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.
Friends, see working of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association, very first is error rate, one in 60 million transactions, can you imagine? Because Dabbawala believes that as we are giving class, my seconds are reducing. So please listen to me more. Friends, one error not there. This one error disclosed by qualified people. Dabbawalas say we don’t have any error because error is horror, don’t look into mirror, it is danger. Don’t do error, that they believe, friends. Can you imagine this?
Friends, they’ve got six sigma, phukat and without application, they got six sigma certification. No, nobody can get in the world six sigma certification without application. Dabbawala got. Imagine friends, that too without technology. Their technology is their brain. They believe this is computer and this is computer cover, like that they feel. Everything is in the mind. 40 customers, name, number, address, everything is in their mind, friends.
How much they charge my dear? Per month 350 rupees. If you calculate per day it comes 11 to 12 rupees. Friends, in Mumbai a courier man charges for a small delivery 15 rupees, a small delivery. They do two deliveries and charging 11 to 12 rupees, why? Customers should have economically feasible. If we increase, customer will discontinue our services. Because customer should sustain we charge less. And how much they earn? 5000 to 6000 per month average. Friends, if you work in Mumbai for 10 months, two months suppose you are posted to Chennai, Dabbawala will take charges only for 10 months not for 12 months because they believe I served you 10 months, not 12 months. My child goes to school for seven months, buswala charged for 12 months, not for seven months. Is it right but Dabbawala charges only for 10 months, why? Customer is our god. They believe my customer mera bagwan hain. They feel that you are a god, friends. Work is worship and see, they want extra income but even they want bonus without condition.
Sometime some customer refuse to pay bonus. If suppose one customer refuse to pay bonus he will not discontinue your services. Why? If I discontinue, then my customer will remain without food. So better I should supply food. I asked one Dabbawala, he has not paid bonus. Why are you supplying? What he answered, sir he has not paid bonus but he paid for 12 months. For one month bonus if I discontinue I will lose 12 months salary. What do I sacrifice one month bonus or 12 month salary? One month bonus, no problem and that’s the reason in 120 years no strike record in the history, friends, imagine.
Friends, disputes are there. We also dispute but even we dispute, no police case, no court case. We don’t have legal department at all because we don’t require. So excellent team. What I meant to say was work satisfaction because of work culture. Not only Dabbawala, let me speak some examples, how Dabbawala customers are satisfied? I asked one customer, are you satisfied with the service? Customer replied oh they are excellent. What excellent, yaar? Tiffin is yours. Food contained is yours. What excellence they give? What he answered, sir when I leave early morning sometime I forget my spectacles, my mobile at home. Then my wife sent through tiffin in my office. You’ll get value added services by Dabbawala free of charge. They give, can you imagine?
One customer told they are very excellent. We have full faith on Dabbawala. Faith, they will not eat your food, yaar. No, no, sir when we get salary, what customer told me, when I get salary, I’m afraid of to carry in my pocket. Then what do you do? After eating food, he put salary in empty tiffin and the empty tiffin with salary delivered by Dabbawala safely, customer said.
I have at least 18 examples but I don’t get enough minutes. One more example, one customer told me Dabbawala god for me. Why? One experience. What is that? He told me, “Sir, couple of months back I disputed with my wife”. Indian husband, you dispute, no problem. You have a right. “No, I have beaten my wife?” Mar dena, no problem. After beating his wife, angry young man, Indian husband [Speaks Hindi) you know that? Can be cut down, not bent down. Even he has beaten his wife, next day morning took his bag, told his wife, I will not come back home, our relation comes to an end. He went back. He went to office. Angry young man, Indian husband.
As usual, 9:30 Dabbawala came home. Indian wife [Dil hain ki manta nahin] even husband beaten, she wants to deliver tiffin. Maybe the last tiffin, he is not going to come back but she wants to deliver. Friends, that Dabbawala delivered tiffin in lunch time, tiffin delivered in office in lunch time. Customer saw the tiffin. That angry young man husband but morning angry young man now become the hungry young man. He opened the tiffin. He saw the written message on the top of the tiffin by wife, oh my beloved husband, I love you a lot. Forget what happened in the morning. Eat my food, it is delicious. Wife given message to husband delivered by Dabbawala. They do free service for you.
Friends, husband also felt shy. In return, he wants to do something for wife. He brought two cinema tickets, put in empty tiffin, return message to wife, I love you lot, that’s it.
Friends, I want to message you all, knowingly unknowingly customer is the god but provided you should do passionately. Provided you do it attitude approach and discipline, friends. They don’t alcohol, no smoking during working hours. Cap is compulsory, ID card is compulsory. No leave without prior notice in business otherwise 1000 rupees fine. Friends, how they work.
[Video clip: “The Mumbai Dabbawalas are a close-knit group of 5000 people of stamina, values, and ethics. They are engaged in the business of collecting tiffin boxes filled with home-made food from different houses and distributing them at the workplaces of the earning members of these families in the pre-noon — [Dr. Pawan: This man is 75 year old.] — to the respective houses in the afternoon. They move 200,000 such lunches to 200,000 people working in different organizations.”
