I Am Chicken

Strap it in, folks. I am about to tell a story while I still can, and also because this is the only way to somehow put it out there.

I chickened out. I have to say that first and get it out of the way. Folks who know me in person would never attest that I have a problem with a face-to-face discussion or a debate, but this time, I chickened out. Maybe the two years of not having an in-person social life have made me this way. Who knows?

Here goes. I met a friend recently and we were in a crowded space when I said that it’s hard for the virus to not spread in such an atmosphere. I said I hoped folks were vaccinated and she jumped out to say that the vaccine is not tested and is a hoax.

Some context here: I had Covid. I am double vaccinated. In that order. I had no idea my friend wasn’t vaccinated. But here we were. In a crowded place.

I was left stumped, words did not come out of my mouth, and my friend went on to say that the vaccine is not tested, should not be taken, vaccinated people can carry the virus, and if the vaccine is so effective then why do vaccinated people get the virus because when people take the polio vaccine they don’t get polio. I can’t recall if I was gaping at her maskless face or not, but I said nothing. Zilch. Nothing. Nada. As I admitted earlier, I chickened out. I couldn’t believe what I had heard and neither was my brain working such as to find myself a good exit strategy to leave that place.

The last time I felt like this was when there was violence in the capital in Feb 2020. When the topic came up, my colleague who sat across me, in a foreign country, said that the Muslims started the fire in the capital so it needs to keep burning and all that (bloody) jazz. From what I remember, the Muslims were the victims of this said violence and it was incited by a genocidal war cry, but no matter. I was tongue-tied. The honest reason for that was twofold: I was shocked at how two completely different versions of the truth had travelled to a foreign country and that my colleague had not realised I was Muslim. I chickened out here as well. I said nothing.

The point I am trying to make here is that the Internet is bull. Poor choice of words, I know. But it is all bull.

There is a raging pandemic down the street next to the cyclewale ki dukaan and people are debating the authenticity of vaccines that have undergone Phase 3 trials? People are dying in the capital in the name of religion and you’re debating who started it? Why? Because you read some nonsense on the Internet and “saw a documentary”? For Pete’s sake!

You think I don’t understand dystopia, climate change as a consequence of geopolitics, fascism, and conspiracy theory? You think I don’t get it? I do! But that doesn’t have to stop you from wearing a mask and being a decent human being.

There is actual anecdotal evidence that the vaccine hasn’t worked for people. I know such people first-hand, too. It has negatively impacted their bodies, they have had adverse effects that were not warranted. It has also caused death in some cases. I am not denying that. But that’s what, I didn’t say this to my friend at the time. What gets my goat is these varying viewpoints because of some stuff we read on the Internet are doing more harm than good.

Cut to a few days later, the topic came up again, and my friend said that if the virus was so deadly there should have been bodies lying on the streets. This time, I found courage in my throat when I replied, “But there were. Did you not see?” Apparently, my friend did not. To see up-close how different realities are for people in this country, it made me realise if you’re getting your information from a particular source, you’re not going to believe anyone who says otherwise. Do you see how scary this is getting?

My friend who didn’t take the vaccine is not a bigot. My colleague who *might be a bigot* is not anti-Covid-vaccine. The Internet and social media doesn’t allow for this gradient to come across in a human way. It does not allow for conversation, vulnerability, and empathy. Who has time for that? That we are getting defined by a curated personality we craft on the Internet and choose our social circle as such is troubling. I’m sure none of this is news to you, dear reader, but it shook me to see it up close. It had me silenced. I realised that if you weren’t on Twitter during the Covid second wave, did you get to see up-close the way our country folk were systematically led to their deaths? If yes, why are you not wearing a mask and vaccinating after discussing with your doctor? If no, then we have a bigger problem on our hands as a society.

During my social media break, I also saw the movie Don’t Look Up (Netflix) and I found it to be utterly boring. Yeah, yeah, mirror to society and all that. I didn’t enjoy the movie. As a well-read person, I got the satire, but what can I say? It was a boring experience. When I returned to the realms of social media I see the movie being praised and now, my opinion, that I formed inside that black, offline, room reminds me that maybe, we are not even forming our own opinions anymore and borrowing them aplomb.

Strange times.

I am not here to contest the effectiveness of the vaccine or tell you that bigotry is bad (if you need telling, then why are you on my blog?) but I am here, finally wondering aloud, if this is how we are going to put each other in danger? If this is how we are going to let ourselves become islands? What if, the more we don’t sit across actual human beings, the more we will forget our own humanity? I have never been a fan of virtual lives but now, I am not a fan of it even more so. Tech billionaires promising us a metaverse is a sign of dystopian doom. There is a reason we are called a human race, we are human which comes from the Latin root ‘humus’ meaning Earth. The Earth is a living, pulsating being in itself, and we are of it, and of each other. Living out virtual lives in physical spaces is costing us more than we think.

At this point I can wax eloquent about how real human connections are made in the presence of each other, but it really wouldn’t make all that difference. Would it?

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