Y O U T H – P A N D E M I C
Fahin Rahman Aungkita
Not so long ago, the word lockdown used to feel heavier. Words like social-distancing meant something crucial. People wouldn’t just shrug it off when one would remind them that Hey, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. But that’s many hangouts, beach waves, catkins, mustard field tours, and countless weddings adorned with fancy masks ago. It has perhaps been a while since the pandemic used to matter.
Covid-19 made a grand entry last year with the simplistic symptoms of common cold that gradually delved into showing the sufferer the pathway to deathbed in a matter of days. With lockdown measures in delayed order in our country, the youth was seen preaching to the millennials and Generation X to take necessary precautions and not to take the pandemic lightly. It was mere child’s play to contract the virus from outside and return home to give the gift of death to the entire family. The blood of their dearest loved ones may be in their hands because someone had to catch the sight at Sajek at the perfect time of the year, or because the BOGO offer at that pricey restaurant would wait for none, or because the mask absolutely had to be taken off for that perfectly instagrammable photo. Well, add a few months to the calendar after the beginning of the lockdown, and many just did not care about the pandemic anymore.
There was a time when the entire family waited for Dr. Meerjady Sabrina Flora to come live and announce the death toll every day. People lost faith in the statistics and test results but still kept track of the deaths, and dissed those that went outside for no valid reason at all. To limit harm to the economic activities of the country, lockdown measures were eased down afterwards. However, no sooner had the announcement broken than the narrative fallacy of the pandemic being over spilled out. And now, we are in times when the person wearing a mask, gloves, and face-shield outside is tagged a hypochondriac, and the one roaming around with nothing except for a single-layered printed mask gets to be the normal person.
After the initial wave of people recklessly adding to the plastic pollution by discarding one-time purpose surgical masks everyday, came the trend of using masks made of fabric options availing cotton, silk, satin, velvet, and those bedazzled with stones. While many may argue there is nothing wrong with making it a part of fashion; it cannot be denied that various businesses currently marketing fancy masks at high prices are monetising off of the pandemic; because along with masks, came an evolved range of accessories. To name a few, products in the market include mask chains, sanitiser necklaces, mask brackets, ear-savers, mask cases, fanny packs matched with masks, etc. A renowned jewellery page named 6 YARDS STORY has recently launched mask chains made of silver. On being asked whether keeping masks hanging openly like that exposes them to germs or not, the popular page answered, “Yeah, we usually lose our masks in less safe places and reuse them, don’t we? We think it’s better to let it hang on your neck rather than putting it on random surfaces.”
While it may be a good way to remember to wear masks when necessary, it is not the best advice for crowded places, especially in a populated country like ours. The excuse of choosing the lesser evil may be leading everyone closer to death and businesses to exploit in persistence.
All these products are primarily catered and advertised targeting the youth. The youngster looking for a pretty mask might as well buy a mask chain so as not to lose it; a mask case too, so that the hanging mask does not get exposed to germs; and a matching fanny pack to store them all together—falling victim to a benefit-reaping mechanism at the expense of life. However, before the youth shares the lion’s share of blames, it is only fair to ask: Why?
Why not just sit at home? Why use this time to become avid travellers? While restrictions on international travels persist, local travelling has seen a steady increase halfway into the lockdown. Being cooped up inside four walls fell hard on the mental health of many and travelling served as a much needed refreshment for some.
Shehzeen Seem (pseudonym), a Junior at an Australian university who arrived in Bangladesh before the pandemic but could not return due to border restrictions, told TDA, “I believe the youth is following the elders. It was hard to stop my family from going out initially. I left the house in anger and frustration at one point. Everyone’s mental health has been put to such tests that you can’t blame them if they are deciding to go out but being careless about it is a big problem.”
Furthermore, there is this perception that the pandemic resides in the cities only, insinuating that travelling outside the urban jungle would not be fatal. Even if the population is distributed over a larger area in the outskirts, there is a severe lack of awareness and testing facilities in addition to only diminished broadcast reaching there. And for many, it is about joining the hype. As the seasons changed, so did the trips; first came the trips to fields of catkins and rowing amidst water-lilies, then came the tours to St. Martin’s Island, Bandarban, Rangamati, and devouring hilsha at Mawa.
Even amidst the global hiatus, the world is moving ahead and more importantly, time is passing away, and many do not want to fall behind. Sitting at home in the years one aims to develop themselves is a price the youth has to pay by default. It isn’t about the hype for all, neither refreshment; but the thirst for some stimulus.
Muksetul Islam Alif, HR and Legal Aids intern at BRAC says, “The youth feels like utilising this time in something worthwhile. They realise that the free time they are getting from their education need not be wasted as they will never be getting time like this back ever again. Hence, there is a noticeable surge amongst the youth to hustle.”
Months and months of following CDC guidelines has proven to be too much for people. Similar to how different challenges came and went during the course of the pandemic, people put up with the hype for only so long, be it regarding a life-threatening virus.
Meredith Matson, a psychology professor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College explains, “People are getting tired of taking precautions, of caring about something for too long. It has been long; not long for Covid-19 to finish wiping lives away, but way too long for the youth to be walking at the same pace alongside.”
The youth strives to move ahead, to move on and forget the demons of what an ominously eventful year 2020 has been. As active and cautious before and as careless as the youth may have been afterwards, it is wrong to pin the blame on them entirely when everything other than them is walking in the same direction as well, especially without taking into account the factors that work for bringing the youth into the spotlight. What if the daily press conferences to discuss statistics hadn’t stopped? What if people could rely on the numbers and the tests? What if the authorities could have arranged enough funds to not drive economic activities into ruins? Would the youth be blamed still?
Nonetheless, the words lockdown, social-distancing, and pandemic still mean heaps, with or without the youth in question. Having claimed more than 2.3 million lives by now and counting, the pandemic needs no seeking attention anymore. Pretending that it is over and hoping to forget the pretence at some point is not going to leave anyone left for being pitied.
Fahin Rahman Aungkita solves crimes for the sake of studying. Discuss all that goes unnoticed with her cat Chandler and her at [email protected]