Bombay Dabbawalas go high-tech
For over a century they delivered hot lunch in packages to thousands of Bombay's working people
with almost faultless efficiency without the help of information technology. But now Bombay's
ubiquitous Dabbawalas lunch deliverymen have realized that they need to go high-tech after all -- not
only to expand their business but also for their social security.
The Bombay Tiffin Box Suppliers Association, an association of 5,000 lunch deliverymen who are called
Dabbawalas (literally tiffin box carriers) in local parlance have finally started their own Web site and a text
messaging order taking system that enables them to bag orders real time instead of depending on secondary
sources like references or word-of-mouth.
"The world is moving ahead on technology," said Gangaram Talekar, 61, the Hindi-speaking secretary of
the Association, "and we have to move with times too. So we decided to take advantage of technology to
expand our business."
Talekar, who has been a Dabbawala for 40 years, admits that he has never operated a computer and doesn't
know the language of text messaging "that well. I can just read the name, address and the telephone number
of the sender in an SMS (short messaging service)," he says. "But I know that to grow and make our lives
secure we must use technology."
Indeed the Dabbawala's method of lunch delivery is unique. Their origin dates back to the 1890s, a period
when Bombay saw an influx of people from various communities and regions of India migrating to the city
to seek livelihood. According to the Association, there were no canteens or fast-food centers then, and those
who could not take a packed lunch from home since they had to leave early invariably had to go hungry.
Besides, different communities had different tastes and preferences that could only be satisfied by a
home-cooked meal. Recognizing the need, a migrant from the Indian state of Maharashtra called Mahadeo
started the lunch delivery service with about 100 men, and the rest is history.
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