English and computers now for Mumbai's famed dabbawalas

And guess what? The centre where they will be coached has been made to resemble a train as that's where many of the dabbawalas spend a lot of their time!

"We had decided to send our dabbawalas for English lessons. But now, we are also aiming to send them for computer training, at least once a week," said Raghunath Medge, president of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust.

"I feel unless our dabbawalas learn computer operations, they will not be able to teach their children. It is important to know the basics of computers in today's world," Medge told IANS. "Computer lessons will  add to their skills."

The term 'dabbawala' means a person who delivers the 'dabba' or tiffin box. The dabbawala community of Mumbai comprises 5,000 men who distribute food, travelling on foot or by train, to nearly 200,000 working people. They are internationally lauded for their efficiency and time management in delivering freshly cooked food to people in their offices across the city and have been widely written about.

The programme for training dabbawalas in English was launched by Mumbai's Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU) in association with the Agrawal Institute of Management and Technology.

The first batch of English lessons for dabbawalas will begin soon at the Agrawal Institute situated in central Mumbai's Vikhroli suburb.

"The computer training will also start soon," Medge said. "I am glad that the dabbawallas have responded gracefully with 25 of them taking admission in the first batch, which includes president, secretary, directors and group leaders of the association," said Pawan Agrawal, founder president of the Agrawal Institute.

Agrawal has been associated with the dabbawala association for the last 10 years and has also done a Ph.D on them.

Highlighting the special ambience created at the training centre, Agrawal said the computer centre had been made to resemble a local train, Mumbai's lifeline.

"Dabbawalas spend a long time commuting in local trains to deliver and collect tiffins. It is like their second home. So we have set up the same ambience in our training centre," Agrawal said.

"Certification and study material for both courses will be provided by Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University. We will provide education free of cost," he said.
According to Medge, knowledge of computers will make the dabbawallas more tech-savvy while learning basic English would make it easier for them to find addresses and locate people.

"Most customers give us their addresses in English, which our dabbawalas do not follow. Then they often ask around, wasting time," Medge said.

"Learning English will help them locate addresses easily and save time," he added.
Mumbai's dabbawala lunch delivery service was first started in 1890 by Mahadeo Havaji Bachche with about 100 men. In 1930, he informally attempted to bring together all the dabbawalas.

In 1956, a charitable trust under the name of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust was established.

The dabbawalas have been awarded with the six sigma performance title by Forbes Magazine and have received ISO 9001 : 2000 Certificate. And despite having no technological backup, the error rate of these dabbawalas is one in 16 million transactions.

They also find place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Prince Charles made it a point to visit the community in 2003 to understand how they function without employing any technology.

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