This morning, my flatmate was prepping for another long day of work in the living room. Thanks to Eid and another strike day on Friday, today is the fifth day of her weekend. She looked out the window, saw a vegetable cart moving past, and dropped everything, running down five floors to chase him several blocks (confusing several policemen who thought that she was maybe the precursor to an angry mob). She came back victorious, armed with tomatoes and spinach, thereby setting the tone for my first app-less day in Bangalore.
That sound is everybody fighting to get home.
See, there’s a strike going on. Bangalore’s state and the next state share the water that comes from the Cauvery River. The government made a ruling over how the water should be split, and that’s made people in both states mad enough to riot. Bangalore was one of the affected cities.
It’s my third week living here in India’s Silicon Valley, and I’ve been using my phone to eat my way around the city via Freshmenu or Swiggy. Yesterday, I watched on television as one of the restaurants I usually order from was vandalized.
In a twist of irony – not lost for Indians on Twitter – that meant vandalizing property and setting vehicles on fire, mostly if they had a clear association with either disputing state.
I live in one of the areas deemed most unsafe in Bangalore, but for all the burning that was on the television, nothing looked out of place from my window. The juxtaposition felt disjointed and surreal. “It doesn’t sound any different,” I told my flatmate yesterday. “That sound is everybody fighting to get home,” she answered.
It’s not that life in Bangalore is impossible without a smartphone and seemingly endless apps, but it definitely makes things easier. For me – and I imagine several out-of-towners in Bangalore – on-demand goods and services save you the time of having to search for the local shop with the best prices. Still, the app bubble is far from invulnerable.
Bangalore is famous for its traffic and had even more than usual as people drove around protestors on their way home. Picking children up from school – though they were dismissed early – made for even more vehicle congestion. It was a little spooky to watch the number of active restaurants on Swiggy dwindle as the app posted delay after delay. Finally, it stopped operations altogether.
I stayed put yesterday, confident that my stash of food (which would throw many of you back to your university days) would sustain me for the next 24 hours. Come nightfall, it was clear that things weren’t going to look up anytime soon, and my carb-and-sodium chow wasn’t going to cut it.
As I cursed my inevitable lack of preparation (though the strike came as a surprise to everyone), I received a WhatsApp message from my friend. “What if there is never any food,” she wrote. I found myself laughing. At least I wasn’t alone.
I cursed my inevitable lack of preparation.
Inspired by my flatmate’s stroke of luck, I went to the window to watch for some carts. That’s when my friend called to tell me that a small farmer’s market had opened up about 10 blocks down to help people who needed food.
“I think it might be safer if we go together,” she explained. I packed grocery bags and wore my running shoes – just in case.
We ended up finding plenty of shops open – and they were crowded. I didn’t feel so bad about my lack of supplies anymore because everyone seemed to have the same idea – grab as much as you can, as fast as you can – especially produce. By the time I got there, most of the fruit had seen better days. The strike doesn’t seem to have a set ending point, though, so we stocked up.
At one point, my friend, who speaks the local language, asked someone a question. Immediately after asking, she realized he spoke like someone from the neighboring state. The man then ran away from her. Nervous, she vowed to speak English the rest of the time we were out.
There ended up being plenty more stores open on the next street, which, except for the lack of cars, looked like a normal shopping weekday in Bangalore. The auto-rickshaw drivers were out and about, probably making a killing with Uber and Ola operating on a limited basis. Fruit and flower carts were parked up and down the streets. I stepped on some cow dung I wasn’t able to dodge.
There was definitely an atmosphere of tension – people walking quickly, trying not to stare at each other too long – but the only thing really out of place was a uniformed Swiggy worker looking slightly lost inside a furniture upholstery shop (shops offering various services, such as network cabling, were open here and there). I tried to take a picture, but my phone was out of room. In a symbolic move, I temporarily deleted Uber to help but ultimately didn’t get the shot – we figured it was probably unsafe to keep walking for that long.
The only thing really out of place was a uniformed Swiggy worker looking slightly lost inside a furniture upholstery shop.
We received some good news during our food run – there was a lunch shop actually open and running during the strike. In an unnecessarily dramatic move, the person’s phone died before he could tell us where it was. Soon after that, we came back with armfuls of groceries we could barely carry (my flatmate joked that we might need a second fridge).
Plenty of things helped make my trip a success. I had someone with me and didn’t have to go alone (she also spoke local despite the threat of possible violence). I happened to live in close vicinity to all of these shops. I went later in the day, which didn’t help with food quality, but by then, it was a little less crowded because the morning crowd had come and gone. If any of those things had been different, I might have had more trouble.
The trip – partially because so few things were open and because I was buying for an indeterminate amount of days – took three hours, almost half a work day. Still, I’m not complaining. It’s comforting to know that, at least in Bangalore, India’s several offline vendors can pick up where apps leave off.