Face masks have spared us the trouble of taking to and greeting every known face we meet. But is it worth the lack of communication from our end?
Last week when I went grocery shopping, I almost picked a fight with the vegetable vendor. He was asking Tk90 for a kilo of eggplants!
I frowned at him and muttered something not-so-friendly with an almost non-existing voice. I knew that I would regret immediately but then I realised that I am wearing a face mask. But I did not bargain as this was his livelihood for his pandemic-struck family.
I bought half a kilo of eggplant and paid him Tk45. On my way back home I thought maybe we are enjoying the "perks of having a face mask".
But later that night I was thinking - is it really the case? Because trust me, I am going through a lot of trouble with my communication skills because of the face mask lately.
Generally, when I meet someone or come across someone I know, I communicate instantly with a big smile. Then as we started to communicate from a distance, my hand gestures, nodding, and eye movement spoke more than words.
But as we are going through a pandemic, we have to wear masks, gloves, and face shields to protect ourselves from Covid-19. Additionally, we are supposed to maintain physical distance from each other.
Now when we meet someone, we cannot see the smile on their faces or eye movements from three feet apart - putting us in a crisis of non-verbal gestures.
So, how should we deal with this crisis? We simply cannot have those yellow emojis on our faces to express our emotions, right?
Sometimes I think to myself - Am I the only one stuck in this not-so-divine-comedy setup?
And that sleepless night, I tried to find a solution to this crisis. Hence, I did exactly what a wise millennial should do. I googled. And Google told me to use my eyes to look for eye movements and signals.
Well, I am half-blind with myopic eyes of five diopters. Understanding the eye language might have been the superpower of late Dhallywood superstar Razzak; he could read it through telephone back in 1990s.
I may belong to the 21st century but unfortunately, I lack that power. So, that idea didn't work.
The next day I went for the classic, old school way. I called my teacher Dr Giti Ara Nasreen, a professor of the department of Mass Communication and Journalism at the University of Dhaka.
She said, "Communication is not something that you can prescribe, suggest or impose with any code of conduct. It is the people who will decide their own style of communication."
"You cannot predefine how people will communicate. As an academician, I can only observe for now and then examine or explain the situation. We are not supposed to give a prescription, right?" she added.
What do I do now? The coronavirus pandemic has offered me, just like it did to others, a lot of idle time. And finally, I made proper use of it.
I created a survey to run on Facebook with 50 people from my friend list on the basis of their profession, gender, age, and whether I like them or not.
I asked questions such as "What kind of safety gears do you wear?", "Do you face difficulties while communicating?", "If you do, how do you cope?", and more.
The respondents were aged between 22 and 40. Starting from doctors, teachers, journalists, engineers to police officers, government officers, I tried to select respondents from the popular professions.
The results were very interesting. About 90 percent of them replied that they are facing communication problems while wearing a mask. They are irritated as well. Finally, I felt I was not alone in this claustrophobic condition.
So how do they communicate? 70 percent of them said that they speak in a louder voice accompanied with hand gestures and sign languages. 15 percent tend to unmask when they have to say something and the remainder 5 percent talk less nowadays.
As I'm getting used to the face mask nowadays, I have noticed that I employ all the above mentioned methods to talk to people. And I must say, I have started to find some of its "perks" as well.
Nowadays my random soliloquies are invisible to the people, saving me from strange looks. I do not have to show the much needed artificial gratitude to my former army officer neighbour these days.
I do not have to talk unnecessarily. Maybe we have started to talk to ourselves, maybe we are communicating with ourselves now, and maybe, we are venturing on that much needed inner journey.