This is what I had in front of my desk all morning yesterday.

Universe, you don't play fair.

Of course this would be delivered to the office two days after I have taken a firm decision to try and lose some weight.

My new aim is not to find time to write or read more or any such intellectual pursuit. Having seen and heard everyone jump up and down praising this column for its intelligence and thought-provoking qualities, I’ve decided there’s no point. Aside from a gushy love note to Thomas Babington Macaulay, columnist Akar Patel’s central point is this:

It is difficult to explain to Indians the wrongness of collective punishment. This is because our identity is collective, and so is our behaviour. The understanding that this is wrong comes mainly to those who speak English. Individuals are more easily produced by English because it opens access to the world outside the tribe. It is able to place us outside the narrow definitions assigned to us by Gujarati and Hindi.

But for most Indians, if they started it then they must suffer for it.

This mindset is something we have to accept. The focus must be on how to limit its damage.

The damage is done by a Hindi-medium world view. Trying to fight it with English-medium tools will end in frustration. This is why a debate about free speech here has no meaning. All these things dissolve to nothing in the knowledge that a real price is extracted for this freedom.

Really? That’s your searing insight into why there were riots in Godhra? English-medium versus Hindi medium? By which you mean those with an English-medium education don’t riot? What medium are British football hooligans educated in, d’you think? And if this linguistic logic is India-specific, what makes English in the subcontinent get that pacific aura?

That Patel may believe what he’s written is not what frustrates and irritates me — he’s free to have as blinkered or expansive a worldview as he wishes for himself. But not only is he given an entire page in a paper like Mint Lounge that has a reputation for being intelligent, Patel would have you believe that his opinion is based on fact, research, experience and insight. And a large number of readers — even intelligent, English-medium readers — respond with wide-eyed admiration. This particular column, for example, begins with him establishing his credentials as one of a three-membered team that visited Gujarat after the 2002 riots. The other two are editors of powerful publications; ergo, Patel must also be reasonably important and relevant. Then in the course of constructing his argument, Gujarati media and individual interviews are quoted; Macaulay is referenced; articles from the Indian constitution are discussed. Upon the strength of all this, Patel presents his opinion as insight, as an almost-established fact to which most of us have been blind (because of our English-medium education?).  An almost-established fact that works as reasoning to curb free speech. When, in fact, it  is a bucket load of bollocks. Fortunately, I’m not the only one who thinks Patel’s article is nonsensical but sadly, The Economist isn’t here to thump all the fools who are sending and resending me Akar Patel’s idiotic article with subject lines like, “MUST-READ!!!”, “Really interesting alternative take on free speech”, “You’ll enjoy this”. No it isn’t and no I wouldn’t.

So given this is what I’m surrounded by, I’ve decided to forget the intellectual and concentrate on the corporal. This means, my immediate goal for the next couple of months is to get to the point where I look like a baby walrus instead of a fully-grown walrus; the latter being what I look like now. (I’m nothing if not realistic in my goals.) If it hadn’t been for Facebook, I’d have remained blissfully unaware of my resemblance to a “tooth-walking sea-horse” but now that I’ve joined that blasted site and am confronted with tagged photos of myself, it’s difficult to turn a blind eye to myself. There’s a one from a recent trip to Delhi in which a single arm of mine is seen in its horizontal entirety. Just the upper arm looks like it’s large enough to feed a mid-sized village for about a week.

Now that I think about it, that photo was taken soon after I had a rather dramatic encounter with a gentleman who, to put it delicately, pounced on me. I must admit, for a moment back then, I felt vaguely like a Georgette Heyer character, fighting for her modesty and matronly honour. Not a situation in which I’ve ever imagined myself. Anyway, immediately after the pouncing, I stilled my racing heart and muttered a variety of reasonably modern abuses about men who think they’re irresistible. After seeing photos of me on Facebook, I’m almost torn between writing him a thank-you note and sending him a DVD of I Am a S*x Addict (NSFW, by the way) with a card that reads “You’re not alone”.

I haven’t done any of those things, in case you were wondering. What I have done is decided to make a concerted effort to not go from L to XL. By which I mean I went for my first class of hot yoga in about two months. Hot yoga being the insane variety that makes you do 90 minutes of yoga in a studio whose temperature is set at 42C (approximately 107F). It’s more aerobics than yoga. Well, actually, it’s more torture than anything else but the starlets of Bandra like it, so I’m giving it a chance. The good news is that, despite wanting to embrace my fat and get the hell out of there after about 10 minutes, I survived all 90 minutes and now have gently-protesting muscles. How does the universe reward my efforts? It puts an entire tea-tray of cupcakes and chocolate-chip cookies, on my desk, directly in my line of vision.

8 thoughts on “How Akar Patel (may have) Helped Me Lose Weight

      • I’m a staid old walru- er, woman.

        Edited to add: The one thing that hot yoga convinces you of is the fact that there is nothing erotic about sweat, particularly when it is produced in copious quantities in tropical heat. *Shudder

  1. “I felt vaguely like a Georgette Heyer character, fighting for her modesty and matronly honour.”

    😀 really, wish i had witnessed that 😛

  2. I feel that perhaps he was being coy? I also feel like his is a legitimate critique. And if you read it as satire, it’s not a bad article.

    However, in your haste to dismiss his piece out of hand, you cite the universality of riots, which is only a partial analysis at best. It appears to me that his assessment of an incendiary, inflammatory rhetoric spewing vernacular Gujarati press is absolutely spot on. I do think that language and performed culture mediates political reality through institutional channels.

    And he has a point vis a vis regulation of behavior. What does one do when the regional newspaper editors are openly racist/communalist? In progressive democracies there is an opposing progressive cultural voice that keeps extreme right wingers in check. I mean, who says this? – “Musalmanon-e puravo aapvo padshe ke te kharekhar Hindustani chhe (Muslims must prove that they are true Indians).”

    I am surprised that, that didn’t anger you more, that no one went to jail for writing/publishing that.

    The New York Post wouldn’t dare instigate a drive-by on New York Muslims, however much it secretly wishes it could, on threat of cultural ostracization and shame that would subsequently follow from a large and diverse liberal leaning media. Absent that, what do you do if you happen to be a persecuted Muslim individual in rural Gujarat? Write to the New Yorker to work the liberal intelligentsia pressure on murderous, asshole right wingers? I think it’s worth asking questions regarding the nature and degree of progressive presence in the vernacular Gujarati media. No reason to beat around the PC bush for that.

    I see the writer’s exhortation of having the state mandate biosocial behavior (which in a Foucauldian sense it does anyway) as a satirical riff on the absurdity of the Gujarati Hindu right wing literally getting away with murder while the so-called progressive junta wrung their collective hands, writing syntactically excellent apercus about “bestial pogroms” in the English media whose readership by the way, constitutes less than a scant one percent

    And congratulations on finding common ground with the humorless Economist, I wouldn’t be too proud of finding resonance with a neoliberal rag.

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