128 years ago, it was a Parsi banker whose wish to have home-cooked food in office, led to the foundation of Mumbai’s Dabbawala service, the evangelists who have been calming down the hunger pangs of almost every working Mumbaikar with hot lunches since the 1890s.
Initially flagged off with 100 Dabbawalas, which translates to one who carries a box, by Punekar Mahadeo Havaji Bachche, this widespread nexus comprises of thousands of delivery people who are clad in white and wear iconic Gandhian caps, whose efficiency and commitment to the service is certainly worthy of all the praise it has received.
With a simple colour-coding system that helps the Dabbawalas distinguish between different routes, the system’s longstanding proficiency went on to clinch a six-sigma efficiency rating of 99.999999 by Forbes in 1998 and an in-depth case study on their working mechanism and logistics by IIM Ahmedabad in 2005.
Even British royalty like Prince Charles and business mogul Sir Richard Branson are self-professed fans of the Mumbai institution.
Inspired by this longstanding model of managerial and networking efficiency, Thiruvananthapuram will soon roll out its own band of Dabbawalas, who will emulate the very same working mechanism of its Mumbai precursors; however, these two institutions will have no connection with each other.
Vova Dabbawala is the brainchild of city-based Sreejith Jayan that is all set to begin its operations across four prime locations spread across the ambit of Kerala’s capital on May 15.
Ever since they took to the social media announcing about the venture, Sreejith’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing. “While the idea is quite new and appealing to people across the city, and is a much-needed respite from their jam-packed life, we had never expected the response to be this overwhelming. People across the city are signing up for the service,” Sreejith says to The Better India.
The idea struck the young man while pondering over ways of reducing the burden on homemakers, who have to rise early every morning to prepare meals for the working members in their households. “In most families, mothers and wives, irrespective of being employed themselves, have to wake up early and spend many hours in the kitchen,” explains the 30-year-old.
Sreejith ended up stumbling upon the legacy of Mumbai Dabbawalas and how they have been seamlessly operating on the model for over a century.
The idea appealed to him so much that he wondered why it couldn’t be replicated in his own city as well, which happens to house one of the largest IT parks in South-east Asia and a large number of professionals.
Teaming up with his friend, Prajeeth P Das, who was equally enthusiastic about the idea, Sreejith embarked on a journey that took them to Delhi and Mumbai, where they conducted an extensive study and research on the Dabbawalas for 20 days.
“We went through anything, and everything that could be found about this system and the more we learnt about its efficiency and operations, the more our belief in the venture, strengthened,” he says.
With encouragement and support from family and friends, the duo decided to transform this belief into reality and soon, folks in Thiruvananthapuram will have warm meals prepared by their moms or wives during the lunch hour in offices.
So how will the venture ensure the efficiency achieved by the Mumbai Dabbawalas?
“Just like the Mumbai model, we have identified a central hub in Poojapura where all the collected tiffin boxes would be dropped. The four locations where the delivery people would be operating are Peroorkada, Thiruvallam, Kazhakoottam and the main Thiruvananthapuram city limits. A total of 10 two-wheelers and three cars have been deployed for the venture. While long-term schemes are also available, one can also book daily and monthly options on our website, mobile application and even through a toll-free number managed by a customer care support,” Sreejith explains.
Regarding the schedule, Sreejith explains that bookings would close by 10 a.m. every day, following which the collection drives would commence at 11:00 a.m. and conclude with the consolidation of all boxes at Poojapura central hub at 11:50 a.m. At 12:10 p.m., they will begin their delivery run and finish distributing all boxes in their designated areas.
One can live-track the status of their boxes on the app, right from the collection to delivery. Customers would be also provided with the number of the delivery people.
“It is imperative that households keep the tiffin boxes ready by the collection time for the delivery guys to stick to the schedule and their working family members to enjoy the freshly prepared food,” mentions Sreejith.
Sreejith’s sister Karthika and brother Sudheesh have also played a substantial role, in terms of tech-based support, to make the venture a reality. While Kathika has helped develop the website and mobile app, Sudheesh handles the customer care support of Vova Dabbawala.
As the team preps for the launch of the delivery service, Sreejith mentions that they received many enquiries about whether they would also begin a catering service.
“At present, we only plan on concentrating upon the delivery service, but depending on the success of the venture, we might expand to catering as well,” he states.
More than a profit-making business, what Sreejith and his team aspire to do is to bring respite to countless women in the city, who can now take their own sweet time to prepare meals.
The opportunity of relishing a warm, home-cooked meal for working professionals in their workplace is the additional perk.
As for future pursuits, Vova Dabbawala plans on expanding their services to Ernakulam by August 15 this year. “We are working out on how to take that forward. Hopefully, that plan will also be fruitful,” Sreejith adds.
Coming to the rescue of working professionals of Thiruvananthapuram, we hope that the team finds as much success in their venture as the Mumbai Dabbawalas have been enjoying for all these years, and wish them luck.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)