Whether you’re the kind of person who doesn’t keep avid track of the figures, or the kind who types “coronavirus Chennai” daily into search engines to see the latest ones, you probably know – the official case numbers have been falling steadily in the city. But this is not yet cause for celebration, as dire second waves in various parts of the world should show us. It is now, when the caseload is within a bracket that feels manageable (“feels” is very subjective: I mean manageable only from a general public perception, not from the perception of frontline workers, for example), that we must exert the most care.

Like all who diligently wear masks when heading out, I’ve heard plenty of arrogant statements from people who refuse to, or who have taken no effort to cut down on non-essential activities. Boasts: “I would have had it already, since I’ve been out and about everywhere without a mask since March”. Insensitive remarks: “Most people survive, and everyone I know who’s had it said it was mild,” or, “Look, if it’s your fate to get it, you will.” Whines: “I’ve been cooped up, and I deserve to enjoy an evening out.” There’s also what some have termed “COVID bullying” – peer pressure, including taunts, to resume social activities.

The world is over a year into this pandemic, and we all know the basic etiquette around it, yet too many wilfully insist on flouting the same. The refusal to wear masks even on request should be a punishable offence at this time. Moreover, it’s alarming how some have been holidaying, holding non-essential gatherings and more. Those doing such things for fun, because they miss aspects of their lifestyle and feel entitled to them, are not the same as those venturing out for necessities. A need like getting a computer fixed is nothing like a craving to hang out in a café. No one should feel emboldened about carrying on as we were pre-pandemic.

Sometimes, after I’ve ventured out, I’m assailed by feelings of shock at how restrictive my year has been and how much I long for normalcy, and various shades of anger, fear and sorrow. It is my guess that these unpleasant emotions are rife in the population. They would only be natural effects of the challenges we are facing, collectively and individually. Yet, some individuals – enough individuals as to form a mass – respond to this complexity through inconsiderate behaviour. 

Every place in the world that has managed the pandemic well has done so through public cooperation and common sense, not denial and discourteousness.

It’s important to remember how this pandemic came to India: through international travellers. Then, in the early months when the privileged stayed indoors and learned how to whip dalgona coffee, it spread among those who had no choice but to head out. A series of decisions on administrative, organisational and societal levels further proliferated it. If we experience a second wave, it will come through irresponsible choices. All around us, people are making them. Let’s not give in to the pressure to do the same. Next year promises to be better only if we don’t.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 15th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.