The tragedies of my life are endless, but the first one happened in the waiting room of Dr Eliza James* who is a very well-known dietician of Bangalore. At 10 and 11, S and I waited outside her office with our parents; I think back to our frolicking (not so) little bodies jumping up and down only in the way that children’s bodies jump up and down. The tragedy hadn’t arrived as yet, but the pre-tragedy fear had set in already. This foreboding came from already knowing dietician Eliza James. We had met once before and my memory helpfully tossed at me stern eyes and a nose that reminded me of my mother’s favourite ‘perpetual anger on the nose’ idiom.
I had cheated on my diet two days after it started, the story goes like this: in the middle of the very sandy school field, my friends and I held our small, colourful tiffins containing anticipation, spurred on by grumbly stomachs and boring GK classes. Let us now imagine that I was given three pieces of apple, two biscuits and one slice of bread (pro tip: one small spoon of mayo will not increase calorie intake). Standing right across me was Sneha — who always wore her hair in an oiled plait and brought her lunch in a red box with a dark blue lid covered in faded stickers.
Underneath the blue lid, resting in the centre of a golden halo that I’m sure I didn’t imagine, was a pizza. It was home-made. The store-bought pizza base, only a little bit brown at the edges, was barely visible under a layer of tomato sauce so thick, that I could imagine the sauce sitting in a spoon before being slathered on to the bread (pro tip: don’t add ketchup). On top of this were the small chunks of vegetables — capsicum, onions, corn. Some slices with more capsicum, others with more onion; but all of them covered in evenly spread cheese that stretched on pulling, just enough to lightly stroke my desire to eat picture-perfect, melty strings of cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan).
The pizza zoomed back to me in the waiting room of the dietician. When our names were finally called, I forgot for a moment, that I wasn’t in school but in the waiting room of Dr. Eliza James who told me what to eat and what not to eat (pro tip: more than one cup of rice is way too much rice). S had lost 600 grams, as expected; I had gained 200 grams, as expected.
But what to do? Homemade pizza had never tasted better. (no ragrets?)
These days, while we sit at the dining table and before we are done with breakfast (masala dosa for me; pro tip: eat peanut-less chutney), Papa wants to know what we will eat for dinner. The previous night, the only night we allowed indulgences such as ordering in, Chinese had been consumed — fried chicken dunked in soy sauce, covered in salt and chilli (not-so-pro tip: no carbs at night) — and our bodies have now become faithful homes to unhealthy food. Mumma is angry at Papa’s question.
How can you always only think about eating, she will ask him? He will not reply because he has learnt by now that staying silent is better than replying. If she has the extra energy, she will revisit an argument held together by the very old, very flimsy adage having to do with eating to live or living to eat. Once our parents leave, my sisters and I continue eating as if nothing has happened — because nothing has actually happened.
The fatness conversation has evaded me for years, always playing hide and seek with frustrating, practiced ease; with something akin to mischief. The term fatphobia has lent itself to multiple conversations; becoming a conclusion before I can (un)learn something. It flows around me like water, warm heavy water that refuses to yield. I wonder whether this evasion exists not because I don’t want to have conversation, but simply because this conversation is a constant, more consistent than even the healthiest of friendships.
That said, some conversations are more bearable than others.
While listening to the very articulate Fatso Podcast, I usually walk around the lake next to home. The offbeat tone of this podcast struck me first when Ameya and Pallavi spoke of walking into a room and first noting the always-too-small-for-comfort chairs. In all body positivity posts I had seen before this, the fatness displayed only existed within the comfort of regular conversation, bodies fitting into sizes of clothes you find in regular clothing stores. Fatso’s pictures on Instagram are of broken chairs, lots of food, pictures taken from unflattering angles. Their conversation is not new to me and I don’t need it for information, but only for much-needed representation that I didn’t know I wanted (thank you for existing, Lizzo).
The waiting rooms of dieticians have inexplicably become stand-ins for safe spaces. My latest diet stint occurred two years ago, for five months. Every three days, I walked into the basement of a building in Lajpat Nagar. The waiting room was small, every inch of the floor covered in green carpet. Two sofas sat across from each other, big enough for three people each. If I reached early enough, there was only one person there. If I was ten minutes late, the four corners of both couches would already be occupied. In waiting there, while looking at the bodies of the other people there, I sat in acknowledgement of our collective fight against fatness.
Sometimes, the men and women who came there were already the weight I wanted to be. I wondered, with anger and presumptuous arrogance, what force of the South-Delhi-everyday made them want to be in the office of a dietician the first thing in the morning! I couldn’t bear to begin a conversation with any of them so I never found out. The rare few times conversation happened was when some women would ignore my lack of eye contact and ask me how much weight I had lost, how many months I had been dieting for already, how much weight I wanted to lose.
Unlike the last diet stint, this tragedy had to be endured without my sister, but I had learnt by now that a homemade pizza was not worth the anger-on-the-nose of this dietician. When I lost enough weight each time (upwards of 800 grams), she drew stars next to my name; when I gained weight, these doodles turned angry (pro tip: don’t eat salt at night, the water retention is awful). Eventually I would wonder why dieticians are always angry but in the moment, the only hope was that the food she would give me for the following week would be enough, that I would be able to juggle the calories with the beer I definitely wanted to have.
Some days, this didn’t matter. Sitting on the first floor of a dark bar in CP, I would wait impatiently for the fries to reach our table — covered in salt and red chilli accompanied by a small loaded pizza (chicken, cheese, sauce) and a pitcher of beer. As I ate the hot-hot pizza and drank the large sips of the beer (pro tip: pouring beer badly to increase the froth reduces bloating; eating nothing while drinking reduces calories), I would visualize this shuttle between these two worlds. One, in which, my only defining trait is my fatness, and the other, in which it doesn’t exist.
On the days it does exist, my mother tells me that I inherited the shape of my body from Nani. At 85, Nani stands on thin legs that are covered in wrinkled skin, but in her happier days, she had thunder thighs like Mumma and I do. The isolation of the lockdown has led to hours of introspection; so when I stand in front of the mirror and look at my thighs thundering away, I palm the flesh and wonder whether this is a bad thing. The relationship between coronavirus and obesity tells me that, yes, the thunder of my thighs isn’t all that great; so I find myself here yet again, fighting my own body from being what it clearly wants to be.
Drishti Rakhra is a teacher who leads a double life. In one, she has regular conversations in which she laughs at everyone including herself. In the other one, she does the same but reads way more fanfiction. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and her Blog.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India