Rise in Covid cases: A lackadaisical lifestyle is hardly liberty
Mask usage has come down to five percent, my guess, well below the rate of infection. That is the case in the big cities. In towns and villages, you are a man out of touch with history. Covid was here almost three years ago, man!
One stand-up comedian explained how he left the city because no one was bothered about wearing a mask. Worried and frustrated, he travelled to his village, where he found the situation even worse. As evening fell, deeply concerned as he was, he took interest in a man, wearing a mask, standing in the distance. When he went closer, the stranger said in a thick voice, "Hands up!"
The mouth gear works well if one is desirous of concealing one's ID. Or, conversely, it provides an excuse to squirm out of a situation when you clearly could not identify a friend (in a mask) whom you are meeting after a long time. So, you blame it on the mask, until he unmasks, and you realise you were right the first time.
The few who still wear the mask have various reasons. They are at the highpoint of individual awareness, or are following strict workplace rules. A few others have gotten so used to wearing one that it has now become a habit.
Masks, as with all products, soon became a business commodity. They started appearing in various models and colours, some useless against the virus. Designer masks developed into a symbol of prestige in the corporate world. Almost any organisation worth its CEO had an exclusive mask with its logo stamped on the face. This location for branding was unthinkable before Covid.
The mask that amused me most was worn by an elderly male Indian politician, which had bloated red lips drawn where his lips were. Besides appearing like a character from a circus, he looked unrecognisable except for his portly body that gave him away.
Then there was the mask with a hole for a cigarette so that the "health-conscious nagorik" could carry on with his habit while others could very well die around him. This is a rude definition of self-liberty.
No mask, no service. No mask, no entry. After a while these were relaxed until they became a joke, as the service providers themselves weren't wearing any. Either the authority forgot to remove the signage from the office/shop front, or are saving on the cost of a new one in anticipation of a recurrence of the pandemic in the near future.
Reminded on a lift about the mandatory government mask instruction in force, an unmasked one kept quiet until he reached his floor. While exiting in a huff, he said for all to hear, "It would be good for this country if five lakh people died". I assume he did not include his own corpse in the count.
In my workplace, I launched the practice of No mask, no salaam. It works well with those who are aware about my pronouncement, but to the uninformed you are being snooty, because not replying to a salaam is considered impolite. Ironically, most of them don their mask when they enter my office, or hurriedly so when we come across each other elsewhere.
In the hay days of masking, a number of positive behavioural patterns had emerged. Spitting on the road had reduced. Swearing in public had significantly decreased. Paan chewers cut down their habit for fear of smudging their face cover.
While we are not out of the woods, the government should use the media outlets more to convey its position on mask protection. Although the rate of infection is now below 10, the numbers have fluctuated. We have been here before, only to rise to 30 in a few weeks.
We all want to be free from the shackles of authoritative codes even if it means endangering ourselves, our families and entire communities. We are doing it on the road and the railway, on riverine vessels, in running so-called hospitals and diagnostic centres, in disposing waste, in killing our waterways, through noise pollution...
In every call, let us all abide by the respective protocols and proprieties. "To save mankind" sounds like a cliche. Rather, let us say, we shall do our best to save ourselves, and our immediate family. That should cover the entire humanity.
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is an architect and a professor, a Commonwealth scholar and a fellow, Woodbadger scout leader, Baden-Powell fellow, and a Major Donor Rotarian.