When 2019 turned into 2020, no one knew what was in store. Never would have one imagined an entire country going into lockdown. In fact, in yesteryears, had I told you that many countries would go into lockdown simultaneously, you would have probably laughed. March 16, 2020 was the last day that I remember as a regular day in Mumbai. That was the day our club closed down. I had just finished a game of badminton with my buddies and grumbled about how the COVID19 scare was just a silly ploy. Little did I know that everyone around me, including my family and me, was in for a complete overhaul of our lives.
Five months down the road, here we all are in what they call the ‘New Normal”. Step out on the road and you will see everyone donning masks and going about their business. We are all learning to communicate in this New Normal.
Yes, My India has changed and COVID19 has pushed us to learn the ropes of communicating in the New Normal. I can picture myself telling my grandkids about the yesteryears – ‘when COVID19 struck’.
Indians are getting use to: hurried hellos and quick goodbyes
Picture this: You are donning a mask and walking down the road. You spot a friend from afar. The dress and typical gait are a giveaway. You smile and wave out. While you are debating on whether to open your arms to hug her or extend your hand for a handshake. Maybe she will laugh if you will join hands into a ‘namaste’. While you are fighting your thoughts, your friend waves back and hurriedly walks past you, while muttering something like, “Hey, how are you? All well. Stay safe….” You stop in your tracks, wondering what just happened. She later pings you on FB messenger apologizing as she was in a ‘hurry’.
Chit-chatting, offline, is a thing of the past
Picture this: You use your COVID Key to press the buttons of the elevator. When you are sanitizing your hands at the gate, you meet your neighbour. Dressed in a lovely sari and beautiful accessories, it seems as if she is going for a party. You smile from behind the mask and compliment her. Her smile travels under her mask and reaches her eyes. You can make out the joy in her voice as she says something about going for a family event. Her voice trails off as if something was stopping her from sharing any further. Her husband enters the scene, taps her lightly on the shoulder and she walks off. It leaves you hanging without your juicy gossip update of the day. After a while, she pings you on WhatsApp and gives you an entire download of gossip.
We are learning how to meet an acquaintance
Picture this: You just finished sanitizing your hands at the store and bend down to pick up the bag of groceries. Someone you know steps into the store. At first they look away. When your eyes finally meet, you both awkwardly stare into each other’s eyes. That’s when you realise that in the past, you met acquaintances with a wry smile, a brief hello and then left. Staring into each other’s eyes is the most awkward way to meet someone you hardly know. You wonder whether to wave or just lift your hand to say ‘Hi’. But then waving is not really what Indians do when they meet an acquaintance – do they? How does one know if the smile reached the person from behind the mask?
We are learning to communicate with the eyes
Picture this: The chemist is standing at an arm’s length and you need to tell him you need a sanitary pad. You haven’t carried a list and when you try removing the mask to speak, everyone stares at you as if they have seen a ghost. You hurriedly put on your mask and widen your eyes, you dart them towards the sanitary pads and point at them while one hand is covering the other. You see, a twinkle in the chemist’s eyes, as if he finally understood what you said. He hands over a pack of condoms just beside the sanitary pads!! You whisper irately, “Bhaiya, ye nahi, woh chahiye.” He seems to be enjoying this charade and asks, “Oh sorry! Kaunsa, XL ya double XL? Whisper ya Stayfree?”
Learning to communicate using chat & video apps
Picture this: You were just getting a hang of WhatsApp when your friend asks you to join a group on Telegram. Your uncle sends you songs on FB messenger and expects you to reply. There is a chat feature in Google Meetings and Zoom calls where people regularly leave messages. To top this, there are unread messages on your Instagram inbox, Twitter DM, LinkedIn message and Snapchat. To add to this, during lockdown you had nothing to do so have been posting status messages, posts and stories on various platforms. Now posting has become a habit. You get comments on all those posts and if you don’t acknowledge it, you run the danger of offending your ‘friend’ or ‘contact’. You are suddenly part of many WhatsApp groups and other groups on other social media platforms. You actually start keeping a diary to keep pace with whom to reply to on which platform. Its like a crazy vortex of information out of which 90% of messages are meaningless forwards.
I miss the carefree days when I used to hug my friends and sometimes peck them on the cheek. When we shared food from the same plate, gossiped till there was no tomorrow and stuck to each other while clicking selfies. I want my sporting days back when I played throw ball till my fingers hurt, practiced cricket till my shoulders and knees hurt and practiced running till I went sore. I miss conversations around sports, food and movies. The online world is no fun. Nothing can replace the physical presence of a friend or relative. I miss the days when we danced at baraats and sangeets with our favourite relatives. Virtual zoom sangeets are no fun.
The New Normal is here to stay. Even after COVID19, people will shy away from meeting at public places. In such a scenario, extroverts and ambiverts like me will have to look for ways to satiate the need to reach out to another human being. Yes, we will have to learn to communicate and make meaningful relationships despite the New Normal and the dangers it brings.
How has the New Normal been for you? What are the new things that India is learning in the ‘New Normal’?
Share your thoughts in the comment section.
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