Children are impressionable and quick to soak up nasty comments that deter their self-image, sometimes for life, which can be a problem because none in the world can be crueler than school children. My childhood and even my college years had been generously peppered with unkind and uncalled for comments about my weight, my unruly hair, my mannish jaw line and even my dark skin. I had been the pampered daughter of a large household and never made to realize that I lacked the physical attributes of beauty that ‘society’ had set down. The only comment about physical appearance I had ever faced till then was being affectionately nick-named ‘Baah Khori’ (bamboo stick) by my youngest Khura (paternal uncle) due to the effortless size zero figure I had and was blissfully unaware of such prejudices till I moved to Guwahati the year I entered my teens.
I remember being in awe of a friend who wrote like a dream; but sighed and withdrew the pedestal from underneath her feet when I learnt that and she had nicknamed me ‘defective piece’ based solely on the beauty I lacked (maybe she was just being a ‘regular’ teen and I was wrong to presume that her intelligence freed her from prejudices that afflicted the hoi polloi). When I saw the ‘early developers’, I resigned to the sad fate of forever remaining a mere thirty eight kilos despite unabashed gluttony and never having to buy a bra (or buying one and stuffing it with socks) in my future. Soon I turned a veteran of accepting such shallowness in my stride, and toss it off without a second thought. I wasn’t exactly a saint either; I too had joined in the raucous laughter when the object of ridicule had been someone else. It’s an uncomfortable truth that people judge others on their physical appearance, always or at some point in their lives.
But (-um, Robin Scherbatzky!) there has been one issue that I had struggled with for a decade, and that is my body weight. When I turned thirteen my super-fit cousin and a highly sought name in the Indian modeling circuit, Aryan Baruah, advised me to join a gym and jump in the newly emerging trend of fitness in Guwahati. I enrolled for an aerobics class in a gym in Dispur. I was eager about gaining some much needed curves, because people had started to look annoyed by the rude boy (yours truly) who sat on the seats reserved for women on the bus! The high point was when a group of ‘cool’ college girls told the gawky fourteen year old me that they would kill for legs like mine! That was it, even my father’s frowns couldn’t stop me from wearing mini-skirts for a blissful two years; although I overdid it the day I wore an outrageous ‘leopard print’ skirt to attend (cringe in shame now, eeeesh) Math tutorial class! But the increasing demands of college life with medical entrance examination preparation squashed out gym and the only flicker of consistent physical activity from my life. The local grocer’s fortunes doubled when I started buying out entire shelves of potato chips, colas, butter to go with my Aloo Paranthas breakfast and Maggi noodles. God too decided to grant my fervent teenage wish for feminine curves and he felt so apologetic about being late that he transformed me into a big ball of fat! I didn’t have a waist and no one could strangle me because they would have to find a neck first. It took me a year to realize that I had multiple chins and the stores no longer carried the sizes of the clothes I liked.
Did I wake up to the horrors of my sedentary lifestyle and do something about it? Of course not! I just sat there with an imbecilic belief that I would lose it all in a few months if I tried. I went on dumping junk food and mountains of rice into me (my father once told my ex, ‘Look how fat she has become. She doesn’t listen to me and eats thiiiiiiiiisssss much rice’ and compounded it with appropriate hand gestures that killed me then and there), and the only exercise I did was flicking the buttons of the TV remote. I panicked when the scales tipped over seventy kilos and tried to lose it with internet-researched-and-self-implemented diets and early morning jogging and swimming, which I skipped on the days it rained, the days it was too hot and humid, a certain four days in the month and the days when I slept in late! I didn’t lose a single gram of weight and my father got hoodwinked by salesmen selling all sorts of home-fitness equipments. The treadmill, the stationary cycle, the pair of dumb bells and a dozen other exercise machines gathered cobwebs in less than a month, and amused visitors to our home who looked at the treadmill once, then looked at me and then awkward silence!
My sister, who had always been very active in sports during her school days, suffered a similar fate and was plagued by the curses of obesity like fibroadenomas and cholelithiasis. I too had the sword of family history of diabetes hanging dangerously low over me. I felt defeated and accepted that I would always be fat, donated my wardrobe of short skirts and jeans, and started wearing shapeless salwaar kameez and baggy jeans. I wore only black outfits for two whole years! My self-image took a serious beating, but I kept repeating to myself that physical attributes shouldn’t bother me, I was above all that. But bother it did, not just ‘looking fat’ but also the health risks associated with it.
