Chapter 1 – How a rumour turned into a Pandemic
7th MARCH 2020, 22:33 HOURS
I do not read the newspaper much, because it makes me hyperventilate; I become restless, and it results in more severe insomnia than I already have.
Being a smart woman, I skip news and newspaper thereby avoid spikes in my blood pressure. So, what if I am not aware of the latest happenings in the world? That has never stopped me from leading my life as peacefully as I do now.
I hear my colleagues talk about something related to Corona and how people should avoid eating meat, but I ignore them because they talk about plenty of things and most are useless. I do not eat meat and it does not affect me anyway.
I obsessively follow a few YouTube channels for their entertaining content. Film Companion, for example, is my window to all the movies I cannot see. In one of the recent reviews, the reviewer Sucharita Tyagi (the reason I follow Film Companion so diligently) says, “I cannot even do facepalm, because of COVID-19.”
Huh? Wondering what it is, I google; only to be petrified by what I read. There is some serious virus that causes breathing problem. I already experience shortness of breath when I am anxious. Only reading about the virus causes me a panic attack which then results in shortness of breath for at least an hour. This virus is bad, I can tell you that.
Hey, I must not worry about the COVID-19. It is only in other countries. The government and the authorities will not let international passengers in. India is in safe hands.
9th MARCH 2020, 22:33 HOURS
Now that Google knows my search history, my feed is filled with news about Corona.
Terrifying, petrifying, stupefying news.
Today, Maharashtra has reported the first five COVID-19 positive cases.
In my city!
I cannot be all cheery and happy like Priyanka Chopra when I say this. It is scary as hell. I mean, who let those people in. We all, they all knew about the pandemic. They could have tested the international passengers and quarantined them. Why let the carriers go to their homes? Why, why, why?
Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who?
As usual, WhatsApp University went crazy. From home remedies to remedy Corona to tips on maintaining hygiene; from videos of police beating people on the streets during lockdown to creepy and cringy jokes – everything is floating around. Coronavirus has boosted the careers of cringe content creators.
11th MARCH 2020, 18:33 HOURS
WHO declares COVID-19 as a pandemic? I never thought I would see a pandemic.
13th MARCH 2020, 18:33 HOURS
Our HR department takes their job very seriously, so they promptly share a list of precautionary measures to keep our workplace safe. The first and foremost is – wash your hands.
That is pretty basic, right? I mean, why would you not wash hands? I am not saying that you arbitrarily get up to wash your hands. At least wash them when needed.
Now, the question is – when should you wash your hands?
Let me share a few scary anecdotes to answer that.
People at my office do not wash their hands before eating. That makes me cringe. Throughout the day, people use their keyboards and mouse and touch other surfaces full of germs. And when someone offers them eatables, they just accept it and eat – with the same hands.
Do you feel disgusted, too?
Wait, I have more.
People do not wash hands after using the loo, I kid you not.
I have seen many women using the washroom. They step out of the loo, fluff their hair and off they go. The first time I witnessed this, I almost called out for that woman: “Ma’am, you forgot to wash your hands.”
I am sure the same happens in men’s loo as well, or worse because they have urinals. Yuck!
Now my team complains that I do not shake hands with people, nor do I eat the sweets they bring.
Why would I? People do not wash their hands. I have seen people walk outside the loo without washing their hands and stroll to the birthday man/woman. Calling them birthday boy and girl does not feel right; we are old. They greet and take a piece of sweet and thereby contaminate the entire box. I cannot even dream of eating from the same box, I am sorry.
Now, the virus has scared us enough to follow the rule. People are washing hands, more frequently than they did before. Thank you, Coronavirus, for temporarily making people go back to basics.
The second golden rule: Please keep a safe distance from each other (3 feet) in the buses.
I am a bit eccentric and that is putting it mildly. People regard me with various names but more on that later. For me, anything, and anybody in close vicinity (two feet away) poses harm to me physically or mentally. I call it my space, and that I do not like people who invade my space.
I know, that sounds a bit extreme. But just look at people around you. Who maintains a safe distance? On airports and railway stations, people feel that it is their birth-right to elbow you and feel you up. Old women, aunties as we call it, are the masters. I think a part of them thinks that touching a woman is okay – the same gender, no problem, no?
It IS a problem. I mind the physical proximity not just because it is indecent and borders on molestation; but because I am freaking scared of anything that comes too close. I do not like if I am standing in the queue and the woman behind me leans on me and I can feel her bosoms. Nah… Not done… Not cool. I am NOT okay with it. And, nobody should be.
But hey, these are a public place, and such things are bound to happen in public places.
What about office space?
My colleagues intrude my space plenty, on various occasion. Having spent almost nine years in this industry, I know confronting them would lead to cold animosity between us.
Before you say I am blowing it out of proportion, allow me to share a couple of stories.
The guy on my left aisle (Tom) has a friend sitting in the right aisle (Dick). Dick is lazy; every time he wants to talk to Tom, he does not walk to Tom’s desk. He walks to mine, stands behind my chair to talk to Tom. I clench my teeth and survive that torture, which does not end there. Dick rests his arm on the back of my chair and leans in, perhaps for support.
I want to scream. “Dick, what are you doing? You have invaded my personal space and now acting as though we are close friends. Get the hell away from me.”
I do not scream. No, I do not ignore it, either. I cannot ignore things and opt for a simpler option. I tell my manager to convey the message. “Tell people to stay at an arm’s length from me.”
Genius, am I not?
Of course, these things bother me, and nothing changed, until now. COVID-19 has forced people to follow the social-distancing rule.
The third rule makes me laugh: Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands. If you cough or sneeze into your hands, wash them immediately with soap and water.
Cover your face when sneeze or cough. That is basic manners, right? And one should follow this rule regularly. Not for people around me. Most of Indians sneeze and cough into other’s mouth, without even a second thought about spreading the infection.
At least COVID-19 has changed that.
Drumroll for the last and final rule: Choose staggered time to have your lunch at café (to avoid café being full)
I do that ALL THE TIME. I like eating alone and I cannot swallow food when people around me are shouting at the top of their lungs. Come on, you know the cafeteria turns into a fish market during lunch hour.
Some people have observed and even complained that Zoya eats lunch after lunch-hour. They do not understand my predicament. And, now, COVID-19 makes them reconsider their lunch-hours. Funny that, huh?
Essentially, Coronavirus has forced people to become me. Yes, I consider myself considerate.
Thank you, Coronavirus, for temporarily making India considerate making people more aware.
Gradually, I have started noticing a COVID-19 positive difference in people’s behaviour. Whether it was fear or a newfound sense of basic etiquettes, I cannot say. It does not matter.
I cannot begin to list the other positive difference I am noticing around me.
- The deafening sounds of marriage halls that continued till past midnight have stopped.
- The bhajans that played on loudspeakers at random hours are gone.
- People wandering about on the streets till wee hours of the morning talking loudly on their phone to disturb others’ sleep have disappeared.
- Ambedkar Jayanthi was reduced to one hour of firecrackers in the middle of the night. There was no 6-hours long loud AF music-and-dance procession.
I do not understand why we need a virus, a global pandemic to be considerate. *rolling eyes*
Off I go, have office tomorrow.