Novak Djokovic at the Fever-Tree Championships, Queen's Club, June 2018. (Image Credit: Carine; under CC 2.0)

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With Irreverence Towards All – A monthly column on the musings and rants from a Bay Area Indian American about all that ails, affects, or matters to Desis here and across these fine United States. Many will disagree, and sometimes aggressively.

I am important. They can’t do without me. I am the pride of this group. I don’t need to follow the rules if I don’t want to.

The Bay Area is full of individuals with egos bigger than the rooms they sit in. In many ways, this is no different from the whole sordid saga of Novak Djokovic and the Australian Open (one of four major tennis events that take place each year).

As a player who has in recent years won almost everything in sight in the tennis world, and one who aspires to be called the Greatest of All Time (GOAT), one would expect Djokovic to be aware that his every move and action will bear scrutiny, so his public conduct one must assume was to impose his own world view wherever he could. True tennis fans around the world (and I mean true fans of the sport and not merely partisan supporters of certain players) had already sort of given up on him conducting himself with dignity and in a manner that might be expected from a champion of the game (illustrated by a whole set of incidents over his career but mostly this last year). But his recent shockingly disruptive conduct with respect to the pandemic and vaccinations has plunged things to new depths.

For those who haven’t been following the Djokovic story, here are the basic facts. Australia has a very high vaccination rate and has been extremely strict about managing their borders and communities with respect to public health and vaccinations. As someone who has never taken COVID seriously (he actually organized a tournament in the early months of the pandemic which resulted in becoming a super-spreader event) and one who is an anti-vaxxer, Djokovic chose to not get vaccinated which ran squarely against the rules established for entry into Australia and participation in a tournament which requires everyone participating to be vaccinated. Depending on who you ask one of two things have happened – either Djokovic was flagrantly negligent upon testing positive in December (opening up a whole other set of questions about his behavior) or he was not truthful in claiming he had tested positive and hence qualified for a medical exemption (which also is not a guarantee for entry according to what we have since learned). His entire approach to the matter was steeped in arrogance – an arrogance that makes him one of the most successful tennis players of all times but also one of the most disliked (at least compared to many of his peers and his chief rivals). He believed he could get an exemption because the tournament couldn’t do without his presence.

In a recent interview, commenting about the messy story while it was still unfolding, Rafael Nadal (undoubtedly one of the tennis greats) said, “there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event.” I think that pretty much sums it up. 

So how is this relevant to us?

Year-end and new year gatherings have been taking place with many folks doing it with great care. Their approach has been to meet in smaller and intimate family groups, testing, and ensuring that high-risk individuals were as protected as possible. These are the behaviors of responsible individuals. On the other hand, there have been gatherings where several individuals who had never met before were present without all the necessary precautions. Some have organized, and some have shown up at, gatherings a la Djokovic in flagrant violation of the norms we should observe during a still pretty active pandemic. What is disappointing is that the individuals engaging in such behavior are those who do have a strong voice in the community – CEOs, authors, and religious nuts.

I happened to go to one such Desi event – I was led to believe it was small with known fully vaccinated individuals who would naturally be masked when indoors. Was I mistaken! One lady there proceeded to tell others about the COVID-positive result of her daughter and her daughter’s fiancé. She sat with her elderly and maskless mother (with a mild cough) who had just flown in from New York that same day. One individual who casts themselves as a community leader – very educated and accomplished but alas an anti-vaxxer who strongly advocates home remedies in opposition to vaccinations as a cure-all – approached to greet me for the New Year. Luckily for me, I was already making my way to the exit and was able to deploy the tried and tested, and highly effective Namaste from a distance. As one of only three masked individuals there, I left in a hurry. 

One argument I heard recently from the CEO of a pre-IPO tech company in the Bay Area was that it doesn’t seem to matter if one is vaccinated; one can still get sick, so why make such a big deal about it? The kind of ignorance that persists in a community saturated with STEM stalwarts is boggling. Vaccination of any kind is never a guarantee that one will never get sick. It helps you better compete against the odds and the odds only get better for you when we all swim together. It’s always been as simple as that. Can we as Desis shake ourselves out of this state of inertia and set the tone, at least around us?

The new definition of being fully vaccinated must include a booster shot or post-vaccination bout of illness that you recovered from (obviously, the latter option is not an experience anyone wants). Please get vaccinated and boosted. If you don’t want to, then stay home; do not be a Novak Djokovic showing up in places where it is expected that you will conduct yourself in a manner that is socially responsible – you are unnecessary, unwanted, and unwelcome in such places. You are not that special.

Irreverently yours,

Darpan


Darpan is a Bay Area artiste with a background in technology and finance. He shares his unfiltered views on a broad range of topics. He agrees to be restrained only by editorial diktat.

Featured image under Creative Commons License


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