In the guest house that we call home, in the comings and goings of family and friends and strangers, none of us noticed when Narendra Modi sneaked in while no one was looking, before going public and spilling the beans on how our household functions. Or, embarrassingly, on why my daughter won’t drink her milk – though she and her brother are both partial to cold coffee, foolishly believing it to be milk-free – because, as the chief minister so astutely noted, “It’s fattening, Ma.”
I didn’t think it kind of the CM to comment on her figure though, which he said suffered from a middle-class obsession with looking thin, which annoyed my daughter who can’t abide anyone referring to her as middle class. “But milk is fattening,” she protested to her mother, wondering at Modi’s cavalier attitude. “Don’t waste your milk,” my wife admonished her again, “do you know that there are hungry people in Somalia?” “And malnourished people in Gujarat,” added my son, “who aren’t so much poor as diet conscious.”
“Personally,” said my wife, “I don’t know what Modi said that was so wrong,” having the previous evening come home to have a midnight Maggi snack because the degustation banquet we’d graced had served such little food anyway — a bit of this and a bite of that, but nothing that you might tuck into in a substantial way since it was over almost before you could put knife to fork. You might think the other guests would have complained, but they seemed perfectly content to even leave some of what little was on their plates lest they be considered malnourished by the waiters rather than merely diligent about their eating habits.
Think the lunching ladies who get by on two leaves of lettuce are a cliché? Well, Modi and I could tell you a thing or two — the Gujarati behns and Delhi’s social set having more than mere diets in common. Modi is sure it is a modern fad that is keeping the Gujju lasses from their theplas and dhoklas, while Delhi’s finest could tell you a thing or two about how a few sprigs of leaves with a little fat-free dressing on the side not only constitutes a meal, but how you can make it seem as though you couldn’t possibly eat any more without eating at all. What’s mutual to both is starvation, which Modi insists is entirely voluntary in his state, which spoilsport activists, who clearly have never been on a diet or conscious of their figures, aren’t biting.
When my wife pointed this out to our daughter, she took a long look at the mirror before saying, “I’m not skinny enough to be malnourished, I need to watch what I eat.” “Rather you than me,” said my wife, who has not been politely brought up and likes somewhat more food on her plate than is served up by gourmet chefs at sit-down banquets where the pre-plated food is more fuss and dressings than any meaty substance. When they won’t serve you bread either, it makes you wonder whether it’s out of empathy for the starving millions, or whether the chef can’t abide wastage and had volunteered to cut back on the calories on your behalf — a wasted attempt, actually, if the other “diners” at the coffee shop next door, where all of us had made a detour to feed our malnourished stomachs out of Modi’s sight before heading for home, were anything to go by.