X A group of 30 revellers at a destination wedding return to Kolkata and test Covid-positive. Some have to be hospitalised.
X A group of friends goes to a nearby resort to celebrate an anniversary and 10 out of 12 of them test positive; and one of them even succumbs to the deadly virus.
X And yet… every star hotel banquet in town is booked for a wedding, an anniversary, a birthday… name it, and you have it.
X One prominent hotel is brimming over about a hundred honeymoon couples, and every hand on the kitchen deck is busy whipping up anniversary cakes.
I just cannot reconcile the two.
What is happening to us?
Even as the Covid-19 pandemic is raging all across the planet, sending much of the world reeling, more and more invitations for weddings and sundry other social events are piling up on my desk. This is causing an acute FOBI (fear of being included) in me. Every invitation seems to be an open challenge to put my own and my family’s life at risk. But for the vast majority of people in my social circle, FOMO (fear of missing out) continues to be a mantra to mingle.
Make no mistake, I am not alone in the FOBI group. There are others I know who feel anxious at being invited to various group or social events now. A recent invitation from a friend inviting me for his wife’s 35th birthday left me speechless, more so because my polite refusal was summarily rejected! Acquaintances, who are home-schooled in the traditional rules of etiquette, simply refuse to take no for an answer and insist that you must be there. This “ati aachar”, or extreme behaviour, is nothing short of “emotional atyachar”.
One can understand it when poor, often illiterate citizens are unable to comply with some of the Covid-19 norms and restrictions out of dire necessity. Work from home is, after all, a luxury that is possible only for those in white-collar jobs, and is something that not many can afford, and nine months into the pandemic, financial compulsion has forced the vast majority of people out into the world to keep food on the table.
But when educated social fat cats use their clout to flout the pandemic rules for their own merriment, it causes far more harm to society. All those messages and campaigns urging people to maintain social distancing seem to go simply down the drain. It also tends to provoke resentment in several quarters as it puts society’s inequalities on full public display.
Hotels, restaurants and travel agencies are facing a grim dichotomy -- while having to cope with declining revenues and job cuts, they also have to contend with some clients who have scant respect for regulations and often misuse their “influence” to bend the rules.
I know about mega-weddings in luxury hotels where a limited number of visitors are allowed as per the pandemic rules. One organiser, who was simply not to be curbed by these restrictions, booked three banquets in different names on the same day at the same hotel. On the day of the wedding, the stunned hotel authorities looked on as guests from three different venues converged at the spot where the ceremony was taking place, in a blatant violation of all social distancing norms. And this is a formula that is becoming increasingly common, and people are accepting it as the norm.
I know of so many people who have been organising totally avoidable public gatherings and events with a business-as-usual approach. It is almost as if there has been a lockdown on one’s reasoning and good sense. We have all seen the pictures on the social media of crowded Goa nightclubs with no hint of any Covid-19 precautions. I was even more stunned to see on television a crowd marching hand in hand, many of them not wearing masks, to spread “awareness” about the coronavirus!
The Delhi government has increased fines for not wearing face masks in public to ₹2,000 in order to help check the spread of the disease. But for the rich and often infamous, this is hardly any deterrent.
The rush to circumvent the rules is like an epidemic in itself. Political rallies, holidaying, weddings, anniversaries and sundry social gatherings during a crisis like this reveal an attitude that reeks of arrogance and downright stupidity. One of the primary advantages of being educated is supposed to be the ability it gives us to connect the cause and effect of events. But in a society where money, influence and hubris rank higher than any reasoning, our very survival is at stake.
The world over, this pandemic debate has been about the two “Ls”: Life and Livelihood. I would like to add a third “L”: Lunacy.
What else can explain our crazy compulsion for hosting and attending utterly unnecessary social functions when a pandemic is still raging?
The writer is a social and cultural activist based in Kolkata...