The fact is, there are no good food delivery options. It’s not the food, it’s the delivery. It applies to all delivery. Thanks to extensive research done by me, which will be published shortly, we can recreate a typical transaction.
You browse for an item. You drool at the price. You feel a pang of joy as you realise you have an HDFC card, which entitles you to 5% cash-back. You order your item and eagerly await its arrival, never once wondering why Electronix Shoppee, the vendor you’re actually doing business with, is giving away things so cheap. Three days later, the product arrives, and you discover that it is a) second-hand, b) broken or c) a brick wrapped in newspaper. If it’s a laptop with original Windows 10, it will not be original. If they are discounted Belgian chocolates, they will not taste like chocolate. If it’s a power bank, it will be powerless. If it comes in packaging which says ‘do not purchase if seal is broken’, the seal will be broken. If it’s fresh vegetables, you will have to remember that ‘fresh’ is subjective, and vegetables do not have expiry dates printed on them.
The additional problem with food items is human intervention. A human being is delivering these items. This human being is typically carrying a 30-kilo bag on his back, and no one ever tips him. He represents the culmination of the core strategy behind India’s IT revolution, which is, how much stuff can we load on one man’s back? He is almost certainly pausing for a moment during delivery, so that he can open up the box and spit in your strawberries. If he can find a quiet corner in a large neighbourhood park, there is much more that he can do. If I were him, I would be doing this.
You receive the goods. You are outraged by their condition. Assuming your mobile service operator is providing a signal, you call customer care. When you eventually get through, they will say ‘your call is important to us’ over and over again, in the hope that you will realise that it isn’t.
But you persist, because you are not so easy to beat, even though you were a little careless in the matter of checking reviews. Eventually Arif or Vijay will come on the line and ask for the details of your transaction. As soon as you provide them, the line gets cut, and you have to start again. After two or three days, you will eventually get through. They promise to look into the matter, and confirm your complaint number by SMS, but the SMS never comes. After a few weeks, you give up.
Both the e-commerce site and the owner of Electronix Shoppee or Good Food Hubb have booked profits, so it’s a win-win, except for you. For the small shopkeepers, it’s a double victory. Worldwide, e-commerce giants are driving small shops out of business, and restructuring human society, leaving us with much more time to watch Netflix. In this way, Internet companies are supporting each other. But in India, human society is fighting back.
The small shops have signed up with the giants. They are ruining their reputations and making money while doing it. They are too numerous to control. The giants were going to take over the world, but India is defeating them. It’s a matter of pride. However, we cannot always think about India. So if you need to buy healthy food, the best thing to do is to stop watching Netflix for half an hour, walk down to your neighbourhood store, and pick it up yourself.
In Shovon Chowdhury’s most recent novel, Murder With Bengali Characteristics, the Great Firewall of China has become self-aware, and is very depressed