Everyone needs inspiration from time to time. Whether you are laying low while planning a giant project, or just from the everyday grind, it’s good to get a reminder that even the toughest job is doable. Because we’ve been there too, Project Eve is thrilled to partner with Corning® Gorilla® Glass to share their Incredibly Tough Video Series and get the inside story on the exceptional individuals they feature. This series tells the stories of incredibly tough people, using incredibly tough devices, to do incredibly tough things. We all have the grit to do what it takes. Sometimes we just need a reminder of what we can accomplish when we put our minds to it. Join us while we learn more about these incredible individuals and the challenges they face.
Just last month Gorilla® Glass premiered its video “Mumbai’s Incredibly Tough Dabbawalas.” The first video in it’s Incredibly Tough series features a day in the life of Shankar, one of the 5,000 Dabbawalas delivering home cooked meals to hundreds of thousands Mumbai’s office workers with incredible precision.
Each day, carrying roughly 132 lbs of deliveries on bikes, pushcarts and their own heads, Dabbawalas travel 40-mile routes. Not only do the Dabbawala’s contend with long days carrying heavy loads while navigating Mumbai’s chaotic, crowded streets, but they also manage to do it with incredible accuracy. Anyone who has ever dealt with complex business operations or even tracked a package should be prepared to be amazed by the accuracy of the Dabbawalas’ execution. They deal with thousands of customers and deliver approximately 200,000 lunches daily making three different transactions (lunch box pickup, delivery, and lunchbox return) and maintain an error rate of less than one mistake in 6 million. Take a look at a day in Shankar’s life in the video below.
Shankar and his colleagues are carrying on a 125-year-old business that is so famous for its accuracy it’s been studied by FedEx and is the subject of a Harvard Business School case study. When I consider my reluctance to proofread a contract an extra time (or three), it helps to remember the incredible dedication it takes to get to this level of accuracy.
In addition to this fantastic video, Project Eve was able to ask Shankar some questions and get extra insight on how he and his colleagues make the Dabbawalas’ complex delivery system come together each day.
What was the hardest thing to master when you were learning to be a Dabbawala? – Did you ever get turned around/lost while you were learning your route?
Many people think that being a Dabbawala is a simple delivery job: picking up and delivering our customers’ lunches (in dabbas) from one point to another. But being a Dabbawala involves a lot of focus and coordination, physical work and complete control of the roads and rail networks in a city like Mumbai!
Our system works because we follow a very clear structure and think about our customers all the time. We memorize everything: from the entire train timetable to the fastest route to get to work on different days and in different conditions. For instance, if it is raining at the start of the week I would take an alternate route than if it was a dry, sunny Monday morning.
After all, one slip in the delivery or pick-up address and a customer would miss his or her lunch and could end up hungry for the working day! Training to be a Dabbawala involves learning a specific route that we’re responsible for on a daily basis. For every customer we handle, we have a specific code that indicates the pick-up and delivery address, and the points where the Dabbas are to be exchanged between us. These alpha-numeric codes indicate the address, area, street, etc. The tough part is to understand and memorize these codes for each customer.
Usually, a new Dabbawala takes about 10-12 days to train under the guidance of an experienced Dabbawala – learning the ropes of pick-up and delivery, the codes and the routes. In the early days, I did get a little lost, or my dabba got misplaced; however, we operate a system where we have a Dabbawala on standby at all times to manage such situations and ensure that the customer is never inconvenienced.
What is the most challenging part of the delivery process?
One of the toughest parts of the delivery process is carrying the weight of the dabbas throughout the day from one location to another. Sometimes we end up carrying as much as 30 to 40 metal tiffin boxes weighing over 60 kilograms (132 pounds) for over 65 km (40 miles). We can’t put the load down at all, and if we get to a station where there is no other Dabbawala to help board or debark the train, we have to carry the heavy load onto a train by ourselves; sometimes with just a few seconds to spare.
How does your phone help you during your day?
Having a phone is very useful. It helps us keep in constant touch on the go and allows us to update each another in case of any delays or issues – we make a quick call or send a message to our colleagues or customers, so the delivery remains on schedule. Our phones are our lifelines connecting our network of Dabbawalas across the city.
When we get a bit of free time, in between deliveries, we access the internet on our phones and watch movie clips, watch cricket or listen to music. And in case we are running behind our daily schedules, we usually drop a quick message to our families, so they know we’re on our way home.
In the old days, Dabbawalas would share stories and play cards on their way home. These days, we share photos of our families or watch videos on a phone. Our lives have become a little more modernized, but our values remain the same. We are family men who are proud of our culture and happy to make people happy when we deliver their lunch every day.
How do you cope with train delays?
Mumbai’s trains may be overcrowded and lack any modern conveniences, but they are frequent! We rely on them to run throughout the day and know that if we miss one train, another one is along in a few minutes. We make up small delays by working our schedule a little harder when there is a small delay, and our customers are aware that there may be slight delays in the delivery of their dabbas because of minor changes in the train schedules. However, if there is a major delay with the local trains, customers will probably hear from news reports and know that we will work hard to get them their deliveries as quickly as we can. Our network of Dabbawalas keep each other informed of such delays to maintain smooth functioning of the pick-ups and deliveries across all routes; we make quick-thinking adjustments to our deliveries to maintain a seamless service.
Focus, endurance, teamwork, and dedication to customer service: qualities any organization would desire in its employees. Consider a Dabbawala’s dedication to those qualities throughout a day of negotiating traffic, train schedules, as well as the physical demands he faces. These incredibly tough individuals are more than inspiring! We are already looking forward to the next installment from the Corning® Gorilla® Glass Incredibly Tough Video Series.
A special thank you to Corning Incorporated for sponsoring this post.