Mumbai, Dec 1: They are city's famed dabbawallahs, the lunch logisticians who deliver over 200,0000 lunch-boxes to hungry office-goers in the blurringly fast life of this teaming megapolis every weekday.
But these dabbawallah's clients were in for a surprise on Friday, when they found that their lunch delivered from home by these now internationally famous couriers had an extra helping - not of eatables but advice on fighting AIDS.
The extra something came in the form of an 'AIDS Kit' - a card calendar with fliers on counselling and testing, all tied neatly together in a symbolic red ribbon, and distributed Friday November 30, a day ahead of the World AIDS Day on Saturday December 1.
"This was our small gesture to AIDS awareness," said Raghunath Medge, president, Nutan Mumbai Tiffin-Box Suppliers Charitable Trust, popularly known as Mumbai's dabbawallahs.
"The AIDS Kit was attached to lunch-boxes and delivered to over 150,000 clients this morning," Medge told.
"We decided that we could contribute to the AIDS awareness campaign in our own way after health organizations contacted us for help," said Medge, who leads a team of some 5,000 dabbawallahs, now synonymous with Mumbai's fast life.
The dabbawallahs deliver the lunch-boxes to clients at their work places every day and take back the empty boxes every evening.
Behind this reliable-as-the clockwork system is a relay of 5,000-strong hardworking couriers of the Tiffin-Box Suppliers Charitable Trust, the cooperative that runs the system.
They collect lunch-boxes from homes, sort them out using a colour-and-alphabets code, travel by suburban trains, and even carry on their heads heavy wooden trays holding up to 35 boxes for delivery at offices.
"For the service, we charge Rs.300 to Rs 350 ($6-7) per box, depending on the distance of delivery," said Medge, who has been invited by some top global blue chip corporates such as Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft and Coca-Cola to speak about their work.
The humble dabawallahs have been accorded a `Six Sigma' performance rating by the Fortune magazine.
The 'Six Sigma' is a term used in quality assurance in the percentage of correctness. It means that the margin of error is three to four in a million deliveries, a benchmark reserved for blue-chip companies.