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We must fauci, and ensure that friends do so too

I woke up today thinking I hadn’t met a stranger in nearly a year and a half. I have missed friends too, but you can always catch up with friends. With strangers that’s impossible. The stranger you see today is not the stranger you see tomorrow.

The last friend I met was at a private dinner. We were a small group in the year 1 BC (Before Covid), unaware that our freedoms would be hacked away. I can’t remember who the last stranger I met was. Perhaps it was the guy at the bookstore who asked my opinion of that “marvellous writer J.K. Rowling and his books.”

My opinion was, of course, that J.K. Rowling was a woman unless he was talking about a different Rowling who was famous for not writing the Harry Potter novels. But I didn’t tell him that, merely smiled vaguely in his direction and move on.

With friends it is different. “Do come over,” I invited an old schoolmate for dinner, leaving the date to be filled in later. And then we spoke of books and movies, cabbages and kings. I then asked him, “By the way, have you been vaccinated yet?”

“I don’t believe in vaccines,” he said in the kind of tone he presumably uses when declaring he believes in ghosts or unicorns. It was a phone call, but I could sense the atmosphere thicken with a foreboding. There goes another friend, I said to myself. You can come, I told him, but you will have to bring your own food and have it outside in the garden, away from the house. You can’t say that to a stranger.

How many more unvaccinated friends am I likely to lose?

There are no strangers, wrote the poet W.B. Yeats, only friends you haven’t yet met. But I am beginning to think there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t offended yet.

Reading signs is what we do these days. Did it rain on Tuesday? Then it probably means Covid is ready to leave us. Did Federer win his opening round at Wimbledon? Then it probably means Covid is ready to leave us. Have we begun talking about Covid leaving us? Then it probably means Covid is ready to leave us. We cling to hope like barnacles on the side of a ship.

In our less rational moments (which is most of the time), we ask whoever arranges these things to send us a sign. When nothing happens, we imagine signs ourselves and interpret them with the confidence of Greek scholars interpreting ancient texts.

In our more rational moments we fauci (a common word meaning “act sensibly”, from the American immunologist Anthony Fauci), and we tell our friends and relatives to fauci too.

Some friends tell me they have gone through the five stages of grief and are now in the sixth which involves partying recklessly. You can fauci all you want, they mock me, as they add to my list of friends-turned-strangers.

(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu)


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Printable version | Sep 29, 2021 8:21:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/we-must-fauci-and-ensure-that-friends-do-so-too/article35114699.ece

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