Modiji Did What I Couldn’t! Convinced My Parents to Stay at Home


Modiji Did What I Couldn’t! Convinced My Parents to Stay at Home

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Last night, following a tense 24-hour wait that saw all sorts of panicked speculations flying around, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a national address about the coronavirus pandemic. Turns out, we needn’t have worried: Our banknotes may be at 75 to the dollar but they are still legal tender, no one is going to be arrested for leaving the house, and we haven’t run out of paracetamol. The PM instead advised listeners not to take the threat of coronavirus lightly and to stay at home as much as possible. He proposed a nationwide “janta curfew” on Sunday to test out the possibility of a proper lockdown, and announced a five-minute socially distanced balcony party to thank essential and medical workers.

Many have pointed out that the PM’s speech left a lot to be desired, comparing it unfavourably to the super-comprehensive measures announced by Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan. Where were the economic proposals for the massive number of daily-wage earners who can’t afford to stay home, and those who don’t have paid leave? Or the safety precautions for essential workers? How about updates on expanding testing, or shutting down ministers who are spreading fake news?

For some, Modi’s advice to wash hands and self-quarantine to avoid burdening the healthcare system is a rehash of what we already know. But let’s be honest: We live on Twitter and news alerts about the corona count are our oxygen. For everyone else, cutting through a torrent of misinformation with the basic facts is necessary for the common man to understand the situation. And it had to come from the PM. Modiji was really having a heart-to-heart with the nation’s boomer parents, who have spent the last two weeks scoffing at “karunavirus” and driving their kids to despair.

So why are our parents so resistant to the idea of a few weeks in self-isolation?

A few days ago, my own parents came back early from an evening out with another boomer couple. They had gone to see a play but the theatre was shut, they complained, so they went to a restaurant for dinner. Then, I had to convince my dad not to risk a trip to the doctor when he came down with a mild fever. Even as I write this, my mother is trawling the sabzi mandis for fresh doodhi, no doubt stopping at the local kirana to fight the teeming hordes for a non-essential jar of peanut butter. Trying to tell her that, as a sixty-year-old woman, she’s considered high-risk, only led to a lecture on age being a number and a promise to add extra haldi to the dal.

Something curious has happened in the last few weeks. The roles have reversed and I, as a millennial, am having to finally adult. I run after my mum and dad who are insistent upon behaving like errant children – a parenting role I didn’t imagine I’d have to take on so early in life.

Nor am I alone in these futile efforts to make my mom and dad pay attention to flattening the curve. A friend recently narrated the saga of talking his sixty-plus parents out of going on a Europe cruise, while another finally managed to convince his dad that Indians are not immune to coronavirus because we eat bacteria-laden roadside chaat. We compare the latest forwards that have graced our family WhatsApp groups, cracking jokes about Corona beer and warning people not to eat Chinese food. “Headache and keeping six feet distance is not symptom of corona… it is a symptom of married life!” reads one such gem.

The PM instead advised listeners not to take the threat of coronavirus lightly and to stay at home as much as possible.

Stupidity is as much a pandemic as coronavirus, and I’m not saying that millennials haven’t been doing their fair share. Plenty are taking work-from-home as an excuse to socialise in pubs, buying up the stock of surgical masks to pose on social media, and booking cheap travel tickets. But the folly of youth does not extend to holding a mass puja to chant “Go corona, go!” as if you’re trying to battle a Pokemon. Nor are young people likely to be severely affected even if they do catch the virus, and the majority who stay home are doing so in an altruistic spirit. Millennials, ever the nihilists, know the risks of the coronavirus; some of them just don’t care.

So why are our parents so resistant to the idea of a few weeks in self-isolation? Perhaps, as my father insists, it’s because they’ve lived through the Emergency and rationing, and think coronavirus is just another passing crisis. Perhaps independent-minded boomers, who didn’t come of age in an era of climate change and global connectivity, are less likely to believe that their individual actions can impact society. Whether it comes to how much sex we’re having or how likely we are to invest, the jaded, untrusting millennials are notoriously risk-averse. We also have the advantages of a social life that takes place online, making distancing a lot easier on us.

But the real reason our parents won’t listen to us is that they are our parents. Suddenly, as younger people, we’ve found ourselves in the position of responsible, sensible grownups who may not know how to make aesthetic rotis, but are nevertheless forced to parent our parents. We can only hope that the simple gravity of PM Modi’s speech will convince the nation’s cavalier parents to take coronavirus more seriously than a bad joke on WhatsApp.