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Are Boomers leading the coronavirus denial brigade?

Boomers are emerging as the most lectured to demographic, at least with the Covid-19 pandemic in play. Some of them are certainly leading the denial brigade.

Photo: Getty images
Photo: Getty images

At the outset, I want to say that my parents have now calmed down.

Last Sunday, however, not only did they attend a child’s birthday party in Mumbai (who are these people throwing birthday parties!) but also a dinner party. The latter was a consolation party to make up for the fact that the annual performance of a music and dance school they patronize had to cancel its function because of, you know, the ongoing global health crisis.

“Do you see the irony here?" I texted at midnight, feeling very anxious. “NO MORE PARTIES!"

“Thank you thakuma," my father replied. That’s Bengali for grandmother.

I thought my otherwise reasonable parents were going through something peculiar till I realized I wasn’t alone. A host of articles I read indicated a global trend, even as World Health Organization (WHO) reports clearly indicate that those above 60 are at high risk of contracting the new coronavirus. In “Convincing Boomer Parents to Take the Coronavirus Seriously", The New Yorker’s Michael Schulman writes that his parents went for a “fun dinner", were continuing to go to work, and planning a trip to Florida (until last weekend, mine were pretty keen on a trip to New York in May). Schulman’s mother’s response to his frantic inquiries was, “Thanks mom."

For every data story or ominous headline I send my mother, she sends me forwards titled on the lines of “How About Some Good News". British economist Jim O’Neill’s comment saying “thank god this didn’t start in India" too sprouted a host of messages about India’s effective action. Well, one of these actions is that on Thursday, the Union government urged all states to issue appropriate directions to advise citizens above 65 years to stay at home.

My parents are 64 and 72, neither is retired, both are Boomers. Boomers were a specifically American demographic: those born between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s. But ever since the millennial barb “OK Boomer" entered the global lexicon, it’s fair play to say Boomers are everywhere. Who is a Boomer? Aged between 56-74, Indian Boomers are typically seen lecturing the young—reduce stress, have babies earlier, don’t give up dairy, invest in real estate. Except that the tables have turned and they are now emerging as the most lectured to demographic, at least with the pandemic in play.

Earlier this week, Ishaan Tharoor, foreign affairs writer with The Washington Post, tweeted about his struggles with “a lackadaisical boomer". He was referring to his father Shashi Tharoor insisting on going to Parliament with hordes of other people pressed together in close quarters. Some Boomers are certainly leading the denial brigade. This is problematic because this is the generation that most school principals, managing directors of large corporations and senior public health officials belong to. Everything is an “overreaction", “an excuse not to work", young people just need to “relax and be positive" and “all this panic is just not warranted".

Cristina Kiran Piotti, a journalist from Milan—see Diary Of A Milanese Girl Under Lockdown —told me that when the Italian government first suggested people stay at home, “teenagers and Boomers were uncontrollable, refusing to pause their daily espresso or restaurant stops". The government had stalled all legal and fiscal operations but senior citizens were going to the post office under the guise of work to socialize. Now, when the country is under forced lockdown, “they are still the most resentful", she says. In Italy, around 23% of the population is above 65 and non-compliance can have catastrophic consequences. “Yet, mamma mia, they are so undisciplined. These days it’s easier to find a protective mask than to convince your parents that, no, some ‘fresh air outside’ is not healthy and yes, chatting with the doorman is risky too. Any grandma would reply that Milan never shut down, neither during the mid-1970s terrorism era, nor during World War II," Piotti writes.

What accounts for the generational nonchalance? Mumbai-based writer Kiran Manral tweeted that she had to resort to the advisory by the archbishop of Bombay, who has exempted the faithful from attending Sunday mass till 31 March, to convince her mother to stay home. “She now has no excuse to step out of the house. Do I qualify for a bravery medal yet?" Her mother is 81. She is pre-Boomer. “Her main thing is to go for a stroll around the neighbourhood and get fresh veggies, go to church, go visiting relatives," says Manral.

Upsetting routine, and replacing it with social isolation—something that many senior citizens have worked so hard to counteract—is tough. But somethings you just got to do—just like drink that milk, suffer through Calculus and start investment planning in your early 20s. Hurts now but got to do it for your future. After all, wasn’t that something the Boomers taught us?

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