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Home / Brunch / Humour: Don’t panic and carry on

Humour: Don’t panic and carry on

With the paranoia epidemic in full swing, the optimists face their own challenges

brunch Updated: Mar 21, 2020 21:32 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
Masks with two nodes resembling gas masks make for an Orwellian sight!
Masks with two nodes resembling gas masks make for an Orwellian sight!(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)

Forgive me if these words sound a bit woozy to you, but I’m convinced I’m in a state of perpetual drunkenness, brought about by the excessive talk of alcohol-based hand sanitiser. When they’re not emptying the overpriced contents of these bottles out on battered palms, I hear of people washing their hands with an obsession last witnessed in one Lady Macbeth. Things have gone so far that India’s favourite contact sport, the virulently touchy Holi, this year presented a relatively aloof face. In fact, couples these days are conducting their intimate affairs using a sizzling mix of emojis and sexting – no touching please, we’re panicking.

Paranoia pandemic

Douglas Adams’s famous missive from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Don’t Panic, mixed with that British wartime message, Keep Calm and Carry On, have for long embellished hipster posters from Camden Market to Colaba Causeway. But what is it exactly that makes our species, so busy with its problem-solving and philosophy-seeking, prone to paranoia on a pandemic scale? Is everyone really so worried about sitting on a metaphorical (okay, not so metaphorical) nuclear bomb, ticking away as we wait for the next Borivali local or Bond film? Is that what lurks underneath the superficial lull of Excel sheets and Zumba classes, adult colouring books (such a misnomer) and party playlists?

The answer, like that of all similarly overreaching questions is, of course, ‘Who knows?’ All one can glean from our quickness to reach the most disastrous conclusions that any situation can prompt is this: between the two primal responses to danger, fight and flight, there is a vast grey area. This zone is scientifically known as ‘pure distilled panic.’ It breeds the human tendency to concoct disaster scenarios sooner than a virus can multiply. Or does it divide? I don’t know, it’s too horrible to imagine. I need my fix of alcoholic hand sanitiser.

The power of positive unthinking

Those of us who were until recently l flying across the country might be familiar with a quite Orwellian sight. Masks of all varieties now cover the noses and mouths of the chronically fearful (and wise?). I must say that I’m quite impressed by the ones that look like gas masks, with two duly horrifying nodes. Never before has breathing been such a conscious task; a deadly virus has done what centuries of yoga has worked so hard on. On the other side of the mask lie the half-brave, half-stupid mavericks like myself, guided by the philosophy of…err…I’ll get back to you on that.

Couples these days are conducting their intimate affairs using a sizzling mix of emojis and sexting – no touching please!

Our unconsidered optimism is a throwback to a more ignorant time. Our forebears in the jungle thought an approaching tiger would exchange smiles with them before leaving them in peace. In wartime, we’re the ones who are convinced the bullets are flying in the other direction. And in peacetime we believe we’ll get a table at that posh Japanese restaurant on a Saturday night without a reservation. The power of positive unthinking – the blindfold that keeps us smiling as we walk across a burning bridge.

Sneeze the day

Panic, to my lot, has its uses. Like hoarders who stockpile during times of crisis, we profit off the fears of others. It’s easy to guilt out loved ones when they’re worried about making it alive to the next instalment of The Avengers (though missing the next Star Wars instalment episode is not an unattractive prospect). To an inveterate socialiser, the distancing directive is particularly harsh. It does make one wonder, though. Have all those habitual self-isolators, who look down upon human interaction like it’s a mark of low intelligence, changed their stance yet? Is Covid-19 a global conspiracy of the introverts?

One big challenge I’ve been facing ever since the virus that sounds like a beer bubbled over will resonate with fellow sneezers. Those who have been lustily ahchoo-ing their entire lives with impunity are now treated like some kind of WMD. It’s stressful to get out into the world and have people mistake your innocent sneezing for a symptom of the malevolent bug. Be sensitive, people. Your panic is contagious.

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From HT Brunch, March 22, 2020

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