by Peter High, published on Forbes
India is a fascinating place for anyone who is interested in technology. The number of major technology firms is growing just as the number of companies around the world who work with Indian technology resources grows along with them.
I have spent the past week in Mumbai, and at every turn, I’ve been asking people about the technology they use, the companies they admire, and the state of India today. Last week, I had lunch with an IT leader at a major Indian airline. We met in a conference room in her building. I had a take-out biryani, and she dined on a lunch out of four identical silver tins called tiffin boxes. I asked her about her lunch not realizing that I was on the cusp of learning about the most fascinating logistics organization I had ever heard of.
That morning, as she began her commute to work, a cook in her home prepared her lunch for her. Her cook knows her taste, and prepares her favorite dishes each day of the work week. The dishes, in her case typically made of vegetarian thali, were dished into four identical tiffin boxes. At 9:30, a delivery man, called a dabbawala, which translates to “one who carries the box”, knocked on the door, and picked up the four tins. He would collect similar tins around my friend’s neighborhood, often climbing stairs to get to apartments in high buildings. He would do this even during monsoon season. It is more than likely that he is illiterate, as 85 percent of the dabbawala workforce is. The boxes that the tins are put into, called dabbas, are marked with different numbers, letters, and colors. These designate the point of origin and the destination of each dabba, including the trains and stations that will be used along the journey.