"But Tanay, why did you paint over all your pretty fishes?"

"It's time for them to go extinct."


a god in every stone

by Kamila Shamsie
I don't have the time to write something longer, but I have to note these down or I'll forget.

1. The anticipation of love: The whole book is full of it. It is always standing around at the edges, teasing you, testing you, seeing if you'll fall for it. I did, convincingly, every time. I fell for every character meant for love, whether or not anyone in the book actually did. I fell for Qayyum Gul (with his hands behind his head alone on a berth in a train; one eyed Qayyum, sure yet so very unsure of himself.) And I kept hoping she would too. I kept looking for it - Now it will happen, oh, now she will recognize him, wait this is the moment. A moment. I can't say if I loved the book for the anticipation of love, or for the love there actually is.

2. Reading Shamsie is like reading a non-fantasy Guy Gavriel Kay. It feels like you're really reading a book on history in story form. It's well-researched and a terrific pleasure. Makes you want to read up on little things. (May be I'm drawing this comparison because I've been reading Kay like a beast. But if you read Kay and Shamsie in succession, I dare you not to make it too). I loved her account of wartime Britain for its little details, the politics, the opinions. I loved how Vivian grows through the book: I love her idea of service to a nation in wartime, and how it changes as she becomes her own person. I love the tension in the book when the man from the government comes to meet her. You know she can't be that silly, you want her to not be that silly. When she is, you're immediately heart-broken. You know what is coming, it's an inevitability. But you hope because she hopes.

3. I really really want to go to Turkey.

4. My southern school education somehow missed out on the immediacy and intimacy of the history of partition, and I think this is true of many of my South Indian friends. A lot of North Indian friends of mine have a romantic notion of Pakistan - they have roots there (a grandparent who left, lands, families, that sort of thing). To me, it has always been a different culture, a different people. When I found out that they have a Punjab too, somehow Pakistani butter chicken became something I had to try. (I was 11. Not much has changed). So when I read Pakistani writers, I read them as I would read any other writer. Suddenly little unexpected things pop out at me and I think aha, there's something I didn't expect you to be like. With Mohammed Hanif's Alice Bhatti, I kept thinking that way about caste. About how I understood its perpetuation without really thinking about it as different/Pakistani. 

It happened with Shamsie too, but not in the same way: With her, it was about the cultural references. The train stations, the quaint streets, the clubs. (In my head, they look like old Hyderabad, and I can say with some certainty that the clubs are the same everywhere. I've been to Gymkhanas all over the country, and if they haven't changed between Hyderabad, Bangalore, Calcutta and Delhi, I doubt they're largely different or the sandwiches are much better in Pakistan).



in breaking,
my heart



Published in The Scribbler.

There is a whole rant in my head about skinny people who think they are fat. Since most of it is inappropriate (and politically incorrect) I will rant instead about why skinny or fat are both stupid ideas. And why accepting your body the way it is - is the new hot. (And why I'm not any of the three).  


For as long as I can remember, the shape of my body has been wrong. When I was a child, I was too skinny for anyone's liking. An aunt would actually call me 'Kuchi' ("stick" in tamil). I have close to a dozen books that she gifted to me in which she writes, "Dearest Kuchi, hope you like this book!" And in her defense, those were some of the best books I read. My mother would count my ribs as if to make a point. I was encouraged to eat, and I ate lots. I made myself love food. I ate as much cheese and paneer as I could lay my hands on. 

And then, I got fat. The period between being really skinny and being fat is hardly worth mentioning. A couple of months, at best. I was waist size 26, then I became waist size 30. It was almost an overnight transition. I must have been 13 when this happened. Eighth Standard. I developed asthma and was put on steroids. 

And nobody was happy about the fact that I had now put on weight. 

In college, I started swimming. I didn't really become a supermodel (ha!), but I was fit. I became addicted to my work-out routine. More than anything, it was a way for me to relieve stress. Especially during my tests and exams, I had to swim or else I would be really irritable and angry. I would also feel bloated, like I had a period. I ate whatever I wanted, I drank like a fish, but I swam close to two miles a day (65 - 80 laps a day of a 25m pool in about an hour and a half). But none of this meant my body was worth not making sarcastic comments about.  I still had (have) a tummy that made me look like I was pregnant, I was still at least 5 kilos over my ideal weight, and I was a FabIndia 'L'. 

Then, I moved to Bombay for my Master's. I didn't find a swimming pool, but I also didn't have time for exercise. I tried yoga, but it was really boring. I was (am) too shy of working out around people, so I didn't go to the university gym. Instead, I took to running. I had myself a nice, pretty route and I would go a few times a week. Sometimes, my roommate would force me out of the room to go with her. Sometimes, I would go all by myself. And then my knees started to hurt, and I couldn't run anymore, so I stopped. I rapidly put on weight that year. I put on at least eight more kilos, and two more inches on everything I wore - jeans, bras, whatever. I was a FabIndia XL by the end of my Master's. Something I hated, because I didn't fit into any of my nice clothes anymore.

So when I moved to Delhi four(!) years ago, I started swimming again. Swimming in Delhi is such a tricky proposition. It's seasonal - pools are only open in the summer, and when they are open, there are close to a hundred and fifty people in any damn pool in the city at all times. But I persevered, and I am now seasonally fit. In the summer, I swim around a mile a day (because I am not young anymore - it takes me at least an hour to swim fifteen laps of a 50m pool). In the winter, I am fat. Like a cute labrador. But I haven't really lost any weight, I'm still a FabIndia XL (sometimes XXL) and my boobs just keep on growing. 

