the world, work is a central part of our lives. This documentary
captures an unusual form of work in India. Each day in Mumbai (Bombay),
India, a city of more than 16 million, people called Dabbawallas
move lunches from peoples’ homes to their work places. Dabba
means box, and walla means person. The metal box holds the freshly
made lunch from home.
process is very complicated and large in scale. More than 100,000
get moved every day by about 4,000 Dabbawallas.
The lunch boxes are picked up at the homes and brought to a first
sorting place. Then, they are moved to another location – often
by train – and resorted. After a series of moves and sortings,
the boxes eventually reach the customers. All these occur in the
morning – sometime between 8:30 and 1:00. Then the process
is reversed. The boxes are picked up in the places of work and
eventually brought home. The striking feature of this process of
collecting, sorting, and delivery is that it is as complicated
as what we see being done on a daily basis by companies like Federal
Express, but this process operates with no computers, technology,
or modern-day business procedures. The interesting questions are:
How does this large scale and complicated sorting and delivery
process work? Why has it persisted for more than 100 years? The
underlying themes of the film are (a) what people in more- developed
countries can learn from workers in less-developed countries, (b)
the reliance upon human and social ingenuity for organizing rather
than relying on external mechanisms such as technology, and (c)
according respect for the seldom-heard voices of disadvantaged
populations in the world.
The video explores this question at a number of different levels.
We describe a typical day of a Dabbawalla. We go to the homes where
the food is prepared and then picked up by the Dabbawalla. We follow
the Dabbawalla on his bike until he gets to the sorting place,
where his co-workers are actively involved in moving boxes from
one place to another. We ride on the train in the special car designed
for the Dabbawallas, and follow them through more sorting until
the lunch boxes are delivered to the customer. At another level,
we interview the customers about why they use this service, the
Dabbawallas about their life, and the people who help manage this
complicated sorting and delivery process.
As the video unfolds, the viewer should understand not only
what these people do, but perhaps more important, why this very
large scale and complicated system has worked for 100 years. Some
of the mechanisms that will emerge from this video include all
the Dabbawallas come from the same city. In order to become a member
of this organization, they need to buy a position in the organization
the same way that someone may buy a seat on the stock exchange.
The organization for which the Dabbawallas work has a banking system.
This facilitates them buying a seat or membership in the organization.
It also creates ties in the organization. In addition, during the
interviews, we will learn about a court system that exists to adjudicate
disputes among the Dabbawallas. These and other forms of human
and social ingenuity emerge in the work of the Dabbawallas on the
streets in Bombay.
film also serves as a counterpoint. Instead of asking how knowledge
in developing countries can help less developed countries,
this film focuses on how developed countries can learn from less