Like several million people on this planet, I weigh 15 pounds more than I'd like. But my 15 pounds appeared overnight, after an airplane ride from my home in India to Boston.
As a child in Chennai, I was considered worryingly thin. My mother sluiced an appetite stimulant down my throat at dinnertime and force-fed me cod-liver oil once a week—to no avail. As I grew into a slim teen, Ma would point to my collarbones as evidence that I was wasting away, but I was unmoved. If my figure didn't quite match the voluptuous Bollywood heroine standard, well, my salwar kameezes (flowing tunics worn over drawstring pants) fit me fine. Rare was the woman who wore pants in Chennai, which was far too hot for anything but the lightest and loosest of clothing.
Then I moved to New Hampshire for graduate school and began a life in denim.
The body that I had considered normal was now revealed to be anything but. My jeans showed no mercy; every untoned millimeter of my belly hung over my waistband like an overbite in search of an orthodontist. Pants widened my hips, shrank my legs and made my waist disappear. In India, I'd been above average in height. In the States, I was short (so said the Gap). From a tall, thin Women's, I had morphed into a petite, plump Misses'—without gaining or losing a smidgen of flesh.
There ought to be a dictionary entry for those who enter the Western world to find that their bodies are thin no more. My vote goes to "slimmigrant"—for an immigrant who discovers that he or she needs to shed a dozen pounds to be considered unfat.
My quest for asslimilation began with a whimper. I forswore mayonnaise, peanut butter, cheesecake and tortilla chips—delicacies I'd never sampled before coming to America. I stopped going to those $9.99 Indian buffets with their unlimited helpings of butter chicken. For the first time in my life, I visited a gym, where my whimpers became shrieks of pain.
My extra poundage, however, was like a cockroach; it might disappear for a while, but it could never be eradicated. Potluck lunches, Thanksgiving dinners and snow days made sure of that.
Two years ago, on my 30th birthday, I resolved to remain plump forever rather than go on another diet. And to escape my new homeland, which considered me overweight, I resolved to take a holiday in Chennai, where salesgirls would hint that garments would drape better if only I were wider, my aunt would insist that I was scrawny and my mother would feed me restorative spoonfuls of clarified butter. I booked my plane tickets.
Satellite television and globalization had changed the city I grew up in: in the five years I'd been away, skim milk had replaced the heavy cream of middle-class India, and those cushiony Bollywood heroines had been supplanted by supermodels whose hipbones could shred lettuce.
It seemed that every girl in Chennai was wearing trousers (and the girls' waists seemed no bigger round than a CD). The neighborhood video-rental store had become a fitness center. Even my aunt had bought a stationary bike (which she rode very competently in her sari).
My mother said she was glad to see me looking so nice and healthy. Time to go on a diet, I realized. I opted for the Mediterranean one—I love pizza.