COMMENT-POSTERS COMPLAINED when this columnist reported that he had recently handed out “best courier” awards to Fed Ex and DHL.
You should have given the award to the dabbawallas, they said.
She’s right. The dabbawallas are a legendary team of illiterate homemade lunch deliverers who speedily move millions of food items between the right kitchen and the right office without new technology, such as “pencils” and “paper”.
Instead, team leaders concentrate members’ minds with advice: “Deliver beef to a Hindu or bacon to a Muslim and the customer gets a free dinner: dabbawalla au gratin.”
How do they achieve the impossible? Having seen them in action, my suspicion is that they use quantum mechanics to move things like in Star Trek.
“Scotty-sahib, set the teleport controls to beam this plate of rogan josh to Mumbai High Street at warp speed.”
Staff at Forbes, a business magazine, calculated that the odds of a dabbawalla fouling up a lunch delivery was one in six million, roughly the same odds of a Chinese court finding a not guilty defendant not guilty.
Top US business experts described the dabbawallas’ delivery system as the “world’s most efficient supply chain”. But they were the ones who thought defunct mortgages were a good investment, so who listens to them anymore?
(Inside a typical tiffin box: homemade roti and vegetarian curries)
Yet here’s the bad news. Big businesses are muscling in. Some are introducing SMS and on-line ordering options into dabbawalla systems. It’s only a matter of time before some multi-national corporation buys up the whole industry.
Who will it be? And how will the service change? Here are some possibilities.
If IKEA delivered lunch, your food would arrive a week after ordering, it would have some weird name like flubglok and you’d have to assemble it yourself with a tiny Allen key.
If Adobe Systems delivered lunch, you would have to register online and receive a special 37-digit code to type in before you could open the box.
If Nintendo delivered lunch, it would come in the shape of a remote control that you wave up and down as fast as you could to feed virtual food to a virtual diner on a screen.
If Apple delivered lunch, it would be a smooth, white geometrical cube which wasn’t actually edible but would look cool.
If Tiffany Jewelers delivered lunch, staff wearing black gloves would arrive in a limousine and hand you a turquoise package containing a lead crystal replica of a sandwich.
If eBay delivered lunch, there’d be an easy online ordering system, but the food would never arrive because someone on the other side of town bid a few extra rupees for it.
If Rolex delivered lunch, it would arrive bang on time, but would cost $40,000.
If McDonald’s delivered lunch, you would get a greasy 900 calories fat-bomb that would kill you within… wait, a minute, they DO deliver lunch.
ON UNRELATED MATTERS… your humble narrator is just about to board a plane to Sri Lanka, so forgive me if emails or comments get late responses. If you are in Sri Lanka, come and say hello: I’ll be at the Galle Face Hotel.