World Diabetes Day: Is an Indian Celebration Complete Without a Sugar Rush?


World Diabetes Day: Is an Indian Celebration Complete Without a Sugar Rush?

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

Every few years, a study comes along that provides a new “dimaag ki batti jali” moment where we realise some everyday food item is going to be responsible for transporting us to our deathbeds. Of late, all the health videos that Facebook makes me watch suggest that ghee’s time as the bad guy is over. The new scoundrel is sugar, the sweet kiss of death.  

For the world, November 14 is World Diabetes Day, an occasion to create awareness about the fastest growing chronic condition that has no cure. But for India, November 14 is Children’s Day, which we celebrate by distributing deadly, sugar-laced treats to kids. If your mum and dad woke you up on this day without an offering of Cadbury’s when you were a kid, you’d wonder what you’d done wrong. But given that diabetes is the fastest-growing disease in India, with the figures likely to double by 2025, can we learn to hold celebrations without the traditional “kuch meetha ho jaye”?

For us, festivities without sweets is like going to watch a film but holding off on the popcorn. Where’s the fun? Our idea of expressing love and happiness hinges on cooking and sharing sugar-dunked delicacies. Good behaviour and good grades are always rewarded with sweets. One of life’s greatest pleasures is enjoying guilt-free, piping hot gulab jamuns on a chilly winter night, or a tall glass of Rooh Afza on a sweltering hot afternoon. And homemade besan laddoos are a blessing on days hostel food tastes like a soap dish.

But raining over our sugary parade are research papers and studies which point out that sugar consumption in excess causes artery inflammation, weight gain, and skin ageing, among other health conditions. Whoever said, “You are what you eat, so eat something sweet,” cared neither about their heart nor the weighing scale.

For us, festivities without sweets is like going to watch a film but holding off on the popcorn.

Growing up, I remember receiving juice hampers, canned gulab jamun and kaju katli boxes for Diwali – this year, all I got was indoor plants, crockery, dry fruits, and scented candles. Not even a single soan papdi, not even cookies! After a decades-long affair with Haldiram, Bikanerwala, Agarwal Sweets, and Aggarwal Sweets, people have begun to avoid sugar like Modiji avoids press conferences.

When life gives you indoor plants for Diwali, you proudly display them. When I told my house-help, Gudiya, “Look, this is what my friends are gifting this Diwali,” she looked at me like I was the one who’d decided on the “no pictures rule” at DeepVeer ki shaadi. “Didi, dimaag kharab ho gaya hai sabka! Iss plant ka kya karenge? Batao?”

I had nothing to batao. Then she added, “This year I don’t want any sweets. Just give me cash.”

No sweets? Et tu, Gudiya?

For a generation that grew up with gems like “Life is short, eat dessert first” or “Chocolate is the answer, who cares what the question is,” making the switch to an aloe vera-kale smoothie is tough. Especially if tomorrow another study is going to debunk the benefits of kale and a survey will find that aloe vera is actually eroding your innards (just kidding – we already know that.)    

Truth is, we live in an age of hyper-consciousness. Of course, the awareness is great considering India represents a mind-boggling 49 percent of diabetics worldwide. But it is important to read scientific studies with a pinch of salt and within the context they were carried out and developed. Don’t believe me – John Oliver dedicated an entire episode of Last Week Tonight to the subject. Yes, sugar is terrible for dental and overall health, but a one-off jalebi, or a piece of kaju katli will not kill you. What fun is Children’s Day, if it’s celebrated without a box of candies?

I suppose, moderation is the only answer. When it comes to “kuch meetha ho jaye,” the emphasis has to be on “kuch”.