Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson voices admiration of dabbawalas’ green approach

dabbawalas of MumbaiLUNCH is served!

The dabbawalas of Mumbai, those world-renowned tiffin-slinging lunchbox legends, were in Vancouver to kick off the second week of the 2014 Indian Summer Festival. A pair from the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association even had a lunchbox for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who welcomed them to the city.

In Robertson’s office the two guests, Subodh Sangle and Kiran Gavande, explained their intricate system of delivering home-cooked meals to office workers in one of the largest, busiest, and most complicated metropolitan centers of India. They fulfill over 200,000 deliveries a day by hand, rain or shine (or monsoon!), without the use of any technology typical of modern businesses. What’s more, they almost never mess up. One time in six million to be more specific.

Naturally this remarkable bunch has caught the interest of business people and economists around the world for their exemplary entrepreneurship and extraordinary efficiency. However Robertson, known as the “green” mayor, has taken a different angle of interest. Recognized for his endeavours to escalate Vancouver to the status of Greenest City by 2020—and notorious for riding his bicycle to work— Robertson voiced his admiration of the dabbawalas’ green approach.

When the fuel-guzzling Mumbai traffic has screeched to a grinding halt, these delivery men are on the move, pedaling the streets with lunchboxes slung from their bicycle handles or piling onto public trains with crates the precious cargo. Not only must the dabbawalas be commended for their evasion of the use of fossil fuels, their system is also free of material waste, as all delivery containers are reusable.

“We have a lot to learn from you,” stated Robertson. Sangle and Gavande presented the mayor with one of their signature Gandhi caps, making him an honorary dabbawala, a designation only shared with Sir Richard Branson and Prince Charles. Lofty company, indeed!

As for the dabbawalas? They’re feeling right at home in Vancouver and have even put the city’s many bike lanes—one of Robertson’s initiatives—to the test. In fact Gavande spent the whole day a day earlier on two wheels, getting acquainted with the city streets and delivering tiffins Mumbai-style. Any chance they would be tempted to stay and start a dabba trend here? I sure hope so!

Their discussion, Lunchbox Legends: The Dabbawalas of Mumbai, took place on Thursday evening at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, as part of the Ideas Series of the 2014 Indian Summer Festival.