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Delhi belly

By Nickunj Malik - Oct 24,2018 - Last updated at Oct 24,2018

While switching channels on television the other day, I came across a tutorial on how to attach sleeves into the armholes of a sleeveless dress. The lady giving the demonstration was very chatty and pointed towards a garment that she bought earlier, which had fitted her perfectly. Subsequently she had put on weight and felt obliged to sheathe her arms with the addition of extra cloth, which was the reason for her to teach us to do the same, if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation. 

Her accent gave her away and even without reading the ticker revealing her name, I could figure out that she belonged to the Indian state of Punjab. Also, although she was bordering on plumpness she preferred to refer to herself as “healthy”, a term that all my relatives used to disguise their various stages of obesity. 

Punjabis — all those portly people from my tribe — were a fun-loving lot. No one could deny that but we were obviously overweight too. However for some strange reason, all the fat folks in Punjab were considered as healthy. The potbelly or a paunch was believed to be a sign of prosperity! More money, more food seemed to be the faulty reasoning. In fact, men and women who did not become fat after matrimony were seen as belonging to a loveless or unsuccessful marriage where there was not enough good food for everyone. Conversely being thin meant being impoverished-economically, socially and aesthetically. 

About twenty years ago, many of our super successful film stars were fat too and danced around trees with a potbelly jiggling in front of them. Nobody thought it unusual and no director asked him or her to go to the gym to slim down. It was very much a norm, not an aberration. 

Soon, everyone was paying the price for this distorted thinking, as the level of type two diabetes in our country soared to unprecedented levels. The fat deposition around the abdomen, called central obesity, was the main cause, with the growing waistline being the chief culprit. 

The International Diabetes Federation in October 2009 ranked India as the country with the most diabetes patients in the world. The umbrella group of more than 200 national associations estimated that the disease would kill about 1 million Indians that year. Contracting diabetes led to an elevated risk of a whole lot of other complications including cardio-vascular diseases and kidney problems.

Slowly but surely, the old logic of “fat is fit” switched to modern standards of nourishment where being obese was recognised as a sign of malnutrition. When it was reported that nearly half of the policemen in the Northern city of Chandigarh were too fat to do their job, the potbellied ones were forced to fight the flab in the many gyms that were installed in every police station. 

While one sees a maximum number of protruding bellies in Delhi, the capital city of India, the term “Delhi belly” has a different meaning altogether. This phrase is generally used to describe a traveller’s upset stomach or intestinal infection caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

“You’re looking lovely,” I complimented my niece recently. 

“Thanks,” she replied shyly. 

“My child is weak now,” my cousin remarked.

“She used to be so healthy,” she continued.

“I was obese mum,” my niece corrected her mother. 

“Then she went to India,” my cousin said.

“What happened there?” I asked. 

“Thank God for Delhi belly,” my niece beamed.

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