The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The bridge, the river and kids' play. Brilliantly captured by Sujay Kumar Das.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Bengali paunch is in danger

'Paunch' is one single attribute unmistakably associated with the Bengali in many parts of India and also aborad. Marwaris are also in the same league, especially to a typical Bengali. But the difference is while a Marwari stereotype is a fat man with a big paunch, Bengali paunch comes in various sizes and the possesors range from generally healthy (with the paunch as the only odd part of appearance) to obese. The genesis of the paunch is in Bengali's legendary love for food that often overturns his concern for fitness (if there is any) and the fondness for sitting- at work or in 'adda' (prolonged casual chat) apart from other reasons.

Bengalis are reluctant, indulgent, fond, defensive or even proud of their paunch or others' paunches. Here's trying illustrating it with a few examples.

1. Pround of paunch: A man in his fifties is poked fun at his paunch by his sister-in-law ('Shali') whose husband is perfectly lean. The man retorts stating fortune is with those who possess a paunch (which is also traditionally looked as a sign of prosperity) and not with them who have a 'dog's stomach' (hinting at her husband).

2. Defensive: A healthy (and a little plump) friend who put on a lot of weight post his active university days remarked that he is dealt with importance because of his generous paunch when he negotiates for sitting space in local trains back home everyday. He would have been sidelined had he been lean.

3. Fond: A man in his late twenties in a decently paid job had lost weight (unintentionally) post his marriage. His friend's mother expressed her dissatisfaction over his weight loss ruing that his paunch had 'vanished'.

Talking of fondness, some have an extremely strange knack of patting their paunch like a tabla when they are happy.

4. Indulgent: A colleague had a just-noticeable paunch and was poked fun at it by his friends. But he genuinely thought gaining weight and growing a paunch had really improved his looks and would always smile away the moment whenever one pointed at it. He had caught Hepatitis and lost weight drastically. On his recovery he gained back all the excess weight. When somebody pointed out at his newly grown paunch as a result of the prolonged rest at home he promptly said 'but it was always there (before the disease)'.

Unless oddly big, a paunch is also looked at as a sign of overall health not only by the loving grandmothers, mothers and aunts but also by those hwo grow it.

As a dichotomy a Bengali also loves to point out at another's paunch and advise him to lose weight or just poke fun at it.

The talk can go on and on but will take it up on another day on an appropriate context. Let's come to the point now.

As reported by The Telegraph on top of front page earlier this month that a group of Indian medial experts led by Dr Anoop Misra, Head of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases division at Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, released the new cut-off points of overweight citing that BMI (body mass index, calculated as weight in kg divided by square of height in metres)- the international measure of fatness, had to be tailored for Indians and international standards couldn't be applied blindly. As Dr Misra said, the revision was long overdue (also approved by WHO some time back) as Indians' predisposition to metabolic diseases is among the highest in the world and fatness is directly linked to it.

The new standards state that an Indian adolescent/ adult with a BMI upto 22 is normal weight. 23-25 is overweight and above 25 is obese. The international standard that is currently followed calls a person overweight only when he/ she is within 25-30 and obese when the BMI crosses 30. As per the new cut-off a person with a BMI touching 25 will need to consider drug therapy as obesity is a disease in itself and can invite a host of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart problem, hypertension, gall stone and even cancer.

This is genuinely bad news for the Bengali who thinks he is fit and in decent shape albeit a bit of a paunch. Take this case: a man of 5'6" (average height for a Bengali) with an average build weighing 67 kg carrying a not-so-noticeable paunch will seriusly need to lose weight to just leave healthily as his BMI is 24.

So all those proud/ reluctant/ fond/ indulgent owners of a paunch beware! Take a hard look at it, be a little sensible about diet and try and be a little more active. Else this perceived sign of health will start taking a toll on the health itself.