People Behind the Masks- Unveiling Humanity

A few days ago, my mother had sent me on a grocery run. Equipped with a scarf all around my face and a cloth bag, I set off on my adventures. Any activity outside my home is nothing short of an adventure because my area is a Covid-19 hotspot. Cases are popping up everywhere, even in my building, just a floor below mine! It’s frightening and exhausting too. And at that moment I thought of corona warriors: Face behind the mask.

So, I walked on the street, steering away from people coming my way, ignoring all body contact when suddenly I saw a couple that stayed right next to my building. Naturally, I smiled. They smiled at me too. We then went our opposite ways. As I kept walking, I realised that I could discern whether they’re smiling, even when their faces were covered. This was a minor discovery but so fulfilling.

We have learned to love each other and communicate that love even when concealed with layers of protection. No doubt, it is a deadly virus; it has made us afraid of everyone. We can never tell who might be a carrier. This fear has driven us in separate squares.

One life has to travel six feet to reach another, and by the time it does, the other one has moved six feet more. And quite frankly, we’re all frustrated with not being able to breathe without the barrier of masks and hold onto the people we love.

Yet, we do it because we care. Not only about ourselves but our fellow humans, and that is a beautiful sentiment. When I see a masked face, I don’t see just that. I see a human, willing to tolerate inconvenience to protect humanity. It makes me feel safe, and safety has become a scarce commodity these days.

Most of all, the virus has not been able to strip us of our ability to be compassionate. My family is facing budget constraints, as many other working-class families do. Still, my mother has donated grains to needy people every month. My brother would give lifts to migrant workers walking long distances to railway stations on his scooter, even though there is a risk of infection.

There are stories of brave people reaching out to the ones in need of help. Essential workers risk their lives to sustain our system. Even the simple act of people washing their hands before meeting their families is an act of kindness and, at the same, a reasonable precaution.

Do these stories negate the suffering of the world, the deaths, the economic crises, the loss of jobs and livelihood, and the increasing disparity of all kinds of universal brackets? Absolutely not. But, it’s a small beam of hope, and that’s something, isn’t it?

We have transformed our entire lifestyles to adapt and survive. Although that doesn’t mean we are reduced to each person for themselves. We’re reaching across from seas and screens to say we remember you, we care.

I watched the entire first season of Westworld with my close friend by syncing it on our phones while being on a call. Long discussions would follow, which begged me to think, I never had this much time with him when things were normal. What a cruel line of thinking, but it’s true.

The lives of so many loved ones don’t run parallel with mine. So many connections have been lost over the years because of a lack of time. Here, trapped in my home and the loop, I’ve met so many new people and reconciled with old ones. I’ve baked my first cake with my friend, joined reading circles and theatre groups. I’m living. I’m happy.

In saying this, I fully and completely accept my privilege of accessing new opportunities and even having platforms like these to express myself. I know things are worse for many people, that many don’t also have roofs to protect themselves or balconies to bang the utensils (Come on! I had to do it.)

Jokes apart, I understand we are at the cusp of a redesign. The structures are collapsing and modifying. Sadly, many are going to fall through the cracks. Many would go there unnoticed. The divides will widen, horizons shorten. Communities will take time to recover from this trauma, and only after that, and they’ll be able to take steps towards resuming progress. There are going to be hesitations and hiccups. There are going to be bigger mountains.

It’s not getting any more comfortable, but I have people to fall back on, even if it’s only metaphorically. People behind masks, holding each other with gloved hands and hidden smiles. And while each person is a potential threat, each person is also a potential saviour. Eyes will continue to wrinkle and sparkle too. There will be dreams of beginnings, safety, and liberation.

We’ll have to find ourselves in the rubble first then each other. Dust ourselves and walk ahead, maybe even limp. We’re together in this, even from afar. That may be the only reassurance I get, but it’s the only reassurance I need.

Stories will grow from us. We’ll be remembered as the ones who persevered. Let’s make sure we are also recognized as the ones who continued without losing sight of kindness. When you peel off layers of our protective gear and identities, we’re all just human beings. That could be either the best or the worst thing. You decide.

By Riya Surekha Mishra

Image source- Google