UNLIKE some others I know, WhatsApp is the last thing I check first thing in the morning.

If this sounds like a conundrum, that’s because it is.

Most people I know grab their mobile phones, bleary-eyed and start scrolling through the stream of messages that have filled their inbox while they slept: catching up is clearly more critical than the morning ablutions.

And yet, I resist this temptation because the residents’ group that I am a part of (among the very few WhatsApp groups I’ve opted in for) is invariably filled with rants by neighbours about barking dogs, late-night parties, garbage and the like… not quite what one wants to be greeted with even before one has left a warm bed.

Food to dogs - It’s time to be kind… again

A year ago, however, it wasn’t like this: when 2020 locked us in, it opened a valve within that flowed with compassion. Everyone was sweet and kind and helpful: strangers came forward to offer the Covid-afflicted food, companionship, advice and even run errands for them. It was a period when we turned human again. But, like all good things, this, too, wouldn’t last and the bubble burst when the world reopened.

The masks came off – literally and figuratively. As did the gloves. And we went back to being our petty, selfish, squabbling selves.

I say this not out of malice, but simply because it is true, as two instances will prove.

Delhi NCR, where I now live, is considered India’s pollution capital. And while AQI readings are habitually quoted with the onset of winter, farm fires in neighbouring Punjab and the fields of Haryana are blamed for the smog that sits upon us (remember, we were wearing N95 masks long before the rest of the world discovered them).

Knee-jerk reactions by pass-the-buck politicians include the random shutting of schools and an odd-even enforcement in which vehicular traffic is supposedly halved. In doing so, our lawmakers miss the wood for the trees: collective amnesia and blindness set in as they ignore the mounds of dust from the rubble and unpaved roads that line Gurgaon. They even turn a deaf ear to the steady roar of diesel generators necessitated by the abject lack of uninterrupted electricity for the factories and offices that make Delhi’s suburbs such prime locations.

And so, they ban firecrackers during Diwali but quietly permit them during weddings. Hypocrisy is the default mode here.

At the same time, the very same people who were paranoid in 2020 are wandering around with their masks covering their chins: perhaps they have orifices there that may allow the virus free entry! One wonders whether they are even vaccinated but you can question their misplaced bravery.

This abject level of apathy is the real malaise that afflicts India: a callous attitude in which “I, me and myself come first and everyone can else can go take a hike” is the norm. Forget the so-called new normal, this is – and has been – the normal.

Masks on chin - It’s time to be kind… again

So, when experts assure us there will be no Third Wave, it makes me shudder. It means that we will soon return to work, having shed our courtesies, and will make life impossible for others: already, one is jammed into elevators with boorish unmasked Covidiots… imagine having to share a conference room with them.

Perhaps we need another reset: a return to the age of compassion, of giving without asking for anything in return.

The question is: will it take Omicron to do this? Or will we find the moral courage to do it ourselves?

Time, as always, will tell. Until then, stay safe… and sane.

Mask up, be kind and give.

Above all, don’t be a dolt because Omicron is an anagram of Moronic.

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