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...streets of Mumbai to make sure the tiffin boxes get to the right customer at the right time… Red light, no entry, zebra crossing - everything is crossed by our members," Tripathi told journalists at an event arranged by technology service company HCL in Delhi last week.

No employees, just members
Another factor that the dabbawalas believe contribute to the organisation's success is that it doesn't have employees - it has members.

Started in 1880, the dabbawalas' operation became a charitable trust in 1956 with every worker paid the same from the organisation's profits.

"Everyone is a shareholder and I need not tell you what the difference is," Tripathi said. "If I am an employee, no matter if I do bad job or worse job... I get a pay cheque at the end of the month."

dabbawala delivery tiffin box

Dabbawalas deliver to offices anywhere in reach of Mumbai's railway system
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

"In 120 years [that the dabbawala business has operated] we have never gone on strike," he added. "The reason sounds very simple - each of us is a shareholder. Employees go on strike, shareholders do not."

The dabbawalas also have a shared history, with members initially drawn from the same farming communities of Maharashtra. Today, the dabbawalas remain a close-knit bunch - when one dabbawala wants to leave, he must find his own replacement - with a common cultural background that encompasses religion, language, and food preferences.

The customer is god
It's in this shared background, according to Tripathi, that the customer is, almost literally, god.

"I meet a lot of corporate guys and what they tell me is Monday morning is the worst of their life," he said. "They know the hell that is in front of them... Whenever we are working, we do not have any stress at all - because serving people is serving god."

By serving people - that is, god's creations - the dabbawalas are effectively serving god: "We treat our customer as god, or the reflection of god - and we serve our customer as if we were serving god."

And while the dabbawala system may have...

About Jo Best

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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