By Bikram Vohra
Life improvement pundits have been at it for years: Asking us to change. But no one has ever managed to get us to rework our lives and habits so swiftly and dramatically as this Covid-19. Here we are in 2020 talking about the need to wash our hands… with special emphasis on the ‘how’ to effectively complete this bit of basic hygiene.
So powerful has the media message been that we have perforce been snowed under, like a skier who hits an avalanche and goes for a toss.
This total surrender to advice hit me hard when I discovered myself avoiding touching the banister of the stairway or the railings at an escalator. I would rather not use that once natural support to go up and down and totter up mildly imbalanced but safer. I don’t touch a knob to open a door I nudge it with my shoulder. Touching has become taboo.
Shaking hands is, of course, a far cry now and everyone I know has decided to go long distance in their greetings. In any case it was a barbaric habit.
So strong is the desire for self-preservation that I do not even feel apologetic about what would customarily be bad manners. Sorry, no fist bumps either and if you do wish to sit make sure you are six-feet-plus away.
Things are so high strung if someone sneezes they might as well leap off the ledge now. Seeing as how this is the change of season flu window anyhow and 200 strains of influenza around a sneeze is not the end of the world. But I am now conditioned to seeing it as a physical assault, a first degree felony, thou shalt not sneeze…or sniffle or wheeze. If you do, please go into your corner.
People are exiled, ostracised, sent to Coventry. All these are a walk in the park compared to coming to work with a common cold. Are you nuts?
Travel on public transport and you select the emptiest spot and then someone comes and sits next to you and sneezes and you could cry.
I go to the supermarket and I do not use a trolley. I carry all the stuff in my hand and stagger to the cashier. The other day we had to use it and I steered it with one finger as if that would make a heck of a difference. Well, logic has nothing to do with it.
In an elevator I swear I do not breathe, just kind of go all statue like and stiff and avoid opening my mouth. Not just me. Everyone. Like a mobile Madame Tussauds waxworks. I haven’t had one of those loudmouths in the elevator yelling on his phone to his office impervious to all of us. He has also kept his mouth shut.
Even sitting in a chair in a public place like an airport or a restaurant, I sit all scrunched up like a broken biscuit, making sure I am not touching the arms of the chair. Took a cab the other day and talk about breathing exercises, I was not even inhaling, just taking quick breaths and sitting on the very edge of the seat.
Going to a public toilet has about the drama of an epic horror film. You mentally tiptoe in and if you have to touch anything it is with the ample use of tissue protection. My friends carry hand towels. Then you wash and wash and wash and make Lady Macbeth’s hand-wringing exercise come off as amateur night at the Apollo.
Scary is a clinic waiting room. At the best of times it is the most dreary place in the world with two posters and eight-year-old issues of magazines. Now, you can almost visualise little Covid-19 germs crawling all over the place left there by an earlier patient and if you have to wait for your doctor then between sanitiser and face masks and counting slowly to a thousand to divert attention from touching your face there is not much else you can do unless you have a fertile imagination like mine.
What if there is a Covid-19 germ that is extra athletic and leaps about the place and is now doing cartwheels and can shift from where it is now right into my mouth sans the personal touch? So now I have my mouth shut, my hands closed tight, avoiding any other patient in the room and liberally smelling of 60 per cent alcohol strength sanitiser. It is the new cologne.
Am I paranoid? Certainly not. Just being safe.
Bikram is consultant editor to Khaleej Times. Everyday humour is his forte