Spectator by Seema Goswami: When the masks come off…
Over the last year, Covid has been the one thing ruling all our lives. The months of lockdown made us hunker down at home, washing our hands and sanitising with a certain manic energy, wiping down surfaces and rubbing doorknobs clean, as if our life depended on it. We stayed away from family and friends, socially distancing for fear of contracting and/or spreading the virus. And slipping on a mask when we left home became almost second nature to us.
But while all of this may have kept us safe, it also left us scared. Not just of the virus, but of our fellow human beings. Instead of seeing people as friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, or just mere acquaintances, we began regarding them as a clear and present danger. They became – in our mind – less human beings with whom we had a relationship and more disease vectors who might kill us if they got within breathing distance.
There was no question of hugging and kissing anyone in greeting. Even a handshake was potentially life-threatening. Instead, we went in for jocular elbow bumps while surreptitiously checking if the other person’s mask was covering both nose and mouth (spoiler alert: it hardly ever was!).
But now that Covid numbers are trending down, and the pandemic seems to be on its way out, we have to find a way to reconnect with the significant humans in our life.
We have to learn to share a meal, give a hug, sit in close proximity, kiss someone goodbye, without breaking into a nervous sweat or obsessing for days after that we may have, in fact, contracted Covid.
Speaking for myself, I am finding it incredibly hard to slip back into the rhythms of pre-pandemic life. Even at gatherings where I know that everyone has been tested in advance, I tend to keep my mask on, as a measure of abundant caution, taking if off only when I am eating or drinking. I have still to have a meal with any of my friends, even though I know that they have been religious about isolation and mask-wearing and are, therefore, no danger to me. And when I do go out to eat with my husband, I panic when a fellow guest comes up unmasked to say hello. At a rational level I know that we cannot get infected in a couple of minutes; and yet, my entire body tenses up until that person leaves the table.
It’s the same when I go out for a walk. I keep my mask on throughout, but even so my heart skips a beat when I pass by groups who have decided to leave theirs off, or just wear them as a jaunty chin covering. Yes, we are outdoors; yes, we are in contact only for a few seconds; yes, the Delhi Covid numbers are vanishingly low; and yet, my fear of contracting the disease persists.
So, what’s the solution? How do I get over my overwhelming fear of other people and go back to a modicum of normal life?
Well, I guess the only way to do that is to take baby steps. Which is why I have resolved that over the next couple of weeks, I am going to gradually expand my Covid bubble.
First on the cards is a quiet dinner at home with a couple of friends who have been as diligent about following the Covid rules as us – as good a way as any of easing myself back into the world of socialising without getting completely overwhelmed. Next, I am going to venture into conducting work meetings in person rather than on Zoom – masks on for the most part, but off when we dig into the obligatory coffee and cookies. And then, there’s the family reunion my sister and I have been fantasising about for months.
At some point, I guess, I will have to try and get comfortable with the idea of meeting strangers without masks as well. But those days are still far into the future.
As I said, baby steps…
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, February 21, 2021
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