When wearing a mask is inevitable, all we can do is make the most of it. And that’s exactly what many among us have been doing in our different ways. For political activists, masks come in handy as they go about discharging their day-to-day responsibilities, viz., roughing up citizens who dare to ‘like’ a social media post which they themselves don’t like. In the bad old days, they had to disguise themselves by wrapping their faces in turbans before getting into the act. Masks are such a labour saving device!
Now, a Shashi Tharoor may describe a mask as a sartorial accoutrement to impede the ingress of viral organisms, and preserve a salubrious state of being. But you and I will say, tsk – a mask is a mask is a mask. But we are wrong, and Mr. Tharoor is right. If there’s a new normal, masks are its status symbol. The old ways of flaunting your wealth and place in society don’t work anymore. There’s no point dunking yourself in J’adore or Paco Rabanne if there’s nobody around within sniffing distance of those expensive odours. Also, what’s the use of getting yourself a Lamborghini if it’s going to sit under your stilt parking all day long?
Enter, the high fashion mask—the kind that you can depend upon in these Covid times to trigger thy neighbour’s envy. Major cosmetic manufacturers are graduating from mascara to masks and, as we speak, are coming out with their winter collection. Louis Vuitton has introduced an haute couture range of photochromatic face shields, designed to get everyone’s attention and make them go ‘oooh’. The only thing is that the oohing and aahing comes at a price. The price tag on these products is such that I am calculating whether the friends I will win and the influence I can wield with those exotic face covers are worth the money.
Let’s say then that you settle for a plain cotton mask that is just a grade above the good old gamcha. It may look like a piece of cloth, but to the advertising eye, this could be a platform for strategic product promotion. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a mask is worth a thousand slogans. Imagine seeing ‘Amul Doodh Peeta Hai India’ straddling the mouth of a toddler. Or better still, it could be the way for Chanel to promote lipstick that doesn’t leave a tell-tale trail. You can’t get more strategic positioning! The CSR wing of a leading IT company in India has already come out with masks featuring Warli Art—it does a lot for your face value.
Bollywood is of course one of the mass consumers of masks, for our stars need to be different people at different times. There is one mask that actors and actresses wear when the klieg lights come on, another when they are being interviewed by a fawning media and yet another when they go off on those deep inner journeys to find ecstasy or escape. As we now know, the practice is rampant—hero and heroin (oops, heroine) and the producer to boot. Tollywood and Kollywood, I am sure, are going to find material here for a story. And before long, Kerala will continue its long tradition of mixing social commentary with comedy and come up with a rib-tickling satire titled ‘The Three Masketeers’!
For a country used to cover-ups, everyone should have taken to masks without a second thought. Yet there are still people who choose not to wear them or wear it half-mast below the chin. Such disregard for public safety and the rules of the game demands a stern reprimand best expressed in vintage Bambaiya– ‘ Yeh kya ho raha hai - mask hai ya maskari?’