In the early days, I kept myself entertained on the London tube by reading a book. Later by watching people and guessing what they were up to when they were not in a tube. Now I count the number of people around me and figure out what percentage of them wear masks. As an example of useless activity this will take a lot of beating.

The locals are highly embarrassed both about speaking about as well as being told about masks (called affectionately, ‘face coverings’). I read the following on a bus journey: "Ahem, could you please er, that is to say, would you mind awfully if you ah kind of remembered not to forget to wear your face covering throughout most of your journey if you possibly could, ensuring at all times that you do not actually upset the others in the bus by doing so, and in any case even if you don’t wear a mask there’s precious little we can do about it; we are toying with the idea of sending you to stand in a corner for five minutes as punishment…"

I exaggerate, of course. But I think I’ve got the spirit of the instructions: gentle, apologetic, spoken on behalf of those like me who they suspect wear masks to bed and brush their teeth through masks.

All this is so different from parts of the world which say without fanfare: "Wear a mask or be prepared to be shot at dawn." I exaggerate again, but between these two extremes of not hurting feelings and trampling all over them, there must be a way of getting the message across.

I admit that in the recent past, I have become a mask bore. In enclosed spaces, if every single person isn’t wearing one, I break out into hives, my ears start to wiggle and my eyes water. In the great outdoors, ditto. I blame the pandemic (you can blame the pandemic for most things) for converting a peace-loving, non-violent person (ie. me) into an aggressive mask-fancier on the verge of violence.

After months of not leaving my room at home in India, I have come to London as therapy to be able to ignore masks, stop talking about them and see how the other half lives without them. Things are beginning to look up. Last week I walked around with the mask hanging below my nose. Yesterday it was dangling from my ear. By the end of the week I hope to remove it altogether and do in Rome as the Romans do.

But with my luck, I will probably be arrested on a bus with the gentle message and then taken out and shot at dawn.

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