Can you imagine, friends? 75 year-old man is working with a 65 Kg because they believe I’m soldier of Shivaji Maharaj. I’m very strong and they work, friends. There is no retirement age. As on today, one man is up 79-year old and working in the organization. Believe me friends, in company many Dabbawalas are working last 40 years, 50 years in one company. And industry people taught me attrition retention, great; can you imagine, friends? Sir we have zero attrition rate. Not a single Dabbawala left in last 120 years in the organization friends, can you imagine this? I message you also work in the same fashion, friends. This is a whole day schedule how we work. Coding system in the beginning we have color thread, then tags, then paint, then alphabet and this is today’s coding system. I’m sorry I cannot cover. Time is very short. Our kiruba is great.
Friends, VLP is the Vile Parle, residential area of customer. E is the Dabbawala who will collect tiffin from Vile Parle, three number stand for working area. I’ll repeat again. We do coding on the top of the tiffin. VLP stands for residential area of customer. Number E stands for Dabbawala who will collect from your residence and your work place working area is Nariman Point. E Dabbawala will collect from Vile Parle this tiffin will travel from Vile Parle to Nariman Point and at least six times this tiffin will mix by six group people but will not mix. It will reach Nariman Point without any mix-up. At Nariman Point, Mr. 9 will pick the tiffin. He will deliver at Express Tower at 12th floor. No address, no name, but delivery is perfect every day. Can you imagine?
Friend, listen to me. This is the D’ Souza written by D’ Souza himself because he could not recognize his own tiffin that’s why he writes name. Dabbawala knows your tiffin, you don’t know which is your tiffin. So great you are.
Volume, how this coding, just see.
[Video clip: “Every day with practically no mix-ups at all. Like in the coding system, a simple and very effective. This lunch box which contains the meal Swati has cooked for her husband has been coded VLP 23 MT 10 on the top. And Q3 is scribbled below.”
Friend, no brush required. Simple piece of paper, a simple matchstick becomes the brush, when you wash tiffin at home sometime our coding is not visible. Any Dabbawala comes to know, he will remove color and will write with finger. He will not say it is not my job. He will do the job because within organization everybody is responsible. So great this passionate of Dabbawalas.
[Video clip: “The 200,000 of them are having it on all working days on time, thanks to the Mumbai Dabbawalas. The shelf life of these lunches are just four to five hours. Therefore –]
Friend, luggage compartment they are traveling.
[Video clip: One tiffin box shifts hands in transit at least six times before it reaches its consumer in his office. The same is the case in its return journey as an empty tiffin. The spontaneous sorting. Everyone is picking up his tiffins as per his delivery areas. Tiffins for areas with more density are transported on carts collectively. Some tiffins are on bicycles. And some are personally taken by hand. From here the tiffins move –]
Friends, these are some time when we lost business. This was a documentary made by UTV MTV. A to Z TV made documentary on Dabbawalas. Many awards, they got ISO phukat without application. One among top 50 entrepreneur, Indian entrepreneur [influence] Mumbai that is Dabbawala. Many achievements, I have done PhD on them. It is my honor. Prince Charles came to Mumbai. Only three Indians invited friends but when Prince Charles came to India, Mr. Jitendar Jain he told Dabbawala, Mr. Dabbawala Prince Charles want to visit you. Dabbawala told I don’t know who is Prince Charles. Oh, he is the king of London? Oh King of London, I will allow him to visit, no problem. With two conditions. First condition, Prince Charles should come 11:20 to 11:40, because Dabbawala free those time. That’s why he should come that time. Second, we will not go to Prince Charles. Prince Charles should come to us. Where? Churchgate foot path.
Friend, Mr. Jain asked why you ask these conditions? What Dabbawala answered, sir he is a great king. But our two lakh customers are greater king. We cannot disturb the customer or Dabbawalas for him.
Richard Branson, he came to Mumbai. He brought his own tiffin from London cap we are honored, and he was excellent. He told yaar we’re great. Chief minister came to inaugurate the book written by this lady. Sir chief minister came. What he told in his speech? I always reach one hour after the function. But today when I came to and said Dabbawala program, I came five minutes before the program, why? If I was two minute late, all Dabbawala could’ve gone and it was insult for me. So he came in time.
It means you should work in time consistently not because CM is coming. That’s what [inaudible] Governor, Mayor honored Dabbawala after Prince Charles not before that, specialty of India. Many, many places when I went. I have written one book on Dabbawala, really they are great friends. Excellency all over we got opportunity delivered, many, many, many places. Of course you must be knowing when Prince Charles was married, Dabbawala invited. Only three Indians. Among three Indians, two were Dabbawalas and they are excellent friends. Even Prince Charles writing letter social commitment. They are excellent, friend. Contributing some rupees for the association. Now we are giving education to Dabbawala. Maybe English, maybe computer with this and really friends thank you. You invited me because I require 30 minutes more.