Here is the full transcript of Dr. Pawan Agrawal’s TEDx presentation on Mumbai Dabbawalas at TEDxSSN Conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Dr. Pawan Agrawal on Mumbai Dabbawalas at TEDxSSN Conference
Friends, everybody good evening. Good afternoon everybody. Thank you TEDxSSN for giving an opportunity on behalf of Dabbawala. For the first time in my life, after 550 sessions, I’m delivering first time in 18 minutes. Give me best wishes. I’ll complete it.
Friends, as far as Mumbai Dabbawalas are concerned, in Mumbai these people are excellent. I’m going to speak about the story. Believe me, you will learn lot provided you must have the passion to listen to them and to follow them what — how they’re working in Mumbai, friends. Basically many people believe that Dabbawalas means they are caterers. Let me tell you Dabbawalas are not caterers. Tiffin is yours and food contained in this is also yours. What we are doing in Mumbai? We are delivering your tiffin from your home to workplace before lunch time. And lunch is over, we will deliver empty tiffin in the evening at home on the same day. It means we’re doing two deliveries in a day.
Friends, in Mumbai, you cannot carry tiffin yourself. The reason you start very early morning, in the morning. Even you want to reach at home 9 o’clock. You may start 6 o’clock. You don’t want your mother or wife should cook 5 o’clock. So you cannot carry — you want, we should carry your tiffin.
Second reason, you cannot carry tiffin. The reason, crowded local train. In Mumbai, it is very difficult to board in local train with empty hand. Taking tiffin is out of question for you. You cannot carry yourselves. So you want Dabbawala in Mumbai to carry your tiffin. We believe that home cooked food is most hygienic food. The reason, it has love and affection of your mother and wife so we want you should eat home cooked food. That is Mumbai Dabbawalas.
Friends, these people believe in God Ganesha, Nareshwara. They are Varkari sampradaya people. This business started before 1890. [Hindi mein kaha jata hain, ham angrez zamane ke jailong to nahin hain, lekin hum angrez zamane ke dabbawale jarur hain] Because we are delivering from 1890, friends, 1890!
In 1890, one Dabbawala, one customer. As on today we’ll see we’re having 5000 Dabbawalas and 200,000 customers. It means one Dabbawala can carry 40 tiffins. That is the maximum weight he can carry that can have 60-65 Kg they are carrying. In crowded local train in Mumbai, friends, they all are average eighth grade schooling. 50% Dabbawalas are illiterate. They do not know reading, writing but suppose they want to deliver tiffin in SSN college, being illiterate, they know this is SSN because tiffin should be delivered in SSN.
Literacy of work, friends, traveling 60 kilometer, 70 kilometer, eight to nine hours they believe ownership of eight to nine hours but morning three hours are overtime. Why? Customer should deliver tiffin in time. In 120 years, not a single time it happened. Your lunch time started, Dabbawala not yet came, impossible, impossible. They will not tell you trains are late in Mumbai because trains are running everyday late in Mumbai. We cannot complain.
Friends, so commitment, so passion, structure is there. They don’t know what is structure. Dabbawala say this is stretcher. When I spoke one Dabbawala it is not stretcher, structure. What he answered? No problem sir, if stretcher is strong patient goes to bed. If structure is strong, tiffin goes to customer. That’s it, that’s the belief.
Friends, the last is what is mukadam. All you know is — Mukadam means group leader. We have 10, 20, 30 Dabbawalas, one group. In one group, the highest age member is the group leader. He controls whole activities of the group, of the members. Friends, so passionate. Group leader is not getting single rupee extra income. But he controls the whole activities, why? He gets the opportunity to become the group leader.