Eshaan Akbar: Having MESA parents was great practice for a national lockdown

If you had told me that Friday 13th March would be the last time I’d be performing live stand-up comedy for the foreseeable future, I would have told you that you need to start walking under ladders to learn that superstitions aren’t real.

But alas, it was to be, and what an occasion to go out with! It was a comedy night pitting Arabs v Asians – because competition is always a great way to bring people together – and it was in Ilford. Although it’s not too far from where I grew up – the library around the corner being the scene of my first public slapping from my mum as a six year old for not reading as many books as flippin’ Jignesh “I’m now a brain surgeon” Patel – I would have preferred a more exotic location for my last gig for a while.

The social distancing rules hadn’t quite taken full effect and, although it was a sold-out event, there were a few empty seats. Which, if you know anything about Middle Eastern and South Asian (MESA) culture, must have been galling for those people who bought tickets. For a start, they bought tickets. They spent actual money on a leisure activity. They then decided not to turn up, most likely rendering them ineligible for refunds. I think it’s a sign of progress that MESAs are willing and able to spaff money up the wall on something other than weddings.

As for social distancing, well, we’re not renowned for respecting people’s personal spaces. There were hugs, handshakes with uncomfortably long lingering holds (you know exactly what I’m talking about) and the harrowing, hacking coughs that only MESA uncles and aunties seem to be capable of producing.

I left not long after my performance as I was nursing a cough (!) and needed the rest. Thankfully, I’m pretty confident that I didn’t have coronavirus but without a test, I can’t really be sure. In some respects, I’m happy I haven’t been tested because it would have undoubtedly been yet another test that would have resulted in my parents being disappointed in me.

But since that gig, the world finds itself in an unprecedented place. Words like “lockdown”, “social distancing” and “self-isolation” have become the new “Brexit”. Most people find themselves in unchartered waters when it comes to those phrases. But as MESAs will attest, this something we’ve been preparing for since childhood.

It turns out, having strict MESA parents who enforced social distancing from our friends, resulting in social isolation, whilst having 20kg bags of rice, flour and daal in the larder and an endless supply of Maths books to practice on has equipped us with the mental and physical stamina to see us through this time. It’s great. I’ve finally worked out how to calculate the circumference of a circle.

I will say, though, that my friendships are the best they’ve ever been. The proliferation of conferencing tools like Zoom and Houseparty, has meant that socialising has never been better. Or, crucially, cheaper. I haven’t spent a penny on drinks and all my friends feel like I’ve finally spent some time with them. This really feels like the reset we all needed. All those websites that tell you to save the £5 a day you spend on coffee need to change their advertising strategy and remind us that right now, we are saving £12.50 a day (minimum) by not travelling into work. What’s not to love?

I’ve also found a great way to negotiate the bridge between my domestic and non-domestic behaviour. I like a drink when I’m out with my mates but living with my dad, that’s not really an option for me when I join my friends on those Zoom hangouts. Cue fizzy water with a lime wedge (It’s a G&T, I promise), Coke Zero with a lime wedge (Whisky and Coke), and Appletiser with a dash of Coke Zero and a lime wedge (Beer). Lime wedges are your friends.

But MESA parents have been a bit of handful at this time, haven’t they? Despite all the warnings and every single one of them suffering from diabetes (and then some), a dangerous underlying condition at this time, they seem to need to as much convincing that this is a serious problem as the idiots that have been going to the beaches and parks over the weekend.

Forget those people invoking the spirit of the war. This lot are evoking the spirit of every single immigrant fleeing war-torn countries and with all of them having the collective sum of £1.57 between them. If Idi Amin couldn’t break them, why would coronavirus. Good luck to all of you trying to babysit your parents. Truly. Parent-sitting is a real thing.

I’ve had the opposite problem. My dad is a 60 year-old paramedic (and a diabetic, obvs) who, in true dad style, is taking on extra shifts to help the overstretched NHS. And he’s having to do this because Georgie just had to take in the rays over the weekend and buy a matcha latte and flowers from Columbia Road Market. If you’re reading this and are one of those people that have been out and about, give yourself a slap across the head from me. You’re posing a danger to vulnerable people and delaying our return to normality.

But what is deemed “normal” is likely to change forever. With the latest guidance discouraging us from going out for anything other than necessities (surely this differs from person to person – my body needs Chocolate Hobnobs), being out in public for exercising once a day (which is more than I’ve ever done in my life), and everyone having to stay 2 metres apart (something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember), the way society interacts might never be the same.

What is happening is serious and potentially life-altering but there is one theory in my mind I can’t seem to shake off. What if this is all a conspiracy by ISIS? Hear me out. We have to wash our hands regularly. Muslims wash at least 5 times a day for wudu before prayer. We should wear protective masks and gloves to stay away from germs. Wear a burkha. We should stay 2 metres apart in public. Have you actually seen a Muslim couple walk “side by side”? And you should only go out for food, health reasons or work. Muslims don’t do much else, do they?

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