The book “Truth Digger: The Best of Shovon Chowdhury” has been edited by Urmila Chowdhury and Sandipan Deb.
Shovon Chowdhury was a writer with a razor-sharp wit whose work blended the bizarre with the profound. Part-jester, part-rationalist, he employed his terrific sense of humour (often directed at himself ) to put an absurd spin on reality.
Wildly funny, thought-provoking, and thoroughly entertaining, this book pays tribute to one of our finest comic writers.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Evidence that gyms are unnatural
In medieval times, your average upscale residence came equipped with a dungeon, where beastly instruments were kept, which inflicted unspeakable tortures on the flesh of humans. Over time, as humanity evolved, they have been replaced by gyms. Most now have air conditioning, so that people can suffer in comfort. Some of the instruments have touch screens.
My own experiences with gyms have been mixed. I come from Bengali gentry, where sudden movement is frowned upon. When I was young, my culture protected me. But we all have to leave the nurturing bosom of our family at some point, and eventually, I had to come to Delhi, where this unholy practice is quite widespread.
I first realised my peril sitting at a bar on New Year’s Eve. It dawned on me that I was sitting in between two young men in sleeveless tees, with arms the size of my thighs. They were drinking moodily, no doubt reflecting on the fact that while their bodies were temples, they still didn’t have girlfriends. I knew that after a few more drinks, I would be making humorous remarks about this. I finished my drink and slunk away quickly.
Subsequently, I faced challenges from the corporate sector. In Kolkata, the corporate sector was mainly about leather armchairs and gin, with some light noodling on the golf course thrown in. Delhi was more active. I realised this in Janakpuri. During a period of financial trouble, our boss shifted us from Vasant Vihar to Janakpuri. Vasant Vihar is a posh part of town, full of expats, cafés, and shoppes. Janakpuri was more of a work in progress.
This social downfall affected us deeply. Morale plummeted. We mumbled when asked where we worked. Despite being a bit of a penny pincher, and somewhat lacking in human qualities, our boss was not immune to our sorrow. He thought of ways to cheer us up. He was willing to spend money, as long as the budget was reasonable. He created a lavishly appointed gym in the basement, with several treadmills, a shiny bondage rig, and hooks to hang our towels on.
Once it was set up, I remember a group of us going down to see it. We tiptoed around and touched the instruments gingerly. We spoke to each other in whispers. We trooped back up in silence, determined never to come back again. By and large, we kept this promise. I went down once, a few months later, just to see how it was doing. The place was covered in dust, and the security guards were using the treadmills to dry their socks and underwear.
This gym in Janakpuri revealed to me a basic truth. Gyms are an unnatural construct, forced upon us by supermodels and Photoshop. Under actual laboratory conditions, when left together in the middle of nowhere, our natural inclination is to avoid them.[The Hindu, 17 April 2017]
This slimness fetish must stop!
As a society, we need to stop harassing fat people. There are many reasons for doing so. If one of them sits on you, you will regret it. But it goes beyond self-preservation. It’s morally wrong.
Fat people have illuminated human history. Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock and Queen Victoria were all pleasantly plump. Their silhouettes were distinctive. American president William Howard Taft had a waist size of 54 inches and bathed in a specially-constructed bathtub. He looked out on the Atlantic Ocean one morning and said, ‘I’ll get a piece of that fenced in some day, and then when I venture in, there will be no overflow.’ Hemingway was no gazelle, and neither is Bhappi Lahiri. Adnan Sami did his best work when he was well fed. Elvis Presley’s favourite snack was a peanut butter, jelly and bacon sandwich. Farah Khan has shown Shakira how to shake it.
Across the ages, well-rounded individuals have filled the world with joy and inspiration. And how do we repay them? By telling them they’re not good enough. All these dieting tips and fitness routines are just ways of humiliating them. We are singling them out as defective. Why do we need to write about such things, that too in national newspapers? What you do to your body in the privacy of your home is your business, but this type of public flaunting is just hurtful and cruel.
I am also disturbed on a personal level. Quite a few of my relatives are full-figured, and I have never held it against them. They serve the best meals. For Bengalis, meals are very important. We discuss what to have for dinner while eating lunch. At dinnertime, breakfast is a popular topic, along with some light strategizing on lunch again. In Calcutta, we call this the circle of life. ‘Health food’ is an oxymoron. When we call a man healthy, we mean that he has some flesh on him, with curves in all the right places. My dietary requirements are rich and diverse. Why should I open newspapers and keep seeing pictures of salads? Who are you to push salad in my face? Everyone is trying to tell me what to eat. People complain about Gau Rakshaks, but what about Salad Fanciers? How are they any better?
And why must I keep looking at abs? This is what the Greeks used to do, and see how their civilisation has fallen. This type of malpractice must stop immediately. If you want to get thinner, go get a room. And if you think you’re better than fat people, try belting out one song like Bhappi-da; then we’ll see.[The Hindu, 1 May 2017]
Excerpted with permission from Truth Digger: The Best of Shovon Chowdhury, edited by Urmila Chowdhury and Sandipan Deb, Aleph Book Company. Read more about the book here and buy it here.