Delivery Boys, the Angels of the Age of Apps


Delivery Boys, the Angels of the Age of Apps

Illustration: Arati Gujar

In this stress-laden 21st century where everyone seems to get hungrier and lazier by the minute, food delivery apps are the greatest invention of mankind since the “mute call” option. And with a hundred menus at my fingertips and a lot of depression to eat away, I am certainly capitalism’s favourite child. Remember “Saat samundar paar main tere peeche peeche aa gayi,” from Vishwatma that was once the purest expression of love? That’s the song playing in my head when a delivery boy travels over five kilometres to bring me a single box of fries.

I really do mean it.

For anyone struggling to survive, pay rent, work 12 hours, and flux toxins out of their body, food delivery boys are our mediums to nirvana. And apps like Zomato, Swiggy, and Uber Eats, are the matchmakers that lead us to these angels. Most of us sit behind desks in centralised AC offices or classrooms and then complain about our bodies turning into lead at night, but can you imagine having to navigate through maximum shitty traffic all day, every day and then politely deliver five-star meals while your back turns to sawdust? Yep, didn’t think so.

After the viral Zomato incident, where a rider was caught on camera eating from a customer’s order, there has been at least some scrutiny of a delivery boy’s life. Zomato promptly sacked the rider, but it led the internet down the rabbit hole of unfair work hours, minimum wage, work benefits, and the sheer thanklessness of the job itself. While tampering with an order that you’re meant to deliver is an offence, most of us were also quick to recognise the helpless hunger it must have arisen from. Ever since then, I have paid closer attention to the gruelling pieces of the delivery puzzles: from the incessant calls they’re required to field to being held responsible for the lackadaisical attitude of restaurants.

It’s actually a lonely, high-stakes, low-return profession. Think about it: On a hot summer days, does it really occur to us to offer a glass of cold water to a delivery guy, who looks like he is seconds away from curling up on the ground. While we sit by the phone, fuming over the wait time that just got longer by two minutes, our first priority is hardly the man out there ramming the accelerator to God’s glory, risking his ligaments.

Some superheroes have mutant powers, some have capes, and some have 25 packets of biryani hanging from their mortal arms.

Everytime I call for food, Zomato’s navigation system draws the path to my house through a lane that used to be open, but now has a giant apartment complex obstructing it, making it a dead-end. Friends who I have known since middle school keep confusing the direction to my house but these swarms of professionals hit dead-ends, swerve back, and scale all heights of hell to find me and deliver me my nachos dip. In fact, if the Marvel Cinematic Universe had ever casted these delivery boys in the Avengers franchise, then they’d have found and stopped Thanos before his ETA.

If you think I’m exaggerating, here’s what their day entails: Their daily jobs revolve around navigating their way around town to serve Indian customers and it’s really no secret how terrible Indians are with directions – we basically treat directions like a giant-ass puzzle. To reach “19A Sovabazar Street”, we’ll offer them something resembling the following: “Walk past the fifth chai stall, somersault through a stone statue of Cupid, stop bang opposite the Garden of Death, and then look for the purple door on the first floor”.  

Any normal person would sooner find their long lost will to survive than end up correctly tracing these directions to find their destination. But not the delivery boy – he will hang ten packets of biryani from either arm and defty cut through traffic on their bikes (not always responsibly, I agree) and always show up. On time. And as any hungry person will tell you, nothing can make your day as beautifully as a delivery boy arriving with your food, 10 minutes before their estimated time of arrival. Sex and all may be great, but this is the best feeling of all.

As someone who has ordered out to the extent of possessing an irrevocably damaged immune system, I not only know menu cards like the back of my hand but also share a peculiar comfort level with my local delivery boys. Sometimes, we complete each other’s sentences, like two days ago, when I was in the middle of announcing my address, Rajiv cut me off with a “Haan yaad hai, aapne New Year’s eve ko single-bowl-meal mangwaya tha. Wahin ghar na?” Check-mate, Rajiv. Then there are days when we exchange stories of woe on my doorstep, without sharing any history of familiarity: I vent about how my bus got caught for hours in the unforgiving Kolkata traffic and Soham tells me about how he was unfairly fined for jumping a stop sign that magically appeared.

I suppose I feel oddly protected, knowing that I have a safety net in a whole bunch of silent guardians touring the city for my impromptu depression snack. Some superheroes have mutant powers, some have capes, and some have 25 packets of biryani hanging from their mortal arms. Who is to say which one is superior?