There is existentialism, and there is existentialism
Pandemic, lockdowns, hours and hours of solitude, and existential questions. One would assume that the most pressing debates of the time would be lives versus livelihoods, or how to maintain social distance and rituals in places of work and worship. It is so, but amongst academics, politicians, scientists, businessmen, medical professionals and social workers.
However, please be aware that for others there are far more important issues to discuss regarding lockdowns and the spread of Covid 19, especially on and about social media. Firstly, does a woman have to take her husband’s permission to briefly leave the house to run errands; secondly, is it morally reprehensible to indulge in food porn, and thirdly, should the left hand know what the right hand is doing -- as in should charitable gestures remain undisclosed?
First, a woman is independent when she is married, which means she can yell at the servants, display suffering in dawats amongst other bhabis in segregated gatherings, and own a passport and an NID, which should be kept in the safe hands of some random person in her husband’s office. For those of you who do not know, one requires an office to run a household in Dhaka.
Thanks to the Coronavirus, offices have been abandoned in favour of Zoom calls and Microsoft something, and husbands are having meetings galore just as before, but from specified corners of their residences as opposed to being missing in corporate action.
Therefore, with 24/7 hubby presence, wives can now take great pleasure in advertising how possessive their spouses are, so instead of uttering the husband’s name in every second sentence, it is now uttered after every third word. Hallelujah.
So when wifey feels stifled and has to step out and uses the excuse of errands, it is no matter that the husband might be delighted to have a few moments to himself.
Social norms dictate that his "permission" has to be solicited and granted, because he will be so overwhelmingly concerned should she fall ill, (not that he might get the virus from her) that the shock will render him unable to speak, eat, or move for days.
To save him from this dastardly experience, wifey feels the urge to tell each and every person she encounters masked et al, that she is out with her husband’s full knowledge and authorization, and intends to rush home as soon as possible.
Second, what are the ethics regarding food pictures on social media during the pandemic? For the record, I am indifferent and an infrequent cook, but nonetheless should like to explore the matter. Research (if you can call second + third hand social media biased updates that) indicates there are seven types of responders.
One, the nayers, who believe that when hunger is a national issue, it is inappropriate. Two, the constructivists, who are using the time wisely to hone their culinary skills. Three, the passionate cooks, who are delighted to have the family around 24/7 to try new recipes and to create savoury and sweet delights. Four, the do-gooders, who can show they are being good mothers, wives and daughters-in-law by taking charge of the kitchen. Five, the reactivists, who are using food preparation as a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety. Six, the salivating voyeurs who just quietly look through each and every photo, feel hungry, then binge. Seven, people like me who just want to know what comments people have made for and against.
Me? My question is why are we so judgemental? Let us help ourselves, help others, and hope and pray this crisis ends soon. And since I have brought up helping others, one of the raging debates is of course this -- should charity be publicized. Well, should all the five pillars require disclosure or not? If we pray in jamaat, verbally announce our intentions for Hajj, break the fast in social groups, declare our faith in front of witnesses, why then should zakat be in secret?
Charities are legally registered entities and have to account for their donations and expenses, and in this day where visual culture dominates, photographs are taken as records of giving. And if these photographs are shared, they often inspire others, or let it be known how much is being given where, so present and future donors can realise or conceive how cash and kind can be put to most effective use.
Once again, I feel we are being far too judgemental in this age of contagion. Maybe our minds can be put to better use to finding solutions to all the novel problems created by this novel virus. Let us fight Covid, not each other.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveler, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.