Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 13, November 1-15, 2020
What ‘New Normal’?
The Woman from Madras Musings is bemused. It’s been eight months since the March lockdowns, so it’s safe to assume that most, if not all, are aware of the dreaded coronavirus, how it spreads and the most effective preventive measures to safeguard against it. Wear a mask and keep your distance from one another – these instructions are easy enough to follow, one would think. And yet, a significant number of people seem to simply refuse to put on a mask or practice social distancing. The number of unmasked people (Wo)MMM sees on the roads is staggering. They stroll around without a care in the world, some skipping around arm-in-arm with their friends like lambs in a green field. Others congregate around tea and snack shops, energetically jostling one another or peering into their neighbour’s newspaper to read the headlines. (Wo)MMM once even saw a group of young men taking a selfie together, putting their arms around each other in brotherly affection as they struck a pose – no masks hiding their happy smiles, of course.
(Wo)MMM wonders if they live in a different world than she does, one in which the city isn’t being ravaged by a pandemic. She finds it hard to believe that this laissez-faire attitude is a by-product of innocent ignorance – surely, authorities have made enough noise underlining the absolute need to wear a mask properly in public. (Wo)MMM ended up asking an acquaintance – a vegetable seller who was ambling down the street, pushing her cart with a song on her unmasked lips – why she doesn’t feel the need to wear a mask. “Ah, I won’t get covid,” came the cheery reply, as she paused to dab her nose with her pallu before sauntering to the next building to sell her wares.
Her response left (Wo)MMM in astonished silence. The story of Typhoid Mary sprang to mind and she shuddered, praying fervently that things wouldn’t come to that.
The problem is, the vegetable vendor isn’t the only one of her kind – there are many who seem to espouse her approach of merry confidence. Take for instance, a recent viral video of crowds thronging a popular clothing retailer in T-Nagar. Save for a couple of heroes, most shoppers were unmasked; as for social distancing, well – there didn’t seem to be enough space to wedge a sheet of paper between people, let alone a two-arm distance. Going by the video, one wouldn’t have imagined that our city is currently fighting a pandemic.
(Wo)MMM recalls a Thirukkural that she thinks is worth reflecting upon in this crisis – “One who does not take precautions to guard himself is like straw before fire,” it warns. If that sounds pedantic, it’s also worth remembering that one’s care or carelessness, as it were, has a direct impact on the safety of another in times like these. Take Kerala for example – with a reported spike in covid-19 infections post Onam, the State has paid a heavy price for ignoring preventive norms during the festivities. (Wo)MMM hopes that we buck up soon and behave with social responsibility – the holiday season is upon us and the only thing she wants to see skyrocketing in the near future are colourful fireworks, not the infection rate.
The Woman from Madras Musings remembers how in the early days of the lockdown, there was much talk of nature healing itself in the absence of human activity. While that particular claim ended up being discounted by experts, (Wo)MMM wonders if it holds true for another natural phenomenon in the cities – our chaotic traffic ecosystem. With the prolonged lockdown, traffic discipline seems to have adopted a cheerful attitude, celebrating the freedom to move about once more.
Pedestrians and cyclists, for instance, don’t seem to be too bothered to keep to the sides of the roads. Though (Wo)MMM recognizes that they’ve been done hard by, given the lack of a viable sidewalk in most places, she thinks actively using a mobile phone while walking on the road is taking things a bit too far. In one memorable instance, (Wo)MMM found the need to honk at a lady who was standing in the middle of an intersection, arguing with the person at the other end; piqued at being interrupted in the midst of her sentence, she cast a glare at (Wo)MMM before crossing the road to the other side.
Then there are the motorcyclists, speeding and taking sharp turns around blind corners with nary a care in the world. A few have done away with the precaution of wearing helmets, too. The most curious are the ones who are annoyed by (Wo)MMM stopping at red signals. They honk impatiently, irritated at being made to wait when they would rather be well on their way to wherever they’re going.
An old friend of (Wo)MMM used to have the habit of making up excuses for such fast, rebellious daredevils. “Perhaps they need to urgently visit the lavatory,” he would suggest, hoping to strike a chord of compassion in (Wo)MMM. However, (Wo)MMM remains highly dubious of such exercises in empathy – traffic violations hardly seem to be the exception and instead, seem to be quite common in our fair city. A 2019 NCRB report shows that Chennai already tops the country when it comes to road accidents, for the second year in a row in a fact. From a layman’s perspective, (Wo)MMM fears things are worse now, post-lockdown. One feels that our city can do without this distinction.
The Woman from Madras Musings noticed that idlis were a hotly trending topic until recently. Upon investigation, she discovered that an unassuming British gentleman had posted his personal review of the food item, labeling it ‘boring.’ The analysis instantly drew the attention of idli-lovers all over the globe. Some suggested he’s been eating it wrong all along, others urged him to give it another try with their favourite condiments and the rest responded by cleverly insulting British cuisine as a sort of tit-for-tat. The poor gentleman, rattled by the flood of responses, tried to calm things down by pointing out that he doesn’t like puttu either – all that admission served to do was to enjoin indignant puttu-lovers to the protests as well. He ended up ordering a meal of idlis and posted a selfie of himself at dinner, informing the world at large that his views remain largely unchanged.
(Wo)MMM rather admires the doggedness of the whole thing – the gentleman, for sticking to his point of view, and the gastronomes, for insisting that he’s never tasted the perfect sambar-chutney and so hadn’t actually eaten idlis the way they ought to be. There’s a lesson here, she feels – we’d all be better off making peace by agreeing to disagree with each other when the situation demands it.