The Dabbawala tradition is more than a century old. It was begun by a man from the Maval region of Maharashtra. He was one of many people who came to Bombay, to find work. He worked at the harbor and around the city, hauling goods. He then decided to start a service delivering food from home to people working in government offices in the city.
The idea caught on and Mahadu Bacche was joined by others from Maval looking for work. The Mumbai Dabbawala network was born in the beginning of the twentieth century. It has survived to this day.
Mumbai's Dabbawala: The Uncommon Story Of The Common Man traces the history of this network of food delivery men. The service thrived for many years, then it ran into trouble during the final decades of the previous century. In the 1980s and 1990s, the network began to fall apart, as the workers fought among themselves and the central management of the network lost control control over them.
Then, Raghunath Medge came on the scene. An educated man, he had joined the Dabbawala network on his father’s death. When he took up the work, the Dabbawala profession and their association was in deep trouble. Raghunath Medge began to reorganize the network. He also began to use English alphabets instead of symbols to mark the lunch boxes.
He soon had the network back on its feet and functioning smoothly. After his reforms, the Dabbawalas began to attract attention from business gurus. They even received the Six Sigma rating which meant that they were so organized and efficient that they hardly made a single mistake in millions of deliveries.
The BBC made a documentary on the Dabbawalas captured the attention of Prince Charles. On a visit to India, he met the Dabbawalas and they received an invitation to attend his wedding in 2005. Raghunath Medge and another associate attended the wedding, and the Dabbawalas were definitely in the spotlight after this.
It is an incredible and inspiring story, about a small network of laborers who deliver food to office workers. Most people would not even have given them a second thought. But, by transforming themselves into a smoothly operating business association, they grabbed the attention of the world.
Mumbai's Dabbawala: The Uncommon Story Of The Common Man is told from the point of view of two people, One, Raghunath Medge, is personally involved and is in fact credited with turning things around for the business and making it a success story. The other viewpoint, a third person perspective, is provided by the author, Shobha Bondre.
About the Author : -
Shobha Bondre is a popular Marathi writer.
Her other book is Dhandha : How Gujaratis Do Business.
Shobha Bondre has been writing for more than 25 years now, and she has also contributed to other publications in Maharashtra. She has written dialogues for many Marathi Television series. Her work has received many honors and awards, among them the Maharashtra State Award for The Best Novel for her book, Saata Samudrapar. Her books are now being translated into English for a wider readership.