My sister lost twenty eight kilos last year, using the gym facilities in her college and following a healthy diet, and has maintained it ever since. Now I was the only fat person in the extended family and the cornerstone of all weight-related discussions! I huffed and puffed while climbing stairs in the hospital, I turned crimson while giving dietary advice to patients, I was convinced no one would ever be attracted to me (not that I wanted to be with a man who judged women on physical appearance, but I didn’t want the poor guy to settle for ‘The Hulk’!), I was used to matronly well meaning women patting my hand and asking ‘Fourth month, Majoni?’ on noticing the unsightly lower belly bump, and the dismay I felt when random people gushed over my cute daughter (read nine year old cousin)!
What I lacked was motivation! To get up and do something about the extra twenty kilos of weight I had lugged around with me, and ‘maintain’ that motivation and hard work all throughout (that applies to everything in life, doesn’t it?). So, I joined a gym four months ago. The gym is quite a popular one especially with doctors who form nearly 95% of its clientele; and if you stand in the middle of the gym floor and throw a stone in any direction, ten doctors will go crashing down like dominoes. My usual conversation starter is, “Which hospital do you work in?”, and I have a pain in the neck bowing down politely to my former professors. We are enticed with special workouts (just 4000/- a month!! Oh wow, really? Let me shake my money tree!), personal trainers that guarantee results in three months (and I am sure they do), Swedish massages and a soy-happy dietician; I couldn’t afford their exorbitant prices, but had the floor trainers, the exercise equipment and the motivation of joining that elite club of toned and lithe bodies that sauntered around the gym, oozing confidence and flaunting washboard abs.
On the first day my lungs were at the point of a violent outburst after just ten minutes on the treadmill, and the rowing machine was the only consolation after the unmerciful and continuous assault on every fat-laden cell of my body. I tried to strictly modify my diet limiting my rice intake too (which is a herculean task that involved combating the ‘bhotua’ gene empowered people of Assam); but gave up after a month, although I continue to avoid caffeine, sweets, fried foods, pizzas and pickles. The restaurants in Guwahati, especially the ones with pizzas on their menu, woke up to my conspicuous absence from their loyal clientele and started spamming my phone with all sorts of discounts.
I started losing weight and gaining muscle mass at a pace that would shame even the proverbial tortoise! But I was losing weight after a decade, and in three months I happily threw out my size 32 jeans, and felt smug when a salesgirl bought out ‘L’ size clothes (that’s an improvement from the days when I was told politely that they didn’t stock ‘my size’ just by the sight of me!). I am yet to lose another dozen kilos to reach my ideal BMI and I hope to get there in six more months, provided I don’t hit a plateau.
I took up Pilates for a couple of months and although it didn’t cause the muffin top and the arm jiggles to disappear, it strengthened my core muscles, increased flexibility and loosened up my stiff joints. The biggest reward was when my battle with insulin resistance tilted in my favor! I’m happy with the routine that the floor trainers have chalked out for me and the assistance they provide in the workouts. I have lost a little more than six kilos of fat and gained two kilos of muscle mass in the past four months but I feel like giving a bear hug to my friends and family when they ask ‘Have you lost some weight?’ Music to my ears!
Yesterday I had my fourth end-of-the-month fitness assessment done by a new gym trainer who looked hardly out of his teens. The conversation while filling up the details in my assessment form went as follows:
Trainer: Your age?
Trainer jots down ‘56’!
I want to say ‘Are you mental?’ but calmly repeat that my age is 26 not 56.
He smirks, “ARE YOU SURE?!!!!”
The first phrase that came to my mind was ‘Kaan Toliya Sor’ (a popular form of expressing anger in Assam) and it’s a miracle that he didn’t bleed to death on the carpet, considering my infamous temper outbursts (which unfortunately many had witnessed till date) and that too when I had just started feeling good about my weight loss! I spent the rest of my day seriously considering Botox, but woke up today to the happiness of fitting into an old pair of jeans.
Women, who can understand them!