I have a hobby to collect different masks wherever I visit. In my last three decades of travel, I have built an impressive collection of masks that I sport behind my desk in the office and on the wall of my dining room at home. These masks are sourced from local markets and they depict the culture, history, tradition and beliefs. Many masks have stories behind them, some of them queer and rather scary.
Many well wishers told me not to display masks at office and home. “It’s not very auspicious” they whispered. But there may be some truth in their convictions. I remember a mask that I picked up in Suva in Fiji Islands. An old woman on a Sunday market sold me just for 5 USD. Her face was strange and so was the look of the wooden Mask. When I hung the Mask on the wall at my house, all of us experienced some uncomfortable feeling that was hard to explain. So, I removed the mask, packed and kept it in a suitcase.
The magical mask that entertained all of us was in the movie “The Mask” directed by Charles Russell in 1994. In this movie, Jim Carrey plays Stanley Ipkiss, a hapless bank clerk who finds a magical mask that transforms him into a mischievous troublemaker with superpowers. Carrey was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role. The movie showed possibility that masks can transform the person.
I spoke about this possibility to my Professor Friend. He didn’t say much. But then this was a sure sign that he was up to something secretive that he did not want to talk about. So, when I prodded more, he spoke briefly. He was rather reluctant.
“Well Dr Modak, we know that wearing of the masks can transform people. In fact, for the past several years, after the release of the movie “The Mask”, many of us have been researching this topic. Our team traveled to several countries, met with the tribes and tried to decipher the magical power of the masks. We even took with us linguists who could understand the dialects and do a conversation.
Professor lit cigar. He opened the drawer of his study table and pulled out an album and started showing me. The album was full of the pictures of all kind of masks, many of them I could recognize but there were several that I saw for the first time.
“In December 2019, our research finally understood on how to make masks that can have magical powers the way we desire. This was something Stanley Ipkiss in Mask the movie could do”
Professor stopped speaking. He looked outside the window.
“Dr Modak, We can now make a mask, that if you wear, it will make you a kind person with all the empathy. We can make a mask that if anyone wears will trigger innovations or great ideas. And although we don’t want to, but we can also make a mask that can make you a devil”
The entire transformation in the person takes place in just 5 minutes as you put the mask on. Once you remove the mask, you are back to what you were, in another 5 minutes.
This invention was shocking. Looked like with this capability my Professor Friend could change the world and the way we all live! We now have a way to control people behaviour, the way people think, the way they work.
Professor probably read my mind
“Dr Modak. You don’t realize the kind of opportunity we now have with this global pandemic of COVID-19”
His point was now clear to me.
Almost everybody in the world today is wearing masks to protect from the COVID-19 virus. In many countries, not wearing of a mask when you step out of your house is an offence that is punishable. So all need to wear and stock masks.
There is now a steep demand for masks and there has been a revolution in the market of masks as well. You now have all kinds of masks like normal, N-95, washable, cotton, cloth, paper, low plastic and biodegradable (?). There are different masks for doctors and health care workers. The fashion czars have come up with masks that are elegantly designed with attractive prints. There are even personalized masks. You also have masks that sport a “window” with a flap that you can open when you want to eat!
But Professors mask was going to be of a different kind.
“So, what will be the name of your “makeover” mask Professor? And will this be available in the market?” I couldn’t resist asking although I knew that Professor would evade by question.
Well, Dr Modak, our makeover mask has no name as of now. We have started a limited production right now in the State of Uttar Pradesh, where we have all the control as far as law and order is concerned. Different types of makeover masks will be produced, and field tested. Our team members will check whether the desired transformation happens in the person in just about 5 minutes and stays consistent throughout the time the person is wearing the mask. After the field tests are found to be satisfactory, we will start mass production and make such masks available in the market. We will keep the price of these masks cheaper compared to that of conventional masks, so people will buy. Taking advantage of COVID-19, we will simply transform the psyche, behavior and thinking of this billion people country. Since this pandemic is going to take a year at least, and that the masks are going to be part of the attire, the transformation in people will happen.
Professor was right. No one will ever realize the power behind the COVID-19 pandemic and leveraging that Professor was planning through his makeover mask. I said to myself.
But I had more questions.
“That’s quite a strategy Professor, but then what type of makeover masks will you first produce? Will you produce masks that will make and keep people happy or innovative? What’s going to be the priority?”
Professor listened to my outburst patiently.
“Now, I don’t want you to go around and tell Republic TV this inside information for the breaking news. So just listen and keep to yourself. Our plan is to make the first series of masks that will make people indifferent or less sensitive to the environment. As we are currently modifying the Environmental Impact Assessment notification to help in ease of doing business, we don’t want people to protest and ask questions regarding the environment. Due to this COVID-19 pandemic, we are considering development vs environment and not environment and development. Our makeover masks will play an important role and make people think more in our line of thinking”
As we were discussing, the news channel started showing speech of the Finance Minister (FM) announcing various packages to reboot the economy. The FM was wearing a mask while speaking, perhaps imbibing to the audience the importance of adhering to the requirement of wearing the mask.
The speech in the first 5 minutes went very well as the FM made major announcements regarding loan waivers, free ration, etc. highlighting how many crores of the poor people will be benefited and how the small and medium businesses will be assisted towards economic revival.
From the sixth minute onwards however, we saw a sea of change. We saw FM speaking very candidly on what was earlier said. It was a speech almost sounding like a confession or a U turn! The FM admitted that most of the packages that were announced were more of adjustments, nothing new and many pf the packages may not even reach to the target stakeholders as much of the fund will be lost in the leakages and also due to poor and corrupt administration. That was simply shocking, and we listened to FM in stoned silence wondering what went wrong.
I looked at the Professor as I saw him exasperated.
“Dr Modak, we had given FM two masks of two types – one for internal communication and other for external. The external communication mask if you wear, it transforms you to say smooth lies but if you wear the other i.e. the internal one then you become brutally frank and confess”
I think the FM picked up the wrong mask”
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