Will I Remember to Socially Distance After Two Shots of Tequila?


Will I Remember to Socially Distance After Two Shots of Tequila?

Illustration: Arati Gujar

In less than two weeks, if there are no further catastrophes, we will be able to put 2020 behind us. We will hold on to the illusion that a new calendar will erase all nonsense endured the previous year and be a magic wand that revives deferred dreams. It is a universal folly stemming from a desire for fresh beginnings and more importantly, the need to celebrate together.

This year is different because of “you know what”. New York’s century-old tradition of dropping the Ball at Times Square will now be a virtual event. London’s cray-cray street parties are cancelled. The Sydney Harbour fireworks will be on for only 12 minutes. And in Mumbai, police have announced a 11:30 pm curfew.

Usually, this time of the month, the husband and I weigh in on which group of family or friends to hang out with based on how fun they are. But this year, the discussion has turned rather bleak. Even as some of our friends are planning “small” house parties with not more than 10 to 15 people (sounds a lot!), we are wondering: Is it possible to have a socially-distanced celebration? How do you control people once they are all tanked up on booze and blubbering away? Will we all agree to avoid the rib-squishing hugs at 12:01 and stick to fist bumps? And will these promises be forgotten after the first two shots of tequila?

Truth be told, I am still figuring out what the optimum level of chill is when it comes to hanging out somewhere other than the confines of my home, where I’ve spent almost all of the year.

When it all began, I was a good inmate, never stepping out unless necessary. I oscillated between anxiously drinking lots of tea and reading Chekhov so I could finally tell people that I’d read Chekhov. I went a little loopy as I imagined a constant itch in my throat, took very few breaths whenever I had to step out, and could not relax unless my sanitiser bottle was within a two-metre radius. While the precautions comforted me to a certain degree, the absence of interactions with people outside of those I lived with affected me badly and I discovered a new sensation – bored sadness.

This feeling is a biological reaction, thanks to evolution. A National Geographic article titled “Why some people can’t resist crowds despite the pandemic” says, “Social interaction has been so key to the survival of our ancestors since the Pliocene Epoch millions of years ago that the human brain may be hardwired to become addicted to it.” So, all those folks indulging in activities that aren’t essential in the pandemic like hitting underground raves or wandering through crowded bazaars are not just being selfish but also fulfilling their genetic need to hobnob. Turns out socialising is as essential to our existence as stepping out for work or buying groceries.

Being able to survive this pandemic and have the time and resources to entertain yourself is a privilege dependent on social status.

It comes down to the risk and responsibility we’re ready to take when we socialise just so we can hold onto scraps of sanity. After ten months, most of us have come to terms with the virus, and the possibility that we will get it. The question of lives versus livelihoods means we must balance safety along with supporting ecosystems around us that contribute to the economy.

As I began stepping out more, I wasn’t guilt-free. There was a shame factor associated with Covid etiquette. I found myself in the middle of the judgment spectrum where I rolled my eyes at the friend who still went to the pub every weekend while another friend rolled hers at me when I told her I was taking my daughter to the beach. Everyone has their own tolerance standard and we’re calling each other hypocrites under our breath.

I enviously devoured Kim Kardashian’s 40th birthday photos on Instagram. She flew her family and friends to an island, all of whom had quarantined themselves for two weeks before the party. While people hated on her for having this much fun at this time, I just wondered how they all managed to wear heels and walk in the sand. Because let’s face it, being able to survive this pandemic and have the time and resources to entertain yourself is a privilege dependent on social status. Kimmie clearly said that all she wanted was “to feel normal for a brief moment in time”. Isn’t that what we are all gunning for, every time we brave alien surroundings?

This year has been crappy, and I feel like we deserve to get dressed up, meet people, and have interesting end-of-the-year conversations. Yet I am weary because to feel ready enough to do this, I need to feel assured of the company I choose and their sense of social responsibility. With some people, it’s easy. Before making any plans, we brief each other about where we’ve been and who we’ve met. We trust each other enough to say, “Okay, you know what, you just went to that place which was super crowded so Imma take a raincheck!” We don’t dismiss colds and coughs as “the flu” and we stay put just to be safe. We don’t hug or kiss each other’s kids because you never know right? (Heck, I barely hug my own daughter these days!). But how will I check the travel histories of all the guests at that “small” house party? What if they slyly attended another party on Christmas eve? What if our little soiree turns superspreader?

Do I want to start 2021 overthink a tiny sneeze? Maybe not.

Looks like I will be bringing in the New Year on the couch, in an oversized sweatshirt, sporting my Hagrid-esque eyebrows, nursing whatever daaru I managed to get a hold of. And if I do end up meeting people, I’ll go dressed as a cactus