I have never been happy with the way I look. Even now, I feel like my ass is too big and my arms are too flabby and don't get me started on my thighs. (I have come to accept my tummy as a part of my being. I no longer worry about that.)

So this year, I decided I will come to terms with it. I will learn how to enjoy my body - I will dance, I will run, I will swim as much as I can. I won't let my image of myself hamper what I do or what I wear. This year is my year of the summer dress. I won't check my weight. And I won't let other people tell me I am fat. This is difficult. Not because of all the logistical constraints (the pools aren't open yet, my jaundice recovery etc.)

This is difficult because I am constantly telling myself and being told that my body isn't supposed to be the way it is. This is difficult because I am getting new stretch marks in places I didn't imagine would grow. This is difficult because the shape of my body is changing everyday and looking at myself in a mirror is never something I am happy to do, but I do it all the time anyway.


The problem with being "fat" is not so much that you are unhealthy (I definitely am). The problem with fatness isn't even something that you can deal with as a personal problem. The problem is much more political than that.
 I realize that whole systems are geared towards what some people think everyone needs to be like. (I mean, what the hell is the deal with "Special Cornflakes for Weight Loss" or even, my favorite, Diet Coke?!) Things you don't think about till you do: I dread going to my family doctor because he will make me stand on the weighing scale and then lecture me about the shape of my body, and that I have to think about diabetes or heart disease which are real risks and I will have them anyway but I can push their onset. The reason people tell me I'm fat, apparently, is because they are concerned for my health. You want to think that just because the reason for saying a thing is medical, it is a legitimate thing to say. You want to think that just because there is a scientific reason for justifying your outlook towards my body makes it fine to say it. I did, and I still don't have a coherent enough argument about why this shouldn't be the case. But I do think that medicalizing a prejudice that exists in society does not make it a legitimate concern. Sure, I do run a larger risk of heart failure and obesity. But I also run a large risk of Alzheimer's, hearing impairment, cancer.

My biggest issue with the size of my body used to be that I don't get clothes my size. In India, nearly every brand I know makes their XXL just short of size 16, sometimes even at size 14. I used to laugh about this, make jokes at the horrible business models of the people making clothes. If I have to wear clothes from Pantaloons, for example, I have to go to All, their plus size store. (How considerate of them to have a plus size store). I stopped buying clothes at Lifestyle and Shopper's Stop more than ten years ago. Instead, I buy clothes at Marks and Spencers (which, over the past couple of years has started a new clothing line for pretty clothes, and this stops at size 16) or Chemistry (which, bless their souls, makes the prettiest clothes for normal sized people in this country). I also buy at Sarojini Nagar, which seems to stock all the clothes that clothing companies think are too big.

Now, I realize that there is a message in this too: This message is not "You're too fat to wear the clothes we make", this message is "You're not normal people."


So my point is not merely about fatness, it is about an "abnormal" body type. Lots of people I know are also too "skinny" for their own good. Of course, this also comes with problems. ("I have to buy clothes in the kids section", "I am too weak", "My bones are too brittle", and my favorite, "I'm prone to heart failure.") Obviously, these problems have scientific validity. Of course they do. I don't know enough about the problems skinny people face, mostly because I have always been at the other side of the spectrum. But I do know that it is as offensive to be too skinny as it is to be fat. Obviously, like Goldilocks, everything has to be just right.

Admit it, we all know what the "ideal weight" for our body type is. (I am 5ft 8in and so the internet told me that mine is 68, for those who are curious). Since the day I saw this number on some blessed Yahoo! search, it became what I wanted to see on a weighing scale. When I first saw it, I was 70. Now, I am way heavier (I can't say how much because I haven't weighed myself in a long time) and just as abnormally shaped as I was twelve years ago.

Little things become signs of fatness; little deviance from an ideal type: a double chin, a flabby arm, a thick ankle (how many of you know what a cankle is, raise your hands?), a big thigh. Some things you can't even help: my breasts are too small/big, my hips are too wide/tiny, my ass protrudes too much/I have no ass, my neck is too fat/my neck is like a giraffe's.

Each image you see of yourself comes under expert scrutiny for everything you didn't see in yourself in the mirror. Each image in which you look drastically different from what you imagine you should look like becomes a sign of how much weight you need to lose, a symptom of how unhealthy you are, a sign of how ugly and unacceptable you are. Worse, each image gives other people the right to point these things out to you. They may notice and comment on these things for the good of your own health. ("Do ab crunches," I have heard for nearly all my life - "It will help you reduce your stomach.")


My solution is to learn how to love myself the way I am, stretch marks and everything. My solution is to be fit enough to take four flights of stairs, and then not give a fuck about what a doctor or a well-meaning relative says about the size of my butt. My solution is to wear what I think I look good in, eat what I feel like eating, and then swim like a whale.

Like I said, this isn't easy. I'm faced nearly everyday with my fatness and the corollary, ugliness. I count my stretch marks, the black lines along my thighs, the folds on my stomach, the creases on the back of my knees. Everyday, these are physical reminders to me about the person I am not and the person I am meant to be constantly endeavoring towards.



why are afternoon naps so damn addictive?



"Oh, please. It's not like you don't do any illegal things."

"Well, underage drinking. But I don't do that anymore."