A few years ago I was on a plane to Bangalore from Geneva. Sitting across the aisle from me was an Indian lady and to her right was a European gentleman, both speaking animatedly. 'Skipping meal,' she said, as mealtime came around. He had ordered chicken. As he ate, she took out her meal in a box. It’s ekadasi, she told the amused man, a day some Hindus fast, eating only certain foods, offering him some nuts and raisins. The man put down his fork, took a helping adding he needed to fast as well. Secure in themselves and their habits, both laughed.
Normal people they are, like most human beings who wouldn’t bother to ask about the religious persuasions of people before donating or receiving blood. Like people who donate vital organs so others can live. Normal people who don’t impose their food habits, preferences and practices – all personal journeys – on others in an uncouth way. Sabyahata or being civilised as Indian culture teaches. Manners as homes, rich and poor do.
The noise in India about Zomato is revelatory. This Indian restaurant search and delivery service present in over 20 countries sent a Muslim delivery person to service an order placed by a Hindu client. The latter tweeted about his annoyance with the person and the process. The first is a personal issue and the second is a comment on a paid service. The two can meet, but there’s a cost attached to it which neither the service provider nor the client is willing to pay. Outrage cannot replace bad business practices and personal choices.
Literacy levels in India are constantly rising without their corollary in jobs. People are expected to adopt alien cultures and goals that leave them rootless. What solutions do a section of India’s educated who think they must have a take on everything from an overflowing drain to national security propose?
Some commentary on Zomato is so vicious I’m left wondering where it originates. I believe, Hindus must unite against the company, say some, while others say, Muslims in India are threatened. There’s a campaign of sorts to run the company to the ground because the CEO, some believe, converted the issue into a marketing strategy by tweeting that food has no religion. The company delivers halal food, so that bit about 'no religion' does stand on shaky ground. I’m pretty sure they can deliver other food if there’s a demand. Market delivery for food is religion blind.
Sanctity, service and self-respect are three interconnected strands that need thought here. It has to do with religion for some, service for others and most important for me health and hygiene. Food and hygiene form the basis of public health and I find it extraordinary that no hyperventilating Twitter and television celebrity used this situation to highlight the unhygienic conditions under which most commercial food in India including in top hotels is cooked and served. I am also shocked at the complete lack of insensitivity of all to the plight of infants and children who scavenge for food thrown outside homes and commercial venues. Religion or business or maybe it doesn’t matter because important people have important things to do?
I have my food preferences as most people do. I live and work in different cultures and countries across socio-economic strata and sectors. No one I know makes an issue of a botched up delivery for the simple reason that we respect food including the good luck of having it and in some cases have people making it for us. That comes when you respect yourself, not when you begin by disrespecting others – people who cannot respect themselves will never respect others, whatever the situation. They will give it any crutch including God, but never will they see the limits of their own ignorance and arrogance. Halal, kosher, satvic, palaaharam, vegan, vegetarian, non-vegetarian, pescatarian – these are all personal choices in homes and with individuals.
You may approach food from a religious, hygiene or simply a good food perspective, but each has it’s own discipline, sanctity and rigour. It’s the absence of that respect which is telling.
Moving from the individual to the community (home-cooked food to ordering a service) is a mind-set issue requiring not just commercial success but also maturity. Indians have a problem understanding the difference between service ad servility. We go from bossy to servile in nano seconds depending on who is in front of us. This is where you see how uncivilised a certain section of India is. Some stories about us making fools of ourselves in foreign lands went viral last week. We don’t have to travel abroad to see how uncouth we are. Just go to a mall.
Or look around to see how we treat serving and cleaning staff. Some even tweet about their “maid” in today’s day and age. Manners are ingrained, not attachments for public consumption. Look at the number of famous people who tweet to airlines and hotels thanking them for services when you know well that they used discretionary access to get them in the first place. Nobody’s dupe here, people and Indians are watching.
As the Zomato story continues, I cannot stop thinking of public health, hospitals, operating theatres and blood products. I think is obvious what I am trying to say. This much I will add. Maybe the CEO of Zomato tried to make a fast buck by converting poor service and insensitivity. But that’s what happens in India’s multi-speciality hospitals where you can arrive half dead but will not be admitted if you are not carrying a lot of money with you, all religions confounded. Doctors will tell you how they have to prescribe unnecessary procedures and diets because hospitals double up as hotels and there are business targets to meet. Cash registers must also ring in posh hospitals where pharmacies on the ground floor rip off hapless patients – a government pharmacy selling affordable medicines is often no more than a few hundred metres away but no one will tell you because all are in the take.
These hospitals have curtains and bathroom slippers – like abroad! Service is not servility. Let us stop being uncouth with ourselves and if we can, please spare our Gods and faiths. Let us develop some work ethics we all respect as Indians. Nation-building is our job – food is a wonderful connector of people.
(The views and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Republic TV/ Republic World/ ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd.)