Among the effluvia engendered by Britain’s Prince Charles’ marriage in 2005 to Camilla Parker-Bowles was this tidbit, from the BBC:
Two of the famous lunch-box, or tiffin, carriers from the Indian city of Mumbai are on their way to London to attend Prince Charles’ wedding on Saturday.
The honored men belong to a group, virtually all male, which delivers 175,000 home-cooked lunches, daily, to suburban workers in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India.
Operating much like a postal system, the men, called ‘dabbawallas’ or ‘tiffinwallas’, collect lunches (‘tiffin’) from the homes where they’re cooked, transporting them on foot or by bicycle or by handcart and by train until they are delivered to individual offices.
The entire operation takes a whole day. Tins are collected at 9 AM, put on the trains by 10:30 and delivered to offices at 12:30. The empties are collected at 1:30 and returned to homes by late afternoon.
A total of four dabbawallas handle each individual tiffin on each run. The first collects the tiffin tin from the home. A second sorts the tins before they are placed in bins on a train. A third sorts the tins after they leave the train, and the fourth delivers the tiffin tin to the office.
This enterprising workforce, 5,000 strong, is semi-literate; the tins are marked with symbols and colors which code their destinations. Each carries an origination symbol, a symbol for the destination station and one for the building where it’s finally delivered. The system is so precise that the error rate in just one in two months – or one in 16 million trips.
The dabbawallas have lots of experience to build on — the company has existed for well over 100 years, ever since British colonial times.
Why don’t the office workers carry their own lunches? A commenter named Karuna answers, writing on a business forum:
This Dabba is quite big and crude Alumininum container inside which the tiffin carrier is kept. One thing it is too big. and looks too crude and unsophisticated for a decent office-goer carry to with himself. The harried office-goer would hardly like to carry it with himself on his way back. More over bombay trains do not have space for commuters themselves. How can these big containers be accommodated during rush hour traffic?
I think there’s a tiffin in Allium’s future. No dabbawallas, though — he’s going to have to provide his own transport.
Image credits, all from flickr: