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Masks – The New Abnormal


What masks are to COVID today, condoms were earlier to AIDS and continues to be. It may be a lurid stretch of imagination to equate safe breathing to safe sex but that’s what we are heading towards.

The vaccine is 12 – 18 months away – if at all it can be found. And, in the first tranche, there will be about million-odd doses. There are approximately 7.8 billion of us on this planet, yes? What do you think are the chances of (at least) a thousand doses reaching the common man in India in the first lot? Very slim, is what I reckon. Anorexic thin, even. Sure, like the Aadhaar identity we will all be inoculated eventually but it may take a while to get there.

The point I am trying to make is that for a very long time (anything between 12 – 24 months) we will have to live with the virus. And masks will be like mobile phones – we won’t be able to do without.

A Trending Accessory

You go to meet someone and they will be “clad” in a mask –  a compulsory accessory and a critical part of our attire, it will be. Imagine gallivanting in a mall, and hundreds (albeit,dwindling numbers) of people walking around with a mask on. It’s not going to be a normal feeling.

One fine day, we will have to step out and move around just as we did before the midnight of 24 th March. And, that’ll happen very soon.

On the one hand, we won’t get to see the “human face of humans” and on the other, it will be a constant reminder that we are living with a deadly virus. If this stretches into several years and there’s a strong likelihood that it will, human interaction, the kind we know of, will take on a new meaning altogether. We cannot be in a lockdown state or even its local variant forever.

Mask or a Metaphor

Humans have survived for millions of years because we are a collaborative lot. Every time, there’s a catastrophe, one can see the helping hands all around. We reach out to one other – that’s the crux of our existence. Of course, we also cause great harm but I’d to believe that in the overall scheme of things, good-ness triumphs over evil by many yards. In essence, our character is based on TRUST or the lack of it! Can we now trust people with masks on in the same way?

In our subconscious mind, we’ve always associated masks with either great protection (on a surgeon for instance) or it has raised suspicion. Of course, no one in their right senses imagines a bank robber wearing an N-95 type of mask. But perhaps, this lot may now require to wear two – one mask to protect against COVID and another to hide their identity. They wouldn’t want to contract the virus as a complementary exchange for their heist?

For a greater part of my adult life, I’ve maintained that humans would be better creatures if they had tails. Well that’s not likely to happen so now we have a mask instead – an equally risible idea.

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