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The most important thing to bear in mind when buying a mask is your purpose

We are now living in the golden age of masks. Everyone is wearing masks. In pre-modern times, only the elites did. The French aristocracy, for instance, used to have masked balls. In Italy, rich people used to have orgies where everyone wore masks. There is a film called Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick where Tom Cruise goes to an orgy wearing a mask, and almost gets killed because his mask was not covering his nose a common failing among Indian mask-wearers.
Personally, I have never attended an orgy, with or without a mask. I would also recommend against attending one, given that interpersonal, multi-player interactions of this kind are not part of Indian culture. We are, after all, a conservative society whose population has come to current levels purely by floral pollination.
Knowing it
But a society tends to have all kinds of elements. I know there are people out there who put other people at risk by refusing to wear a mask or wearing the wrong mask at the right place. Such mistakes can prove fatal in an orgy, as Tom Cruise discovers in Eyes Wide Shut. This is why it is important to know the dos and donts of masks.
The first thing to remember, if youre planning on attending an interpersonal, multi-player floral pollination this New Years eve, is that they dont accept the kind of masks used by decent, family-wala people like me. For instance, if you live in Delhi, where the Air Quality Index right now is 997, chances are youre using an N-95 respirator mask. This is not a bad mask it offers 95% protection. But orgies wont accept N-95 masks. The reason: they already have air purifiers in every room.
Ditto for surgical masks. Yes, its true that in Eyes Wide Shut, Tom Cruise is a doctor and even performs a medical procedure on the sidelines of an orgy. But let me ask you: do you ever see him in a surgical mask? No. Surgical masks are okay for the operation theatre but not for other kinds of theatre where, typically, more artistic masks are preferred.
Destination Venice
If you want a mask exactly like the one Tom Cruise was wearing, I must inform you that they are only available at Kartaruga Mascheraio, the Venetian atelier. They are located at Calle Paradiso, near the Rialto bridge, and are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. If you cant be bothered to fly to Venice, you can order one online.
But before you do, remember: The mask should be appropriate for your personality. If you are a bhakt, for instance, then go for a traditional Modi mask. It might look very basic, but it offers more protection against more risks than the worlds most advanced medical masks. Even a multi-layer, multi-fabric, neem-coated N-95 can only protect you from contracting respiratory illnesses. It wont protect you from the lethal risks posed by diseases such as free speech and dissent, which have a high case fatality rate in India.
Stock up
So, even if youre not a bhakt, in case you happen to live in a country with too much democracy, I would advise you to stock up on Modi masks.
Besides personality, another factor is the shape of your face. If you have a short nose, for instance, no one can stop you from wearing a Plague Doctor Venetian Long Nose Mask. Of course, Id think twice before picking a Plague Doctor mask during a pandemic. But if you are a habitual liar with a tiny nose that makes you feel inadequate, then go for a Latex Long Nose Beak Bird Mask. This is an excellent all-rounder mask that can also be worn in crowded places other than an orgy.
For instance, you could wear the Bird Beak Mask to a protest, or a prison, which is where you will end up if you do go to a protest. While the long beak will automatically enforce social distancing, the soft lenses this mask comes with transparent, bird eye-like lenses for the eyes will ensure your glasses dont steam up.
The balaclava
The last but most important thing to bear in mind when buying a mask is your purpose. Lets say you have no intention of attending an orgy, and only wish to rob a bank. Then I would suggest the perennial favourite of bank robbers: the balaclava. Some bank robbers prefer home-made bandannas as they would be non-traceable for law enforcement. But I wouldnt advise them unless youre robbing a bank while being Covid-positive, in which case a home-made cloth mask would definitely protect your associates from catching the infection when youre travelling together in the getaway van. But many Indian banks are sick so do check their financial health before making plans.
If you are neither an orgy enthusiast nor a bank robber and need a mask solely for protection against coronavirus, my advice to you is simple: stay home, wait for vaccine, and stop reading about orgies.
G. Sampath is Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu.
sampath.g@thehindu.co.in