“Hum Khaate Peete Ghar Ke Hain!”: Thanks to My Punjabi Grandparents, Body Positivity Was a Way of Life

Social Commentary

“Hum Khaate Peete Ghar Ke Hain!”: Thanks to My Punjabi Grandparents, Body Positivity Was a Way of Life

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

When all of this is over, I suppose everyone will have a story or two to tell. We were all at a unique juncture in our lives before the coronavirus swung by to say hello. From then on, it simplified our designs and compromised our plans by making it all about the “essentials”. I am no different. My concerns, however, are a little different.

You see, I’ve always been “on the heavier side”, or in small-town parlance, “healthy”. Looking to rectify that, on Saturday, February 29, I joined a local gym. On Monday, March 2, I went for my first workout session but Covid-19 fears began to engulf me. I started to understand why one of my OCD friends called it a “germasium” instead of a gymnasium. On March 3, I requested the gym in-charge to allow me to rejoin after this is all over.

It isn’t as if I haven’t had a brush with fitness before – I’ve joined and left the gym twice, once due to a back injury which left me completely incapacitated, another when I moved homes and was too busy to find a new gym. Just before the virus hit, I’d reached the perfect place to begin this endeavour again. Besides, the gym was giving away a 40% discount on the leap year day and I couldn’t help but pay upfront for three months. On my third failed attempt, I have reached the end of this experiment. Now, I am struggling to do 30-40 mins of yoga and exercises at home.

I look at this phase as a bend in the road and not a dead end.

By this time, I was supposed to fit into a new spring top that I’d purchased as my one-month target. But these are extraordinary times. How can I expect to stick to the 21-day challenges open on my phone, when all I want to do after the cooking, cleaning, and work from home is to curl up on my couch with a cup of tea and get on a video chat with my now “vulnerable” grandmother?

TBH, my siblings and I, though fat, have always been extremely comfortable in our own skin. Our body type has not held us back from having romantic relationships or cracking interviews or being under confident, as any pop culture outing will have you believe. My brother has run three half marathons, and not very long ago I used to cycle daily for over 10 km on Delhi roads to get to work. Much of this has to do with our Punjabi household, where our grandparents’ sole motive was to make us eat well and be merry. This ensured that no inferiority complex or body image issues could settle in.

There were times when I went back home and announced, “I am going to do dieting”.

In these times, talking to Dadi is really helping me cope. Every time we speak, she asks me fundamental wellness questions: Are you having one pinni every day that I made for you (pinni being the Punjabi version of “Raambaan ilaaj” for everything from depression to constipation)? Did you soak badaam? Is the dairy close to your house still selling milk? My grandmother is my safe space.

As children, my fairly large siblings and I were often bullied. Sometimes we would come back home in tears because our friends would gang up on us and chase us while yelling, “Catch them, they won’t be able to run fast or far!” In school plays, we’d always be given the role of fat characters like the corrupt sethji or Ganeshji. I was once made Santa Claus simply because I was the fattest in class.

Notwithstanding our experiences in the outer world, the home remained a safe haven, where our undeterred grandparents, continued to insist on feeding us dollops of white makhan, every time it was freshly churned. They’d tell us stories of how they ate fistfuls of dried fruits from their orchard in Pakistan and drank a ser (close to a litre) of milk every morning and evening. We would be in awe of these stories and it inspired us to eat things we didn’t even like, for example neje and khumani. Dadi would often quip, “Dry fruits khaan naal haddiyaan’ch gel banda ae” (dry fruits lead to the production of “gel” in the bones). We believed it and indeed were extremely strong, resilient and active kids.

Notwithstanding our experiences in the outer world, the home remained a safe haven.

As I grew up, body shaming changed its form. In middle school, a guy came up to me once and said that he would love me if I hadn’t been fat. But my dadi, who is an exceptionally short woman, would repeatedly tell me the tale of how she once made fun of a dwarf lady and got cursed, indicating that those who make fun are on the wrong side here and not us. Still, there were times when I went back home and announced, “I am going to do dieting”.

This abhorred word would send shockwaves down my grandparents’ spine and they’d proudly proclaim, “Hum khate peete ghar ke hain, ranj-o-gham se door hain”. But mostly, they’d say one simple thing, “Patle mote hone se kuchh nahi hota, achcha insan banna hota hai”.

With this kind of upbringing, how can I stress over the shape of my body when everyone around me is locked in a competitive fitness challenge? I look at this phase as a bend in the road and not a dead end. It is a time for staying healthy – following Dadi’s instructions, along with some form of physical exercise. The total transformation, as I’d envisaged, will have to wait.

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