By Dr. Aathira Ravindranath, Paediatric Gastroenterologist, Apollo BGS Hospitals, Mysuru
Donning a mask has become a way of life. As the sun rays make columns of light through my window I await for the cheerful smile of my milkmaid. I see the wrinkling eyes above her white mask and assume it is the morning greeting. The newspaper gets flung across my gate by gloved hands and I get a glimpse of another mask — this one was thick and dark.
I wonder whether the milkmaid and the newspaper boy matched their masks with the milk and the newsprint! After a hurried glance through the worrying Corona statistics printed in bold, I get ready to go to the hospital. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about the colour of my lipstick now.
I drive through empty roads manned by Policemen wearing monotonous khakis and bright blue masks. I get stopped and when I declare that I am a doctor, a humble Constable asks me if I can give him a spare mask. That was when I noticed his dirty mask which had been reused multiple times begging to be discarded. I also noticed his weary eyes and tanned forehead. I sheepishly promised to get one from the hospital the next time.
At the hospital gate, I am let inside after the guard checks my car number. I forgot that my car has a better identity than my masked face. I meet expressionless doctors, nurses and patients. We fail to recognise each other in scrub suits and masks. But the good change is that we end up wishing everybody — friend or foe. A strange equality has crept among us that is both comforting and thwarting at the same time.
I secretly thank the rectangular pieces hung over our faces because I can now ‘not see’ the agony of the father whose son is in the ICU. The pain that I had to hide behind my face can now be freed because the mask is my new skin. However, the little girl who walks into my OPD with a flowery home-made cloth mask demands to get my mask removed for her to see who I am! Her mother wore the mask like a frill around her chin and I grin confidently under the secure cover that mine provided.
Balancing between recognition and concealment, my eyes and voice overwork. The corner of my eye spots the flask with cold and orphaned tea. I did not want to part with my precious mask for tea.
I still remember the day when I wore a mask for the first time in my Medical College, I felt breathless, the smell of the mask stifled me, I periodically pulled it down to take deep breaths to seemingly replenish my oxygen starved lungs. Today, I breathe beneath it as if I am inhaling the petrichor and I enjoy the personal space that the mask provides between me and the world.
However, the passivity of breathing gets challenged when my glasses get fogged with every exhalation. Through those hazy glasses I can now clearly behold the ephemeral life bestowed upon us and I really hope that the mask does not allow uninvited invisible guests. It is my trusted friend who hides the imperfections of my face and my vulnerable countenance. Like the freedom of staring at others under your dark goggles, the mask allows me to smile and sulk as I want. It reminds me that what I am to me matters more than edited pictures for display. I am still me sans the face. When I get back home my toddler hesitates to open the door after peeping through the window and her quizzical look plants a seed of doubt in me. As soon as I call out her name I catch the gleam of recognition in her eyes and she welcomes me. And that reiterates that I am still me sans the face. With every mask that I discard at dusk I hope I have moulted the divisiveness among us and unmasked humanity.