Have you ever played a video game? Or heard or seen one of those games, where one controls the navigation, to make a ‘player’ swivel in between cars; jump over obstacles to reach faster; expose one through testing physical and weather conditions to claim a treasure or even make someone pass through neighborhoods and cityscapes to test different levels of skills? The following sequence is one such popular game, played by most – almost all.
LEVEL 1 : THE SCHEDULE
It is a Sunday morning. A sense of being laid back and relaxed percolates across the neighborhood. The early morning walkers, the voice of the laughing club, the wind in the air and even the chirping of the birds – reinforce this tone of it being a ‘day off’. At around 8:00 am, inside one of the houses, a young boy barely manages to wake up – and like the entire world peeps through his closed eyes on to his phone. A 5:00 am message reads
‘…will be delivered by 2.00 pm, by Agent Vinod. For further….’
The boy springs up in excitement and announces the arrival of the new gadget for the house. “I got the message few hours back. It should be here soon! If the guy is not lazy!” he exclaims to his family who share the delight with half smiles in between their yawns. He opens the message to read again. What he registers are the time, the contact number and the word ‘today’.
What he does not realize is that in between the alphabets, deep within the pixels of the screen and behind the colored message box – the game has begun.
The player, at that very moment, is in a similar neighborhood – in front of a closed shop over the footpath – assorted with brown cartons of different shapes and sizes. His backdrop is filled with men in shorts and sneakers carrying milk cartons, women moving with vegetable bags and even people in queue in front of a meat shop. The player is unmoved of his surroundings and the morning noise that is gaining decibels.
He stoops down holding a printed sheet and fishes through the assortments. His eyes constantly shuffling between letter and digits of the file and the ones printed on the boxes. The letters – he does not know how to combine to form words, the numbers he is unaware how it is spelt in conjunction – but is sharp enough to understand the code – which combination reveals an area, the zip code, the product the are consumable from the ones that are with an expiration date.
The player barely changes his posture – as he sorts, maneuvers, grabs, discards and collects all in one single motion.Once he has decoded, he now prepares to fill up the bag. He places the bag, over his bike, the teacup over his petrol tank and takes a careful look at all the boxes. Then for the next few minutes he performs the role of a cartographer. Makes a mental map of the route that he chooses to take and with precision places the boxes in that order. Flaps his hands to move the housefly and gulps down the tea. Positions himself across the bike, adjusts and swipes a button on the phone.
A message pops: ‘Your shipment is out for delivery. Use pin…..’, the young boy still glaring at his phone, exclaims , “Yes!” and almost spills the hot cup of tea.
LEVEL 2 : THE MOVE
Two men standing under the shade of a tree, open their food boxes. It is about noon – a little early for lunch or a late breakfast – that is unknown.
As the clouds gather, a group of colleagues discuss over their workstation, “Ah, it feels like it is about to rain. This kind of a weather demands some special food!” They scan through their phone and place an order.
‘Food is being prepared’ the phone beeps.
Another phone beeps at the same time. The man under the tree quickly closes his half-eaten food box and sets off.‘…is reaching to pick up your food’ displays on the screen next to the workstation. The man at the workstation announces, “It’s on the way! ”
The player has 30 minutes. He stands at the signal and takes a quick glance at his phone – every 15 secs. Time ticks. He starts to plan.
‘Take the immediate right; move to the service lane; no; No. It is Friday; Namaaz; keep to the left; slide past the gap; then take the by-lane to the main road. 1 minute saved’ – and almost instinctively makes diagonal cut with still 3 seconds left in the signal. 1 minute 5 seconds saved; he counts.
At the destination he parks in haste, pushes past the others, and aligns himself at the counter meant for his kind. “15 minutes” his timer reads.
‘15minutes. Can he give it in 14 minutes? If yes, then normal route, if not then the one way’ – he assesses, paces up and down, enquires every 2 minutes. taps his foot, flips his phone, renders heavy breathes and drums on the counter.People pass grunts and expresses displeasure. At the workstation, the colleagues stare at the screen and express displeasure.
