Millennials in the coronavirus times: Beyond Netflix and chill, we have a larger duty towards those who are more at risk than ourselves

Millennials have become unique amid the coronavirus outbreak by being both potentially safe from humanity's excesses and unwitting agents of its distress. Their prerogative must be to be at the forefront of an unprecedented battle, whether it is against misinformation, leisurely reflection or surrender to the invisible dangers that surround us

Manik Sharma March 30, 2020 10:43:22 IST
Millennials in the coronavirus times: Beyond Netflix and chill, we have a larger duty towards those who are more at risk than ourselves

Before the Indian government rolled-out a gently requested ‘social distancing’ drill of mammoth proportions, millennials on my social media timelines were already sharing their plans for the days ahead with enthusiastic anticipation. ‘Netflix and chill’ most declared, while some looked forward to activities of a more lethargic nature. Social media is, of course, an imprecise indicator of anything substantial, but even my colleagues, most of them 20-somethings, have ecstatically shared photographs of piles of crisps they have stocked up on, for days and nights of rigorous personal entertainment.

There is a real awareness that there won’t be a bigger generational moment than the crisis posed by COVID-19 , the killer virus that has brought the world to a standstill. Rather than retreat to our rooms and live in the comfort of 'boomer' guardians fending for everyone, it is the time for millennials to step up to the front lines of this war, and become its soldiers.

Despite the grim reality that mathematics- and statistically-driven social measures are all we have against this virus as of now, there is some wisdom that can be drawn from the numbers as well: The mortality rate for infected people aged between 20 and 35 is a paltry 0.4 percent compared to the 4.6 percent for those between 60 and 69, and 8 percent for those between 70 and 79. Though millennials aren’t invincible, it is but mathematical fact that the young are significantly less at risk as compared to the elderly or those with severe underlying conditions. And while millennials are exempt from worrying too deeply about their own mortality in these times, they can still be carriers, ie people who carry the infection and infect those most vulnerable. In a nutshell, we are walking bombs — strangely, absurdly immune to its catastrophic design and consequent outcomes.

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Representational image. PTI

In a sense, we are as bodily empowered as we are socially dangerous at the moment. It is, if I may draw a crass comic book analogy, a bit like being Rogue — the immortal, life-sucking mutant from the X-Men comics, who considers her powers to be a curse. Everyone she touches with her bare hands loses their health, energy, immunity, and subsequently, life. We’re not mutants, but considering just how radically the tables have turned in the human ecosystem, we have become unique by being both potentially safe from the outbreak yet unwitting agents of its distress. That is, of course, a deduction based on circumstances today. Two months down the line, the narrative may mutate into something else. Unlike Rogue, who persistently broods over the melancholic nature of her gift, we can at least make the most of one side of this dual hand we have been dealt by fate.

Indian families are led, for better or for worse, by the elderly. Theirs is both the responsibility and honour. But while we taunt 'boomers' for their inability to come to terms with the seriousness of the current crisis, in particular the risks it poses them, we must also confront the flipside: If the elderly can no longer function, can no longer perform essential chores that homes cannot be run without, who must replace them? The answer is people who are the least susceptible. That of course doesn’t imply that we don’t take precautions as prescribed, or endanger others.

Not just family, this must also become the case on a community level. I was elated to see posts on my housing society’s social media page, where people are volunteering to get groceries/medicines for elders living alone, left to fend for themselves. India’s first and second generation are neither technologically suave enough to get essentials delivered home, nor vigilant enough to stay updated about the gravity of the crisis on an hourly basis. They still get their news a day late, in the newspapers.

Educating and informing the elderly about the magnitude of the situation is of course going to be important. But replacing them in tasks that are simply unavoidable is more imperative. It may sound like putting yourself on the line, the proverbial sacrifice, but this is far from being an ordinary generational moment. Let it not be defined by our animated rejection of how uninformed the ones we care for are. If your parent has a business, take over its running, at least where there is obligatory physical contact. If someone’s needs need to be taken care of, step up. It’s time to, as they say, walk the talk.

The world will naturally resort to humour to tackle what is also a mental health crisis at the moment. To the elderly who are repeatedly being told ‘You’re likely to die’, there needs to be a steady supply of assurance and warmth. We need not wait for their hands to shake to hold them (after washing and sanitising our own), so to speak. India’s first and second generation can be expected to conceal whatever vulnerability they may feel at this time, because that is how, culturally, we like to present ourselves. But today, it must be the prerogative of the young to be at the forefront of an unprecedented battle, whether it is against misinformation, leisurely reflection or surrender to the invisible dangers that surround us. More than what we do, it might come down to what we don't that will define this generation’s response to a reckoning like no other.

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