Recently on Instagram, glamorous socialite and billionaire Natasha Poonawala posted a romantic black-and-white image of herself, ostensibly in deep thought pondering the difficulties of social distancing in India. The post read, “It’s just that we, the privileged, can easily retreat into our comfort zones. Where will the majority of people, who live in packed, matchbox-sized spaces, go?!” No one can reasonably deny these tragic realities and the plight of millions during this deadly pandemic. It’s something that’s crossed all our minds that social distancing is a privilege. However, the tone of Poonawala’s musings and the corresponding photograph signifying her splendid isolation, just didn’t sit right.
Perhaps Poonawala thought after all these weeks Indians are inured to photographs of hungry migrants staring hopelessly back at us. Or, that she was more likely to grab eyeballs with a stylish image of her enchanted life. But after five weeks at home and consequently, a forced introspection, tolerance for commonplace observations by someone perched luxuriously in their ivory tower is wearing thin.
The comments from Poonawala’s lakhs of followers came fast, sarcastic and scathing. One of the lesser analyzed effects of this pandemic is how it’s impacting modern manners and Twitter etiquette. A social media post that would have passed off as harmless silliness a month ago, suddenly feels wearily idiotic. Overnight, people seem to have developed a heightened awareness for banality, maybe even a sneering condescension for celebrity opinion.
Post-Covid, we’ve all been besieged with impactful footage of how desperate life can be in India, a fact many of us had forgotten. The least we can do, those similarly ensconced in safety is to make an effort to understand the incredible hardships people are facing right now. For example, just one of the many heartbreaking stories to make the news was of an out-of-work laborer who sold his phone to buy his four children flour, sugar and a fan. After which he went off quietly and hung himself. When it feels the country is caving in — watching quasi celebrities make-up less, killing time on social media, muttering inanities makes one cringe. Anyone commenting right now should either be coming up with profound insights, hitherto untold before, or, maintaining complete silence. Just hunker down and keep quiet.
Shallow, empty posts have been celebrated before and they will continue to be re-tweeted by bots on Twitter. For sure in the future, “influencers” “socialites” and “celebrities” will be held to a higher standard and pounced on, for innocent mindlessness. Just like how it would be really rude to cough in public without covering one’s face, those who are suffering relatively less have to consider optics very carefully, when talking about the deeply entrenched inequalities in our country. A good rule of thumb for any public personality posting a random thought should be a self check: is what I am about to say, going to be a vivid reminder of the chasm between the haves and the have-nots? It must be said, boredom, or dull meals, a paunch, and nothing left to watch on Netflix is not a problem. Case in point, there is still a sizeable gap between passengers quarantined on a cruise ship with room service, and stranded migrant labour worried about their next meal.
It is worth noting that during this pandemic most media outlets worldwide have suspended their society and party tracking pages and coverage of movie stars, unless it’s Covid-related (or to call them out for tone deaf posts). Clearly, it’s because all activity is suspended and nobody’s going anywhere, but also because nobody cares anymore, about who wore what where. The coronavirus outbreak may have driven home the point like nothing before, that we are nothing when faced with the universe’s wrath. At the same time, it so forcefully redirects our attention towards those ordinary heroes, who are working through this in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
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