Will I Need to Re-learn Socialising in a Post-Vaccine World? How Do I Go Back to Shaking Hands?


Will I Need to Re-learn Socialising in a Post-Vaccine World? How Do I Go Back to Shaking Hands?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The coronavirus pandemic gave the world a first-hand experience of what it is to be a woman on her periods. Ostracised because of their “germ-carrying” potential. Kept in isolation to keep everyone safe. Their touch considered so unclean, nobody would shake hands with them. But those days seem to be fast disappearing.

Thankfully, the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive has begun in India and my elbows can’t keep calm. No amount of reassurances and anti-anxiety pills are working. We’ve been in an intense relationship for nearly a year now. It wasn’t always like this. But one day, the pandemic hit us, made fingers redundant and elbows the new superstar. Since then my dear elbows have opened doors for me. Pressed lift buttons, endured Kenny G. Knocked the air off that random stranger who’s yet to get the dossier on social distancing. How do I explain that even when they go back to their previous state of a useless appendage that has to be moisturised regularly, I will not stop loving them? After nearly a year of a close relationship with them, how do I convince them they do matter, even if I won’t use them anymore?

How do I tell my elbows that I’m in the same state as them? What if everyone decides to get vaccinated and make the “new normal” go away? Will I be able to touch my face without breaking into hives? I don’t think I’m ready for a post-vaccine world.

The pandemic was the perfect excuse to unleash my inner asshole. Now that I have been an asshole for 10 months, politeness seems as pointless as wearing pants. Uninviting friends because I saw them sneezing in their Insta story, accusing Varma aunty of mass murder because her mask was nestled comfortably under her nose… felt so responsible. It was as if I was saving the world by being rude to them.

I am just not ready to show my face that has been hidden for so long behind masks.

Going back to the buzzing life of 2019 and early 2020 now seems like a frightening prospect. I am just not ready to show my face that has been hidden for so long behind masks. I am not ready for crowded elevators and the free hugs that people are eager to dole out once they get the jab. I’d rather join RW trolls and boycott Uber (it’s a rage these days) than share a cab with strangers to reach an office I didn’t like in the first place. And I’m certainly not ready to bathe every day.

As we ready ourselves to say aye to the needle, we will all need to be socially re-educated to be unleashed into the public sphere: How not to jump out of your skin when someone gets too close. Here’s how to hold your impulse to rush back home for a sanitiser bath after having shaken hands with someone other than your dog. Treating UK returnees with compassion. Not bursting into tears at our workstations because our lonely AF blanket that feels abandoned won’t stop drunk dialling us.

I need someone to hold my hand (preferably a hot Korean guy) as I move from K-dramas to real-life dramas.

I’ve forgotten how to mingle in crowds, make small talk, smile and not snarl at a stranger. I’ve forgotten how to laugh at an unfunny joke the boss cracked.

I’m taking deep breaths. I have already started googling authentic reasons you can manufacture to weasel out of plans. I am reimagining what it will be to walk into a supermarket to BUY banana bread. My nose has already started twitching in nervousness in anticipation of meeting fellow noses. Poor thing hasn’t met another in a long time.

I’m so used to the butterflies in the stomach, it feels second nature to me. Telling myself I must have asked for it every time I was down with sniffles or a sore throat. Berating myself for not being careful. Twisting and turning in my bed wondering, was my mask too loose?

Maybe once I get the gift of the jab, I’ll start by declaring myself safe on Facebook. And then maybe just maybe… I’ll do a small pilgrimage to Sabarimala and leave a thank you note for Lord Ayappa for making me 110 per cent safe and pure.