The Hanger Games


The Hanger Games

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

Ihave an insidious condition and I have understood its workings only over time – and over the pyre of many relationships that I did not always want to lose. In the absence of regular meals, I get seriously hangry.

It’s a congenital disease. “Carry a fruit!” Ma would say, when I’d leave for dance lessons as a child; an intuitive plea, hoping to receive a sweaty, smelly, but smiling child. In the event of a hanger attack, my tranquiliser had to be a high dose of savoury complex carbohydrates, for which Ma and I weren’t always prepared. I hadn’t learned to read the signs yet, and when I did lose control, it would end with enough salt water to boil a portion of pasta in.

Smart Alecs may have figured it out sooner, but it took me two whole decades to problematise my innocent affliction. Of course, Ma had known long before I did; before the 21st-century word for it became a popular excuse for a volatile temperament.

Hangry. The word encapsulates the essence of what I felt giving my emotions and actions the legitimacy they had long sought. It meant I shared this with others, as powerless as me in the grip of its intense rage.

For what is this if not a primal urge? Debilitating hunger takes over those who experience this last vestige from the caveman. For unlucky ones, it’s accompanied with cravings that can seldom be satisfied in the 15 minutes it takes to become comatose, and another 15 to turn into a fire-breathing dragon.

There is a reason there is no chicken soup for the hangry soul. A hangry soul wouldn’t deign to entertain a self-help book. What it might do – on a well-fed day – is put together a manual on the whys, hows, and whats of a food swing. Hangry souls wake up hungry, not horny. Not having eaten during a seven-hour snooze is enough for them to spiral into an abyss of starch deprivation. I’ve been known to crawl out of bed and devour the first thing I set my eyes on, even if it’s still moving.

Even the most gregarious folks give up talking in times of glucose shortage, craving only food and solitude.

“I am fading,” I tell my husband, when my brain and body begin to shut down. He has grown accustomed to my behaviour and has the foresight to suggest that we pack a car meal or stop for a snack on our way to dinner. You see, while eating before trying a new restaurant may be foolish, it’s not as foolish as meeting new people hangry. Because no one really likes the person who demolishes the only plate of biscuits in the official meeting, or the person who claims more than their fair share of dimsums. The hangry person orders their weight in food and others become a threat to their meal.

So severe are the effects of this malady that studies show that spouses tend to insert more pins into voodoo dolls when hungry and judges give harsher punishments before meals, compared to after meals. Even the most gregarious folks give up talking in times of glucose shortage, craving only food and solitude. Eating after a hanger attack is an activity of unwavering focus – it is meditation.

Can a simple offering of complex carbohydrates really solve problems? From convincing mom to let you go for that sleepover, to making certain that Kim Jong-un and Trump are always well fed. We do not know, but the most beautiful chocolate cake ever, might have saved the world from a nuke disaster.

But some of us never learn. In my third decade now, I continue to be caught unawares. It’s a successful day of adulting if I have pre-planned meals and have mitigated every possible hangry catastrophe the day could have thrown my way.

Along with sharks and plane crashes, my nightmares are made of hangry times. I am travelling without food in a pantry-less train and all the world’s food has turned into cucumbers. I am back in school, and a lesson is eating away the lunch break.