If you’ve been a big fat miserable kid like me, you’ve probably been coerced by your dad, to shop at Peter England in spite of your protests that it’s not where kids shop. But he still drags you along because he knows, even if you don’t, that you’ve outgrown kid stores a while back.
Once in there, you see something cool – a “NO FEAR” tee and a pair of ripped jeans. You gesture lightly. Dad checks the labels to make sure he’ll still have money to pay for your college.
Then it’s time for the size-check. You ask for a changing room, but it’s a mall and there isn’t one, and dad has no time for fuss. He asks you to take your pants off and get on with it. At the risk of mooning strangers and exposing your tighty-whities that you wish miserably you hadn’t worn that day, you man up and take your pants off.
If you’ve been a fat kid like me, you have sent up silent prayers before trying on any pants followed by a small pep talk to your shaking self, “You can do this!” The pants start to narrow around the thighs, and then seem to constrict severely upward near the testicles. The latter, shrink amicably, as if to make way. It’s amply clear that the pants are missing about a metre’s length of cloth, so you stop and tell your dad that you’re done with this ungainly exercise.
But, it’s not for nothing that your dad’s the single most perseverant man in the world. He misinterprets it as a call for extra hands. Soon, the dude behind the counter joins in the enterprise and two men try to shove you inside a pair of pants for 15 goddamned minutes.
At this point, if you can still relate to what I’m saying, I feel bad for you.
Fat kids have miserable lives. It’s bad enough that clothes don’t fit them and theme-park rides are out of bounds for safety purposes, fat kids also have a propensity to be at the receiving end of bad fashion and boring advice. Yes, I know that weighing considerably more than the average 12-year-old is bad for health, and that members of the opposite sex don’t date men whose tee shirts could clothe all their cousins together, so there’s absolutely no need to repeat it. Fun fact: I once had a girl break up with me using just sighs and grunts.
Since fat kids don’t get picked for games or gangs, they instead veer toward things that suit their frame and disposition. For me, it was card games and boxing. And yeah, I could Uno anybody. Besides getting their board games on fleek, something else begins to happen.
Being excluded from most of what constitutes growing up, I developed resolve, tenacity, and an uncanny knack for self-loathing humour. It was a coping mechanism that I probably adopted from watching chimps on Nat Geo, who make funny faces at faeces flying in their direction. Really, if you can laugh at your own shit, you must make it through life alright, I thought. So I laughed at everything Nagarjun, the class bully, said, instead of having to buy tissues in wholesale.
Of course, I tried to secretly shed the weight. First, I summoned latent reserves of willpower for morning jogs around the neighbourhood. I was tailed by dogs and mendicants, alike, the few times there were indeed latent reserves to summon in the first place. Routines are hard, especially, when they aren’t fun. And waking up at 6 am in the Bangalore of the ’90s required an uncommon hatred for the simple things in life like sleep. Needless to say, the morning jog didn’t last very long.
My dad, having grown up in the hinterlands, lugging wood and trekking five miles on ungodly inclines, to get to somewhere hospitable, inured to Bangalore by improvising his own set of jumping exercises that loosely resembled a hamster on a wheel, an act that has since gained profundity with age. Given the morning jog fiasco, I did try jumping routinely at a set hour in a stationary place. It was about as much fun as chewing chalk, when you aren’t calcium deficient. Push-ups were awkward, to say the least. I learnt, rather late in life, that the chest ought to go down along with the hips, and that if I only did the latter it would be misconstrued as a rather obscene gesture. This led to some uncomfortable moments with dad. He insisted I keep the door locked if I wanted some time for myself.
It was only when, many years later, someone at the office, gifted me a rope at a secret Santa Christmas party, things began to change. I was mildly relieved that the rope was bright green and wouldn’t prevail if I hanged from it – if that was indeed the hint. But, the following day, I put the rope to good use.
I started jumping rope. What started off as a joke, to make lemonade from lemons and that sort of thing, swiftly turned into a daily challenge. Determination comes unawares, apparently. When I got the coordination right, I noticed that I could go at it for some time with minor hassle. I wondered if I could do more and then some, and when I couldn’t go any further, I decided to add push-ups in between. This time proper ones.
I spent that year jumping rope, learning to do proper, less controversial push-ups, drinking enough water to pee six to eight times a day, and sticking to smaller portions of food. I got 22 kilos lighter. It seemed like one day, I was being fitted by two exasperated adult men and then I wasn’t anymore.
Now, when I look at old pictures of myself, I wish I was kinder to the fat kid. Most of all, I wish I could take him to malls that had changing rooms.