With the lifting of the lockdown in many states of India, we see many people moving around without masks. Or, if they do wear one, it resembles a neck kerchief more than a mask.
The problem is the lack of impunity which encourages everyone to throw caution to the wind. If fines were imposed strictly, this would put a stop to such irresponsible behaviour.
Earlier, masks were not easily available at most pharmacies. So I had to make do with using a scarf which wasn’t very practical as it needed frequent adjusting.
Many masks are primarily associated with ceremonies that have religious and social significance or are concerned with funerary customs, fertility rites or the curing of sickness. They are also used on festive occasions such as Mardi Gras, Halloween and in enactments of mythological events
When I did get hold of some, they were the kind with two sets of straps to be tied. Eventually, I managed to get the kind with loops that could be worn around the ears.
Mask making has become big business now and even helped Lamborghini navigate the crisis by switching to making masks and visors. The masks were made in the upholstery department and protective shields were made in the composites production plant.
Masks as cultural objects
Masks as cultural objects have been used throughout the world in all periods since the Stone Age. But today we are forced to wear these as protection against a pandemic that has swept across all countries.
I remember reading about masked balls in the Regency period romances of Georgette Heyer and finding them a riveting read. However, there is nothing romantic about wearing a mask to prevent disease. It takes some getting used to.
But wearing these can help contain the spread of Covid along with social distancing. The latter is difficult to achieve in a country like India due to the huge population and lack of basic amenities.
Many masks are primarily associated with ceremonies that have religious and social significance or are concerned with funerary customs, fertility rites or the curing of sickness. They are also used on festive occasions such as Mardi Gras, Halloween and in enactments of mythological events.
In many cultures throughout the world, a judge wore a mask to protect him from future recriminations. Among non-literate peoples who cannot record their own histories, masked rituals act as an important link between the past and present.
Masks for protection from disease include the measles mask worn by Chinese children and the cholera masks worn by the Chinese and Burmese during epidemics.
These face coverings have also been used almost universally to represent characters in theatrical performances while artists like Picasso and Matisse found a source of inspiration in the masks of Africa and western Oceania.
This reminds me of the huge collection of masks brought home by a sister after a long stay in Nigeria. She put them up on the walls of the living and dining room and, frankly speaking, it was not a very pleasant experience having these formidable-looking visages staring down at you.
A video forwarded on WhatsApp recently shows a customer walking into a bank in an Indian city without a mask. When she is denied permission to enter, she flies into a rage and starts abusing the staff. It is sad that there are people who think they are a law unto themselves.
Examples of such irresponsible behaviour appear daily in the newspapers, with reports of politicians especially flouting the rules.
Whenever you feel hampered by the thought of donning a mask each time you step outside, think of inspirational figures such as Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Zorro and the Green Hornet, among others.
These have provided us with hours of entertainment as well as inspired us with their actions. Think of yourself as a superhero stepping outside to face the common enemy and save yourself as well as others.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.