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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Lonely in the crowd

India is reopening after half a year in confinement, but social distancing is taking half the joy out of it.

By: Editorial | Updated: September 12, 2020 8:48:02 am
covid 19, unlock 4, social distancing, metro reopening, coronavirus covid 19 newsUnder social distancing norms, life in public looks like one long aside.

Just as we were all about to go stir crazy, Unlock 4.0 brings relief. But with it comes the responsibility of keeping distance from other humans. Can a social animal maintain social distancing for too long without getting somewhat warped? The reopening of Metro services, which have become the lifeline of cities, was eagerly awaited as a sign that the nation was committed to living with the virus. But the sight of half-empty carriages, with people sitting so far apart that they could not possibly speak to each other, has been quite sobering. Imagine a half-empty Mumbai local. Part of the experience consisted of genial support — you were pressed so close by neighbours on all sides that you could not possibly fall down.

New rules and suggestions for social conduct appeared in the midst of the unlocking. Some were reiterations of common-sense injunctions which had circulated at the beginning of the lockdown, while others were imported from nations as far away as Japan. Speaking loudly on public transport is now proscribed, which means that you can’t yell at the conductor if the bus misses your stop. You should not speak directly to fellow travellers, but turn away and make an aside. Even if it exposes you to the moral hazard of infecting the stranger beside you, rather than the person you addressed.

Under social distancing norms, life in public looks like one long aside. Watching movies in a hall in which every other seat is verboten must send serotonin plummeting. Even the socially distanced protests which have been seen in countries like Spain look depressingly impersonal. But at least the world’s most gregarious animal has been uncaged.

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