Pop-A-Razzi Society

When a food delivery app saves the day

Because the troll army marches on its stomach

Zomato Gold has become Zomato Golden. The food delivery company made news recently when an irate devout customer decided he could not bear to have his food delivered during the holy month of Shravan by a man with a Muslim-sounding name. Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik says it just shows a “low spiritual index” when you believe that another person is beneath even your touch. “If you have a high spiritual index, you realise that every human, every animal, every plant, has the divine within them and therefore you want to reach out to them.”

Whatever the state of the Zomato customer’s spiritual index, his other indices must have been low as well, since it evidently escaped him that the food might have been prepared or packed by someone “unholy” in his book.

Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal came out swinging, and tweeted, “We are proud of the idea of India — and the diversity of our esteemed customers and partners. We aren’t sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values.” Arnab Goswami ranted about the bigotry of the customer. Omar Abdullah patted Zomato on the back. A former Election Commissioner called Goyal the “real face of India”.

The relief was palpable. Finally someone had stood up for an idea of sab-ke-saath India and not been bombarded with whataboutery. This was not one of the usual suspects like Nayantara Sahgal returning an award or Ravish Kumar getting one. This was a level of bigotry we could all condemn. Perhaps we had found our lowest common denominator, our line in the quicksand. Even those of us who don’t want Muslims in our apartment complex or Dalits in our family tree or in our engineering classes had found someone to shame.

Fussing over food

But when Zomato said that food did not have religion, even the eminently sensible Baijayant Jay Panda tweeted, “#Zomato is right to deny a customer’s request for a delivery person of a diffrt religion. But wrong (and hypocritical) to claim it dsn’t mix religion with food. It fusses over religious clients’ halal/ Jain food. Curious if it does for all, eg a religious Sikh wanting non halal meat.”

Somehow Panda missed the obvious point that it is the restaurant that fusses over halal/ Jain food. Zomato merely delivers it with no certificate testifying to its halal-ness/ Jain-ness. And as astute Twitterati pointed out, comparing halal food to the religion of the delivery person would only make sense if one was planning to eat the man.

Now comes the news that in Howrah near Kolkata, Zomato delivery persons are on strike because they do not want to deliver beef or pork and the company won’t listen to them. Twitter detectives quickly figured out that the Howrah area has no restaurants delivering beef on Zomato. One of the faces involved in the protest is, in fact, a local BJP activist. This beef-pork fracas got fishier when Huffington Post reported that Zomato delivery persons had been fighting the company over rate cuts for a while and getting no media traction. Add a dollop of pork-beef to the mix and voila, it becomes national news. It seems we learned nothing since 1857 when those rumours of pig lard and beef tallow greasing cartridges supposedly sparked a mutiny or perhaps we learned its lessons all too well.

Eat and let eat

Recently, a famous hole-in-the-wall deli in Kolkata that had sold beef collar and Hungarian pork sausages for decades shut shop suddenly. It was probably the only place in Kolkata that sold beef and pork together, unwittingly becoming an embodiment of an eat-and-let-eat city. The manager told the media, “An unusual problem started over the last year. Hindu workers refused to touch the beef and Muslims the pork. This was never a problem over the last century.” The deli had got its licence to sell chicken, beef and pork under one roof from the Calcutta Corporation in the 1930s. The mayor at that time was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

In a way, all this is not surprising. We have seen laws put out in the name of regulating animal markets and animal welfare that actually try to choke the marketplace for cattle. We have seen lynch mobs burst into people’s homes and inspect what is in their refrigerators. It’s only to be expected that the next link in the chain — the food delivery apps — would be targeted by someone who realised that delivery apps can deliver not just food but also revolution. The troll army marches on its stomach.

But it’s a sign of the peculiar times we live in that the standard-bearer for the idea of an inclusive diverse country is no longer a writer or a politician or a filmmaker, who have been consigned uniformly to the tukde tukde scrap heap, but a food delivery app. That is food for thought indeed.

The writer is author of Don’t Let Him Know, and like many Bengalis, likes to let everyone know about his opinions whether asked or not.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 1:08:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/column-when-a-food-delivery-app-saves-the-day/article29110925.ece

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