As the brown envelope appears, he grabs and rushes off. For a moment though, he pauses. The aroma of the food seeping through the envelope plays turmoil with his half empty stomach. He ignores and glances at the sky again. Wears his jacket, deposits the aroma deep in his bag and most importantly wraps his mobile in 3 layers of plastic for the last leg of the journey. For without that, his existence ceases.
“On his way” the display changes again on the screen at the workstation.
No, he is not on his way, the player is making ‘his way’. He squirts pass four wheelers, beeps aggressively and as the rain starts to sprinkle, his speedometer shoots up. Now he bounces over potholes, jumps over speed breakers, and moves into the one-way street. The tyre grips, the breaks jerk but the wheel always stays in motion.
The others around him react in anger at his display of skill, the others around the workstation react in anger at his navigation. – “What is taking him so long! ”, one of them grunt.
As he waits with the envelope in front of the door to hand over package, he rubs and taps his stomach – it is time for him to finish his half-eaten food.
LEVEL 3 : THE PACKAGE
“Madam, I am standing in front of the red building, where should I come? ”, asks the player in his last level. As the woman on the other side hurls at him he sits on his back constantly shuffling the shoulder and moving the straps of the large bag that is weighing on his back.
Finally, he arrives at the apartment only to be greeted by the security. They ask for details and waits for further steps. Between the time taken to type the message, it's delivery, its acknowledgement and its approval, the man with the bag has moved a few inches lower on the ground. From a distance at the eye level only the top of the bag is visible, almost as if his face does not exist.
As the security approves, with a rather scornful gesture of hand, the man makes his way to the lobby. The lift is in waiting, as children are using it now as a toy. He sprints up the stairs to the first floor, without losing a breath and rings the bell without a sign of being jaded.
The woman opens the door and orders, “Keep it carefully,here.” The face of the man still unseen. He matches the order and one by one arranges everything like a homemaker. The woman overlooks the action with scrutiny, waiting to spot an error. A slight mistake. There are none. The player is efficient, accurate and orderly.
She takes the note and holds it in front of him -without making any eye contact. The player follows suit. As he furnishes the change, the woman lovingly addresses her daughter, “You have just come from school, it has been a hot day! Go, drink your juice. And why are you still wearing your bag? Keep it here, it is heavy! ”
The player still counting back the change, pauses for a second. But never looks up, emotes no feelings. He hands over, she grabs and as soon as the lady places her hand on the door, the player speaks up,“Madam, please give ratings, madam! ” The lady shuts the door on the face.
He picks up his bag (slightly less heavy) adjust, shuffles, balances, weighs, buckles and then walks back downstairs, stretching his arms and moving his neck on the way back.
Reaching the gate, he carefully reads in detail the address of the next and enquires with the security of the location. His knowledge gathering is suddenly disturbed by a call. His wife on the other side says, “Please remember to get rice and some potatoes and if possible, some ingredients for kheer. It is a special day tomorrow, isn’t it? ”
The man does not utter a word. He only acknowledges with his voice and again shuffles and weighs bag. This time to measure what ingredients he is carrying to each house and what he may afford to carry back home , in the same thought rides towards the next delivery.
-------- GAME OVER --------
Yes, the game is over but only for today. One may call it a pause. Before one resume again, the player is now one of us. Feeling the breeze of the late-night air, he slowly rides back to his preferred destination. As he enters – this time without a phone call, or even the extended wait, he is immediately greeted by his daughter.
She takes her mother's phone, and shows it to her dad, “I want this papa. Can you please order it online? It is only for two hundred rupees. Please! Also place the order in my name, I want to receive it! ”
The man looks at his wife standing at the corner of the room, then to his daughter’s cheerful face and then his own in the mirror. At all times, his finger hovering over the start button of the video game that reads, “Place your Order”