The new sanitiser clause in Yeh Dosti...

The new sanitiser clause in Yeh Dosti...

Window Seat

Was it 1992? Or thereabouts. The first-time cousin Pavithra came home from the US to our grandmother’s tree-laden house in Chennai, all of us gathered around her, curious to know how is this America that we had seen until then only in the movies. Two things she said she missed badly, and pledged to buy to take back to the US: Rin soap, and a mug for the toilet in her flat, to do the unmentionable.

Took us desi gang a little while to take in that there was a machine, but no concept of soap to wash clothes, nor to wash up. But what she said next took us by surprise.

“And oh, yeah, I have to call in advance to meet even my neighbour.”

“Whaat?” we cousin-set exclaimed, “an appointment?” No asking next-door Ansari aunty for sugar or transfer of rasam rice across the compound wall in exchange for hot roti and methi-aalu that would be handed over in the same dabba over the same compound? Poor Pavithra.

That image of the US stayed in my head. And often, over the years, I would feel smug about how generous we Indians are; how we keep our doors open for anyone to come in anytime, unannounced and hang around how-long-ever. Actor Aamir Khan also actively aided and abetted my gushy patriotic feelings with his Atithi devo bhava (Guest is God) advertisement campaign where you had to be nice to anyone coming to our place, especially our country.

But now Coronavirus has come.

What to do? The first impulse as a card-holding Bengalurean is to tell that world-eating virus: Naale Baa (Come tomorrow).

Ask anyone who lived here in the late 90s or look up online, these two words are what people wrote on doors, when word of a wandering ghost got around. Not rude stuff, just ‘Come tomorrow’.

Alas, such simple language doesn’t work anymore in today’s complex world, or Corona doesn’t get English – remember, he is Chinese?

So now, we have had to change tactics. We instead stop people from coming home.

Our Prime Minister himself has asked us to keep samaajik duuri, so Social Distancing is legit Indian. Apartments have now put out curbs on visitors; and if they must come, they will be screened at the reception, then the holy sanitiser dropped into their palms.

Personally, I am convinced that it is only by keeping a distance that we can combat this scourge of mankind. Only, give us some time to warm up to quarantine, will you? We will get married as we please, call just as many 000s of people to the wedding (which our CM will attend and take photos); we will even organise and take part in beauty pageants -- because we are wearing masks, can’t you see? If a famous singer, we will go ahead, throw a bash and risk infecting a few hundreds. As long as that flimsy something holds itself between our ears.

My friend Seshadri sir called me, saying he had come back from New Jersey earlier than planned as his daughter worried that the medical insurance would not hold that good for his 70 years. He flew in an almost-empty flight, landed in Bengaluru, was super-impressed with the thoroughly professional and courteous team at the airport. The entire screening, he said, was over in two hours, but on his way home what does he see but people blissfully chomping away in large groups at a Davangere dosa camp. “Can someone tell them how serious things are?”

Well, we are like this only. But at least, some wise souls are redrawing their social contracts post-Corona. Early last week, prior to the PM’s Janata Curfew speech, I messaged a lawyer friend if I could come over as I was to pass by his law firm in the afternoon. “If you are not showing any symptoms and haven’t travelled domestically or internationally in the last 14 days, you are most welcome,” he replied instantly.

I shall check dates on my last boarding pass and revert, I said, and he replied with a smiley. I plan to go over after the Janata Curfew to who else but to him to draft a fresh ‘Friendship deed’ between us: “You are such a dear friend, you can come home anytime. Terms and Conditions Apply.”

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