The good, the bad and the hungry

Updated: Dec 16, 2018, 07:55 IST | Paromita Vohra

There is something so powerless about what hunger reduces us to

The good, the bad and the hungry
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Paromita VohraI have always found it painful to look at people being denied food when hungry - whether in movies or in real life. There is something so powerless about what hunger reduces us to.

And yet, if I discovered that the food I ordered from a delivery service had been half-eaten by someone else, I would be upset. I would feel cheated. Even if I were willing to share the food, I would feel deprived of a choice, which would trouble me.

But context is everything. If I knew why that food had been eaten, I might not stay upset. I don't always complain to a company for an employee's transgression, depending on the context.

A video of a Zomato delivery person eating part of a food order before repacking it for delivery went viral last week on social media, where reality lives on a treadmill, allowing no moment of pause. "The man is a thief - plain and simple," said some people, who, no doubt, pride themselves on being rational. Yaniki, a term that nowadays involves irrational refusal to consider complexity or context or that new economy, is based on some pretty old equations of caste and class.

"The man is probably poor and hungry and deserves our sympathy," said others, providing general sociology, without factoring the anomaly of their individual response on receiving a half-eaten biryani. The result of this predictable cycle was that Zomato announced with a steely self-righteousness, to rival Amir Khan's noble expressions, that the employee had been sacked and they would now end corruption - yaniki provide tamper-proof packaging.

It's ironic that this entire affair was carried out on social media, basically a gigantic devouring machine that is no friend of context. It left Zomato relatively unquestioned on employment culture and incentivisation of employees, which does not allow for proper food breaks. What was this story if not fodder, yaniki food for a greedy public theatre?

Who shot and uploaded that video? Why did they do it? What skin did they have in the game? Did they want to expose Zomato? How does one person do that? Wouldn't you need to expose an entire structure systematically, and prove something in that case? Well, unless you are a television news channel, I guess. Was this food their order? Had injustice been done to them? It doesn't seem so. Just a random trigger-happy act. An individual was made to stand for the company, but it was the individual who was punished - importantly, publicly punished, with no serious spotlight on start-up economy and culture and how precariousness influences behaviour.

How should we describe the way that we weigh in on these stories online, quick to pronounce judgement without really knowing a lot? Is it not simply feeding on someone else - their words, their deeds - in order to present yourself as compassionate and liberal or stern and neo-liberal? There is a lip-smacking relish with which "rational" pronouncements are uttered; a virtuous air of fasting in some sad status updates.

The only person we never heard from is the person who became the fodder for this routine feeding frenzy - the delivery man. Maybe he was greedy. Maybe he was hungry. We will never really know because we have moved on to the next dish in our, you know, social media feed. Hungry kya?

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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