the carriage and delivery of lunch neatly packed in tiffin boxes.  These men are called Dabbawals and the word is a derivative of Dabba, meaning a box. These Dabbas are in reality small Tiffin boxes or hot cases. The dabbawalas are local Mahrashtrians and this is one preserve that is totally dominated by Marathis. These men who are given a distinct dress fan out all over Bombay with clock work mechanism   to deliver hot lunches to office goers all over Mumbai and its suberbs. The Dabbawals always  wear a Gandhi topi( cap) of white color and are registered with the  union a recognized entity under the copoerative societies act.

Unique marking


The modus operandi of the carriers of these food boxes is simple and the way it runs shows that everything is perfected with clockwork mechanism. This is going on from 1880 and that means it has run for over 130 years successfully.These food carriers cover the entire length and breadth of the city. The life line for these carriers is the local suberban train network. Extensive use is made of this network. But these food carriers rarely make use of the public bus transport as it is not cost effective. Dabbawalas will transport their tiffins by by train an dfrom the suberban they will use handcarts which are kept ready for use there. The Mumbai suberban train network covers the entire city , hence these food carriers  are in a position to deliver the lunch boxes to the offices as and when required. Generally the food supplied is vegeterian.

The institution of Dabbawalas was started in the year 1880 and was registered in 1956 as a charitable trust.  Men who work as dabbawalas are not the elite or well  educated personnel. they are not illiterate, but their education level is low. But it is a good source of income for a man who has no qualification for a job. Most men who carry these tiffiin boxes can hoever read and write and some may have attendeda few grades in school. There is no qualification for this job, except the ability to work hard.

Dabbawala Special Train


The dabbawals nornally pick up the food from the house of hotel . Earlier the charges were about Rs 50 permonth for this service, which has now gone to about Rs 250.  The Dabbawals also pay for their train passes and allied travelling expenses. In a general case the dabbawalas will make about Rs 5000 per month as net take home pay. this  nota small amount considering that the average income of 50% Indians is just a dollar a day.

Off-loading Dabba

The Dabbawalas caught the fancy of Prince Philip when he came to India and two of them attended his wedding a couple of years back.  That was the time that focus came on these unique workers. It must be understood that without any computer these men  have  perfected the art of delivering the food packets with a margin of error that is almost zero


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