The Weekly Dose: Lockdown 37.0
These personal lockdowns will have to be auto-extended until we are all vaccinated, or our self-restraint and willpower are exhausted, whichever comes first. We ourselves will formulate each set of new lockdown rules, based on our cravings, weaknesses and loneliness, but hopefully, also on science, logic and common sense.
Raise your hand if - in the past three months - you have diligently sought out and followed the frequently updated list of lockdown rules and regulations issued by your central, state and local governments, to the letter. If the idea of my asking you - who exist beyond the limits of my vision and life - to respond in a manner that I cannot possibly witness seems imbecilic, it’s because my question was rhetorical; I do not expect any hands to go up.
We sneaked around. We took shortcuts. And the longer routes to the market and back. We devised our own rationale for bending the rules and then believed it. Without consequences, for those of us who have remained COVID-negative (or think we have). And now, from the first of this month, our governors have begun to offer parole from the prison term that was lockdown.
The world outdoors has since become a dystopian nightmare which seems as innocent as pre-COVID life. Evening addas. Religious gatherings. Huddles. Masks covering the mouth but not the nose. Mask covering the chin but not the nose or mouth. No masks.
Some of us have formed social bubbles - in which a few people meet only one another - which are not as impervious as we’d like to think they are. So many have distanced themselves from social distancing and washed their hands off handwashing - either because their lives do not permit them this privilege or because they are privileged enough to think this is permitted. In the future, historians will describe this period not as a ticking time bomb, but as a long chain of firecrackers, one setting of another, each explosion louder than the one before.
Those who are filming this COVID-ridden world for posterity will find they have shot not a documentary, but Christopher Nolan’s next thriller.
Enough with the doomsday predictions; as the world in general and India, in particular, begin to reopen, it is every man, woman and child for themselves. Those who have programmed their brains to process what they see, hear and read - and who do not assuage their terror by sweetening realism with mindless optimism - know what’s coming. And we have understood that the farther we extend our own, individual lockdowns - irrespective of what our government, employer, neighbours, friends and family may say - the better chance we have at surviving the scourge, and the less likely we are to slip a lethal dose of virus to an unsuspecting, less doughty someone who may succumb.
Lockdowns 6.0, 15.0 and 37.0 will be waiting games; tests of patience, of temptation and of resistance. No breaks are allowed between phases; in store is a boring, isolated continuum of sitting at home until we can’t take it anymore and hurl ourselves outside for some sun, real human interaction or just a mindless respite from tedium. Followed by fear, guilt and renewed resolve to stay home and stay safe.
These personal lockdowns will have to be auto-extended until we are all vaccinated, or our self-restraint and willpower are exhausted, whichever comes first. We ourselves will formulate each set of new lockdown rules, based on our cravings, weaknesses and loneliness, but hopefully, also on science, logic and common sense. We still keep talking about the present as a post-COVID world rather than what it really is - a post-lockdown world. Implementing this lockdown when no-one else seems to understand this, or even be aware of it, will be indescribably hard. Why? This is a question for later.
First, here are the dilemmas that will govern this lockdown:
Do I need to step out? Should I go to the vegetable market to impulsively buy any vegetable that grabs my eye, or restrict myself to the limited selection available online? Is there a reason for me to go for a walk in my neighbourhood, or can I exercise in the premises of my apartment building? Can I wait until I am completely out of onions and procure more along with other supplies, or is it okay for me to venture out for a single, masked purchase? Does the office meeting have to be in person, or am I just tired of Zoom calls?
What are the risks for me and my loved ones? How strictly - if at all - is the supermarket following the rules of social distancing? How close did my hands come to the grocer’s? Can I remember if the security guard’s mask is usually around his face or his neck? Do I have the space to isolate and/or disinfect everything that comes into the house, before use? How logistically possible is it for a potentially COVID-positive me to physically isolate myself from a high-risk family member living in the same house?
What are the risks to others? In an ideal society, this consideration would precede the previous one. Were we all to take this seriously, our families and friends would all be less vulnerable.
Instead, what I see is sturdy young people wearing snugly fitted N95 masks, brushing past little old ladies whose kerchiefs are untucking themselves from behind their ears; as long as we are protected, we care two hoots about distancing ourselves from others. A group of old men meets at the chowk, face coverings held firmly in their hands, railing against the mask-less hooligans speeding on empty roads. My grandmother coughs with her mouth open as she rants to her friends about unhygienic people.
What happens if I don’t step out? As irrelevant as it sounds, this has consequences too. Respite from family squabbles may only be available beyond the home. All the video calls in the world may not distract one from one’s loneliness. Not getting enough daily exercise is just what will worsen the health of those with heart disease, who - ironically - are likely to suffer a more stormy course of corona.
These aren’t easy choices, and there will be no one to force your hand. No police, no law, fines or punishment, and little or no public pressure. We will have to do that which is difficult even during normal times - say no to ourselves.