Naked Nariyal Man & Abstinence in the Time of “Fast” Politics


Naked Nariyal Man & Abstinence in the Time of “Fast” Politics

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Every time I miss a meal, I complain that I am “starving”. Make that two, and I’m “ravenous” and promise to “die unless I eat”. Food is our ultimate comfort – in the language of the cool kids, who proclaim multiple times a day on Instagram, it is “bae”. Scrolling through images proudly accompanying #Foodporn gives us more of a happy ending than actual porn. Even the Congress and BJP have revised their fast goals from “fast unto death” to fast unto lunch or like a day.

Anuj Khurana was just as much of a foodie as your next foodporner, but this year, he and his friends decided to do something completely out of their comfort zone. In the past, Khurana has planned several trips around food, but for his annual adventure in 2018, he was determined to survive a 30-day no-food-no-water-no-WhatsApp fast, on green coconut water. Naturally, that transformation was to be documented on Instagram. Each day of foodlessness merited a tasteful “sirf nariyal” photo: a picture of the fasters with nary a stitch of clothing, with only a coconut protecting their modesty.

Whatever the outcome of the fast, Khurana will remain etched in public memory as the Naked Nariyal Man. If fasting without clothes were an Olympic sport, he would bring home the gold. Not only did Khurana survive the 30-day fast, but he did it while travelling around Odisha, surrounded by the sights and smells of delicious food. He was accompanied by Ishant “Lasted for Six Days” Sharma (who served as the litmus test to Khurana’s willpower by eating in front of him), and Rahul “Fasted for Three Days in Solidarity” Atri.

Khurana and team are not the first ones to embark on this journey, and not in need of an intervention from the Freaky Eaters team. Coconut water fasts are a thing, believed to reset the immune system and help fight disease. As Khurana explained to his mom and grandmother in a presentation titled “I will not die, don’t worry”, others have done coconut water fasts before and have survived with claims of health benefits. Khurana did omit one tiny detail – most people observe the fast for only five-seven days. And they usually do it cut off from society, so the aroma of food does not exacerbate their cravings.

As political tools go, the six-hour fast might not achieve much, but our netas never claimed it would.

Khurana’s plan to fast for adventure and personal achievement was fraught with several challenges. “The biggest and most obvious being hunger that makes you doubt everything about yourself,” he told me. “But once you have conquered that self-doubt, you feel infinite patience and self-confidence. Phat gayi meri, bhookh se kam par hairani se zyada. You can’t help but marvel at the strength of the human body and spirit.”

Each photoshoot was a challenge and an adventure, but the most memorable one happened one February evening in rural Odisha between Bhubaneshwar and Puri, when Khurana and Sharma were trying to take the perfect photo. Anuj was posing naked, holding a nariyal in front, grinning at the camera. So immersed were they in the shoot that they don’t notice the curious locals streaming in one by one. They got away on their bike, Khurana still buck naked.

fast man

On day 23 of the fast too, his digestive processes were on pause, but his ability to pleasure a woman had not taken a dent.

Image Credits: Instagram/@sirfnariyal

And if you think a guy consuming only coconut water would not be able to produce all bodily fluids, Khurana’s old school Tinder experience could prove you wrong. Anuj himself doubted his ability to engage in amorous congress, but a chance encounter with a girl at a traffic light led to long conversations and horizontal refreshments on the terrace of the room they were renting. On day 23 of the fast too, his digestive processes were on pause, but his ability to pleasure a woman had not taken a dent.

Khurana’s experience neatly encapsulates that there isn’t a fixed rule to fasting – it is as subjective as self-serving. Especially in a country where fasting is as much a political tool as a lifestyle choice.

Fasting food in Maharashtra for instance, is our hack against religious mandates of abstinence. God, you want us to skip a meal or two? Fine, but snacks don’t count as meals, right? We’ll abstain from the mundane poli-bhaaji or varan-bhaat but eat our weight in sabudana khichdi and potato chips.

How then, can we blame our politicians for eating chola bhatura before starting their six-hour “symbolic fast”? In their defence, they never claimed to fast unto death, only unto 4.30 pm. I’d say it is an improvement over the political innovation of the sadbhavana fast that has been attributed to Narendra Modi, who fasted for three days for communal harmony in 2011.

Why should every fast be as epic as Mahatma Gandhi’s 21-day hunger strike or Irom Sharmila’s 16-year protest fast? Why must every fast go the distance?

As political tools go, the six-hour fast might not achieve much, but our netas never claimed it would. I’m sure they believed that they had managed expectations well, considering that they called it a “fast” and not a “hunger strike”. A hunger strike, like Swati Maliwal’s, involves specific demands of the world and vows not to eat unless they’re met. A hunger strike is indefinite; a fast can be for a predefined number of days (or hours).

Every hunger strike is a fast but every fast is not a hunger strike. Hunger is, quite frankly, optional in our fasts today – although I am sure Khurana would disagree.