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Vishal Rawlley and Kurnal Rawat

Dabbawalla city code

Vishal Rawlley & Kurnal Rawat,  TyPoCiTy: Dabbawallas
Vishal Rawlley & Kurnal Rawat,  TyPoCiTy: The 'dabba' Vishal Rawlley & Kurnal Rawat,  TyPoCiTy: Dabbawalla iconography Vishal Rawlley & Kurnal Rawat,  TyPoCiTy: Public signage system
Dabbawallas (a), or lunch box delivery men, are a phenomenon unique to Mumbai. Every day, massive networks of men deliver meals to thousands of people in their offices. To ensure that each lunch box reaches its rightful owner, the dabbawallas have devised their own system of symbols to identify the boxes (b). As most dabbawallas are illiterate, the combination of lines, dots and crosses (rather than a name and address) indicates the destination of each box, as this diagram demonstrates (c). Like a baton in a relay race, a lunch box may change hands several times as different men transport it for different legs of its journey. At each juncture, the symbols are accurately interpreted so that the box can be sent in the right direction. To transport their lunch boxes, the dabbawallas use the train, bicycles and handcarts and sometimes also carry boxes on their heads.

The artists put forward a proposal to incorporate this iconographic language into the public signage system in Mumbai (d). Such a system would give each area its own distinctive symbol that would designate its local train station, bus stops and street signs. It is hoped that this signage system would be more intuitively interpreted in a multicultural and multilingual city in which textual markings in the standard three main languages can still be limiting.

Raphaëlle Aubin © 2007 FDL