To the left is a “tiffin” or “tiffin box”, a sealed lunch box used in India to hold and transport a lunch or other meal. An Apple USB wall plug is included in the photo for size comparison.
They are most famously associated with Mumbai, where literally hundreds of thousands of home-cooked meals arrive still-warm to office workers downtown from the outer reaches of the city. Transported on short-distance trains downtown, the tiffins travel by bicycle from the downtown depot through alleys and shortcuts to their destinations.
Most dabbawalas – cyclist transporters of tiffin boxes – are more or less illiterate and rely on color codes and symbols on the tiffin boxes and crates for the correct delivery destination and customer. They are independent contractors who invest in a bicycle and pay guild initiation dues. Their error rate is stunningly low; some have even suggested that the dabbawala system merits, as a whole, a Six Sigma rating (two errors per million or fewer).
In my law office, I process the mail part of the time. A Six Sigma rating would be great but it’s no false modesty to suggest that I make more than two errors per million mail pieces in processing – scribing a case number on a check stub, confusing two clients with very similar names, etc. Perhaps what I do with the mail is slightly more complex than transporting a packing crate’s worth of lunches to addresses in downtown Mumbai, but I doubt it. Plus, I can more or less read a couple languages.
I have wanted a tiffin for a while for a number of reasons and finally bought one this weekend. One is that stainless steel is more appealing to me as a utensil than plastic – for a number of health and aesthetic reasons. Another is that the clasps and double-decker design allow for a varied meal and secure transport (if they can handle the railways in Maharashtra, they can handle the Corolla.) Another is that home cooking is cheaper and healthier – in support of other goals. But the biggest reason is humility.
One of the new voices online that I follow is Ed Latimore, whose book “Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower” has a lot of useful insights about improving performance and getting rid of nonsense. Ed grew up in the projects of Pittsburgh and makes his living as a boxer and author while pursuing graduate studies in physics and playing chess at a high level – a renaissance man in competitive fields with very different sets of rules and dynamics. He is fond of noting that someone addicted to crack cocaine will, for the limited purpose of getting the addictive drug, manifest an amazing level of diligence. This site will not quote Mr. Latimore’s bon mot directly in this post series on positivity now, but the reader can look up the exact quote.
I do not want to be out-performed by a gentleman who, unlike me, cannot read any language. I read three languages reliably, arguably some of maybe seven or eight languages. So if I screw up, what excuse can I offer? The tiffin will remind me to try to match in my production what a dabbawala can do in his. Since I like to eat lunch, I am likely to get the reminder daily. Might even color code my tiffin box, lest I forget.