Mumbai’s Dabbawalla by Shobha Bondre


Dabbawallahs of metropolis Mumbai suddenly gained fame when foreign media put them in the spotlight. Forbes magazine was the first one to give them a six-sigma certification. That according to the president of the Association and the protagonist of this book Mumbai’s Dabbawalla – they were not even aware of. This was followed by various documentaries. And the then famous visit by Prince Charles that made the media go crazy over Dabbawallahs. To me, this book is also a part of that media frenzy.

Written both, in first-person by Raghunath Medge as a memoir and by the author as a narrator – this book tries to trace the century-plus-old history of Mumbai Dabbawallas. How a simple village guy in Mumbai saw this an opportunity. And started delivering boxes of home cooked meals that gradually became a small scale industry in the city. Sustaining many families in the villages for these men with Gandhi caps bringing food to offices. The book begins with the highlight of the story where the two Dabbawallas including the protagonist go to London to attend Prince Charles wedding. And are treated as a special guest at the Taj hotel there.

The experience makes a good story but nothing that you do not expect. After this, the story of the early days of the Dabbawallas begins with the story of Raghunath who was one of the few early-educated men in the community.

At some places, it becomes the personal story of Raghunath. Where he talks passionately about his village, his mother and stepmother and his father. And the hardships they faced to give him an education. He talks about his own marriage. And his clan who was his father’s responsibility and after him became his. He talks about his first encounter with the city kids at college. His dream to do an LLB and then a CA. And he talks about the innovations he brought in the system that made the coding on the Dabbas uniform across the city. He talks about handling issues when the business was down. And the organization was losing its strength. He talks about the media craze for them. And how some dabbawallas are now lecturing more than delivering Dabbas.

Other places author gives her take on Dabbawallas. I wanted more on how they manage the system. How much do they charge, how they get paid. How they increase business and how they remain united. Basically, I wanted a deeper understanding of business and business process.

The original book was written in Marathi. English translation or should I say transliteration has been done by Shalaka Walimbre. Most places I could see the Marathi sentence behind the English one. I think translation could have been way better. You can identify the Marathi flavor if you know the language that can be alienating for people who do not know the language.

Read Mumbai’s Dabbawalla if you know nothing about Dabbawallas and are curious to know a bit.

You may buy this book – Mumbai’s Dabbawalla The Uncommon story of Common Man by Shobha Bondre at Amazon.

Mumbai’s Dabbawalla by Shobha Bondre

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  1. Hi,
    I am really interested on knowing more about dabbawalla being mumbaikar myself. Is it right book? Does it gives deeper understanding as mentioned by you in review?
    thanks for the review.

    • Ankit, it tells you a lot more than anywhere else, but ideally I would have wanted to have far more depth in the book.


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