01 January 1970

Out for Delivery: Four Poems On Online Delivery Culture

Weekend Reads

Out for Delivery: Four Poems On Online Delivery Culture

Jhilam Chattaraj writes four poems for Outlook.

Jhilam Chattaraj writes four poems on online home delivery culture for Outlook.
Jhilam Chattaraj writes four poems on online home delivery culture for Outlook. Getty Images

Your Order will Arrive in Ten Minutes 

What should we call the time between 
‘place your order’ 
and ‘order will arrive in ten minutes’? 
Is it the twilight hour 
when a wife waits for the husband? 
Is it oddity of a child to open 
an unusually heavy lunch-box? 
This dash, trash, tribble, quibble 
tantrum of the stomach, 
after office-hours, is a regular offender. 
It is a quick tap on ether 
to place the burden of hunger 
on young boys. Boys who don’t reach home. 
Perhaps, a school drop-out 
who has postponed his own belly
to ride on contracts and maps. 
Perhaps, an engineer who jumped 
the signal to deliver fragrant, Moroccan chicken — warm and tender. 
The sun never slumbered on their swift foreheads. 
When I was young, I had a friend called Patience —
I waited for letters from the postman. 
I waited for sequined moons to stick to thin paper. 
I waited after each storm, for mangoes, 
to drop and sweeten the earth. 
But now, nobody waits. 
We are fast and free with wicked feedbacks. 
Six hundred seconds — I scroll Instagram. 
I read about a delivery-boy crushed under a bus, 
add an angry comment on capitalism. 
The doorbell rings. 
A tepid face, etched with ten commandments 
arrives and whizzes away, almost immediately. 
My body becomes a bowl, fingers turn into forks 
and the tongue — a spoon awaiting excavation. 
Nothing but war-cries of intestines 
involve the moment. 
An hour later, reviews are scripted
by a miscalculated hand,
it has no memory. 
I order ‘dairy-free’ Ice cream. 
Another boy. Another ten minutes.

Menu Card

The companion of bruised knees, did not matter.
I held a firm sight of tables occupied by familiar faces.

The profession of little fingers
waiting to gather their menu cards —

a pocket size map of the wedding banquet.
Gold, pink, flaming-red, floral dreams, 

hummingbirds swiftly alighting 
on the bride and the groom who probably never met before. 

A Bengali bhoj bari* patterned in nimble fonts;  
radha bollobi*, alu daum*, mangsho*, macher chop*—

swollen bellies, loud belches 
never troubled to hold such souvenirs,

but I, like a scavenger of memories 
swooped under the tables to grasp folds of paper 

before hungry women, swept the floor. 
These days, rough palms don’t shiver, 

they hold the elegance of curated buffets,
and global cuisines — a bee line radiance for low-fat hunger. 

Paperless worlds — every delight frozen into pixels.

*Bhoj Bari (Bengali): A feast, typically a wedding feast organised at someone’s home.
*Radha Bollobi: A type of fried bread made with lentil filling inside
*Alu daum: A rich potato gravy
*Mangsho: Mutton curry
*Macher chop: Fish Croquet

Order Received, A Blitz Poem

Boy falls from building 
boy reaches hospital 
hospital holds a broken head 
hospital declares him dead 
dead was his mother 
dead before he quit college
college was an empty bag 
college without pockets 
pockets of paper 
pockets of earpods 
earpods ride midnights 
earpods hear a soul
soul alone not alone 
soul with a furry friend 
friend without a leash
friend with command 
command of a German Shepherd 
command of confused hunger 
hunger against slowness 
hunger for control 
control lost on a delivery-boy 
control panel out of order 
order received 
order is a box of blood 
blood betrays body 
blood breaks God 
God is blood God is power 
power of the rich 
power of puppets 
puppets dance 
puppet-masters hide
hide the real joke 
hide the hills 
hills never sink 
hills ignore shanties 
shanties of the small 
shanties without sunlight 
sunlight steals insurance 
sunlight ceases joy 
joy of a balloon 
joy of five-stars 
stars cradle a boy 
stars map a melody 
melody of friendship 
melody of a dog’s master 
master with medicines 
master wrapped in worry 
worry fails a blurry ending 
worry waits for a clear beginning 
beginning… ending…

*The poem is based on the tragic death of a 23-year-old food delivery executive in the city of Hyderabad, India. He reached a posh locality on the hills to deliver an order at 2 am in the morning. The owner’s dog attacked him. Afraid and panic-stricken, he jumped, slipped, and fell from the third floor. The owner admitted him to the hospital. A few days later, he succumbed to injuries. This is one among the several tragedies that end the lives of young delivery agents. We are joyfully giddy in the fast-paced, hustle of the city but someone pays the price of our convenience culture. The poem adopts the form ‘The Blitz Poem’, introduced by poet Robert Keim. 

A skirt, a blouse, a hairband

Those days we shopped only once in a year. 
Autumn’s fading heat riding on the benediction of Durga —

Pujo was a rebirth — my body’s liberation
from brother’s hand-me-downs. 

There were no malls, no commerce 
on ether, no approval in emoticons;

only, Ma’s madness and Baba’s salary. 
Year after year, we walked 

through the local market, bargaining for bearable,
yet, beautiful sarees, frocks, 

hairbands and handkerchiefs;
frugality was respectable. 

Aah! to feel like a child,
to know the crispness of clothes

soaking the incense, the musk of shiuli,
the mantras birthing anjalis, and the final light of the third eye.

Now, in a universe of instant possibilities,
closets spill and suffocate — 

the cloak of the earth withers away, 
and for the millionth time,

the phone beeps — “your order will arrive today.”

(Jhilam Chattaraj is an academic and poet based in Hyderabad, India. Noise Cancellation is her latest collection of poems. Her works have appeared at Calyx, Room, Colorado Review, Ariel and World Literature Today among others.)