Artwork by Misha Farhana
My privilege allowed 2020 to be the year of silent reflections and observations for me. In the waning of the circadian daily routine, the quiet of lockdown gave me the time and mental space to recognize and ponder over things objectively, almost all of which transpired at a place where I spent most of my time during the pandemic: my home. Sometime around February last year, the government started requesting the public to wear face masks and my father had been the last person to take this seriously. Not only did he hesitate before donning a mask outdoors, but also refused to comply when my mother suggested that we don’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary. At first, his reluctance towards staying indoors seemed justified to us. After all, my father was a man who had spent his life dealing with matters of the outside world. He had grown up hearing that a woman’s place was inside the house while the man belonged outdoors. Although he did not subscribe to this idea so fervently, to him, being robbed of the outside still felt like being eviscerated of something he had grown up believing he was entitled to, something he had an implicit right on.
On the rare days when we did manage to convince him to stay indoors (often preceded by confrontations in which my mother would try to reason and dad declare that she was overreacting) my father would call up his friends to inform them of his absence. I remember the tone of defeat the echoed in his voice when he conveyed that he wasn’t going out due to the rising number of Corona cases. It was the same tone he had used years ago when he had to convey the news of his loss in the elections to his friends. This made me wonder why taking precautions filled my dad with shame, why a restriction on his mobility wrought a sense of failure; as if by being careful he had conceded defeat and highlighted his own powerlessness. It was only after the government had announced a nationwide lockdown that he arrived at terms with the ‘new normal’ and began to adjust to a life within the four walls.
Today, when I look back and try to imagine the streets in the days after the lockdown was lifted, it isn’t hard for me to descry that the demographic that stopped wearing masks almost instantly comprised mainly of men. It seemed as if the virus had not only challenged their health but also their egos and the importance of protecting their egos had outweighed everything else. Even in the face of a global pandemic, the male ego had refused to budge. After beholding this, it didn’t seem surprising at all that men could go to extremes to safeguard their ego and fragile masculinity. The patriarchal society that we live in induces a sense of shame, failure and the feeling of not being ‘man enough’ in men whenever they agree to compromise, cave in, or admit their weaknesses. Taking precautions translated to being afraid. It made a dent in their inflated self-perception and this was more than evident in my father’s initial response to the emerging restrictions in his lifestyle. For the first time in his life, it wasn’t just women who had to steer clear of the streets for their safety, but also men. This realization helped me to understand why my dad, who had been immensely understanding and compassionate throughout my life found himself disregarding and neglecting the precautions he was being asked to take for his wellbeing as well as ours. It made me reflect on how deep-rooted patriarchy really is and how detrimental it is for not only individuals but entire families.
In a country where women are murdered by their kin because they offend the patriarchs of their family by daring to make their own decisions and attacked with acid if they upset a man by rejecting his proposal, the pertinacity of the male ego no longer astounds me. However, it does make me wonder whether the male ego can ever yield, whether it will ever willingly step back for the collective good of everyone if it doesn’t surrender even in the face of the end of the world.
Hello! I am Zainab Wahab. I am a 20 year old from Delhi who likes to bake, read and pride herself on being a bad poet. I enjoy visiting new places and despite having parents who do not allow me to go anywhere all by myself, I love and yearn to travel alone. Currently, I’m pursuing a degree in English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
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