An attempt to understand our collective disregard
The lockdowns were imminent. Everyone knew it. However, with the one week “soft” lockdown that preceded the weeks of strict ones at the beginning of the month, I was curious. How soft was this lockdown going to be, I asked myself.
I was also curious about people’s behaviour with regard to dining out at restaurants and other eateries. It is often rightfully said that it remains the only recreational activity middle-class citizens of Dhaka can avail. During this particular week-long lockdown period, all restaurants were supposed to be closed, and even delivery was supposed to cease after 6PM. But was this the reality?
My curious mind (and my affinity for all things food) together with the knowledge of owning a press card gave me the courage to call my favourite establishment, asking them how they were operating, and being informed that, while they were absolutely not taking in guests after 6PM, they would make an exception in my case.
Overjoyed, while harbouring a latent feeling of guilt, together with acknowledging my hypocritical actions -- essentially flouting the very rules I have written dozens of stern editorials about criticizing the general public and authorities alike -- I set out.
A little background here would perhaps help. I am usually a stickler for rules and duty, and have never rebelled or done anything that would be termed as “risky behaviour.” Therefore, while I reasoned with myself, and convinced myself that this was no big deal, this was still a big deal for me.
Some more background is that anyone who knows me probably associates me with food, be it the zeal with which I consume what’s in front of me, or the passion (and regularity) with which I talk about it. So while such behaviour was absolutely not expected from me, food (and curiosity) triumphed.
One hungry 30-year-old in a restaurant which could seat hundreds didn’t seem like the most dangerous thing in the world, I reasoned with myself. It will satiate my curious mind, it will help me understand the situation better. It’s going to be for an article, it’s work (though I am no reporter and certainly was not assigned to write this).
In typical human fashion, I reasoned and wrestled with my choice, justifying to no one but myself, through what my favorite podcaster Shankar Vedantam terms “useful delusions,” that what I was doing was alright. In fact, useful delusions is just a fancy term. I was straight up lying to myself.
The rest of the story involves an evening where I forgot my press card, and a state of (slight) panic when informed that the cops were making the rounds and had already fined the restaurant on the ground floor. I thanked the lords of gluttony that I was several floors up, while simultaneously cursing myself, a stern reminder that doing anything against the rules was never going to be my thing.
It also involved others coming in after me at the restaurant, inquiring about whether they would be offered services. What was particularly amusing was the death stare I received. “How dare I ruin their evening with my presence! Did I not know there was a lockdown in place? Why was I not home?”
As I made my way down, I noticed that all of the establishments in the building had someone or the other, availing services. Such has been the consistency within us. The recent opening of malls and shops for Eid shopping, and the masses that have made their way to these malls, social distancing be damned, is a perfect example, once again, of our delusions.
“What will happen to these poor shopkeepers?” appears to be the lie of choice. Of course, a much easier course of action than admitting the desire to shop and buy new clothes for Eid.
Ultimately though, while sometimes, lying to ourselves is certainly useful, now is not the time. We already see what is happening to India, while Bangladesh itself is in the worst situation it has been in since the pandemic began. The lies we tell ourselves could very well be our last.