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Our masked identities: Cartoons of India’s new normal

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Cartoonist Priya Kuriyan has drawn a series of pictures showing how masks became the new normal across India – even before a stringent lockdown was put in place on 25 March.

Ms Kuriyan says her art was inspired by her neighbours, as well as people she saw at the airport when she took a flight from the southern city of Bangalore to visit her friend in the eastern city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

This was before masks were made mandatory and flights grounded. However, the threat of Covid-19 had just begun to emerge so some people had already begun wearing face coverings as protection.

“At that point, we had no idea of the disarray the next few months would bring,” she says.

Her cartoons are humorous snapshots of people, trying to live their normal lives amid the backdrop of the looming pandemic – like the honeymooning couple in the first picture, who Ms Kuriyan says seemed “determined to get their honeymoon to a flying start”.

The next image – of “Batman” landing at the Kolkata airport was during a time she says that bats were being discussed in great detail within the context of the coronavirus’ origins.

“Information about bats were just flying around,” she says.

The next cartoon is inspired by a scene Ms Kuriyan witnessed at the Bangalore airport.

At the baggage claim belt, a group of sales girls were returning from an offsite trip, in identical sarees and masks.

“Something had clearly gone viral,” says Ms Kuriyan.

But the masks were not only being restricted to airports. People had started wearing them every time they left their homes.

“Back in my home in Bangalore, the only people to be spotted were those from my neighbourhood who I saw during my fortnightly visits to the grocers – many of them wearing some form of homemade mask,” she says.

But there was some creativity to be had as well.

In Kolkata, these young men seemed to be the only ones with some premonition of the chaos that was to come – and they accessorised accordingly.

But mask or no mask, some habits die hard.

Like for instance, this group of people who were still posing – and smiling – for the mandatory “airport selfie”.

The idea of social distancing is also one that is hard to stomach for many Indians, and Ms Kuriyan says she saw many examples of “social distancing fail”.

“On other days of social isolation, spying out from my kitchen window, to the street across my apartment, I was witness to some social distancing fail. It was a metaphor of how ironic the idea of social distancing was in a country where not even the real estate on a scooter is spared,” she says.

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