10 August 2020

The enduring 'maskism' of the human species


Masks. They are considered by some as markers of what is fashionably called ‘the new normal’ or ‘new normality’ as some would have it. It’s an add-on or rather a necessary appendage. A sign of the times, perhaps. Maybe it’s here for a long, long time and it’s something we have to come to terms with, like checkpoints, bag-checks, extra vigilance and suicide bombs not too long ago. Maybe a vaccine would be found and it would be affordable enough to allow us to discard masks. We don’t know.

Masks notwithstanding, it can be argued that the world hasn’t changed much. The terms of exploitation may have been changed but exploitation there is. People are still being insulted and humiliated, one way or another. The air quality got better only to get worse once restrictions were lifted. Illicit felling of trees, archaeological sites being vandalized, voters being taken for a ride and other things of the pre-Covid19 worlds haven’t changed much.

There were no masks then, but neither were things un-frilled and naked. Deceit there was. Hoodwinking there was. Rust, corrosion and other blemishes were 'sorted' with a coat of pain. Truth was varnished over by lie. Yes, there were masks; only, they weren’t called that.  

This is why a question asked 16 years ago and long before there was any inkling of a masked-world, calls out for repeat: ‘Is it preordained, is it sacred or tragic that moment when your mask replaces you forever?’

That which is convenient for the simple purpose of tiding over things becomes a permanent fixture. Exception becomes the rule. Mask replaces face.

Is it inevitable though? That would mean there’s something called ‘fate’ which is a notion I do not subscribe to simply because it would take away human agency and moreover justify all manner of injustice. Still, it seems a common enough phenomenon. Absolute effacement is possible and clearly happens often , but then there’s partial ‘masking’ too. Masks chip away at face. The right chisel at the right skin-point can alter much after all.

Those who lose face, however, are loath to acknowledge ‘masking.’ ‘What you see is what you get and moreover it is what there is!’ That’s often claimed. But are we who we say we are? Put more scarily, ‘are we who we think we are?’

There are all kinds of masks floating in the market these days, differently priced, differently bragged and obviously differently effective. They are out-masked so to speak by those name-less, brand-less, brag-free appendages that replace skin by accident or design, openly or surreptitiously, I feel.

The world is made of words. Labels. There’s naming and misnaming, the latter obviously deliberate. Masking is easy. Keeping face is tough. We are a species notorious for discontent. We are born alone and die alone but are intensely uncomfortable with our solitude. And so we try to fit in. We seek validation. If our skins impede, we go for masks. Maskism, then, is a dominant ideology. It’s the ultimate in cheating because it consciously affirms a lie, protects it jealously and allows that lie to replace the uncomfortable truth and most perniciously so in the minds of the owners of the face defaced.

We are told that the masks available in pharmacies and grocery stores are disposable. In fact we are advised to replace them frequently. It is good for the mask business but then, given the risks, that’s the last thing we should worry about. Face-replacing masks are also replaceable and they are replaced, although not as fast. Circumstances determine all that. Sometimes reinventing is expedient.

Where does the skin go after the cosmetic surgery is done, have we ever wondered? Who do we become when we cease to be who we were? Do we get back our original skins, ever, or is it returned to us in the form of a karmic balance sheet at the point of death? If that’s what it is, of what worth is a life that moves from one pantomime to another to another and yet another attended by costume-change and makeover? Is there a skin-cleanser that can peel away layers upon layers of self-deceit? And if there is, i.e. if we do recover the original, would we be duly humbled or shocked out of our skins?  

And a final question: do the mirrors before which we check ourselves out secretly perspire or weep at the sorry spectacles they are made to live with all their respective reflecting lives?

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   
Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten 
 Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds

Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays  
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry

Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer