The Fat Lady Sings

My Journey into Light

In conversation with..

I was recently asked to send in some answers to someone as part of a feature they are doing on Bariatric surgery.. 

Posting my replies here:
A brief back ground with basic information about your weight before the surgery, date of procedure, current weight 
Before I decided to go for bariatric surgery I weighed in at 127kgs. I had my surgery on 18th April 2016. My current weight is 88 kgs.
1. In what ways did obesity affect your life? If you want to, explain the challenges you experienced; things that you wanted to do but could not\how it affected your married life etc.

Obesity was a silent stone I bore around my neck. 
It held me hostage for so long I did not know all the things I was missing. Pain was a constant in my life: my back, my feet were in constant pain. 

I would surface into consciousness at times.. when I could not run after my daughter, or dance with her …even though in the past I could do both things.. but I pushed it into the back of my mind because I never thought there was a viable solution. 

While my husband accepted me along with my weight, his concern for my weight and what it may do to me long term, became a point of constant conflict between us. It had begun to affect everything, because every single conversation ended up in that discussion.. 
My extended family was far from supportive. Indeed, I have faced judgement and blatant insults on my face constantly, been talked down to, patronised and humiliated very often. Again, I had grown a thick skin about it but inside it was crushing.

The year before I had my surgery I developed severe allergic rhinitis due to which I could not breathe properly or sleep properly at night. As a result, my health and general energy levels dropped terribly. I had begun to hit rock bottom. 

My heart, blood sugar and other major counts were holding up but were on the brink of giving up..
2. What all options did you try to reduce? How did it help, or not help?

I had tried since 2000 to lose weight. Dropping as much as 20 kilos on some efforts, the most frustrating experience was that the weight always came back. 
I had tried normal diets, exercising, swimming, naturopathy, yoga: all of the above certainly helped, but they only took me part of the way. And then the slide downwards was inevitable once I got out of the discipline. 

Once that happened the whole brigade of ‘concerned’ stakeholders: husband, parents, siblings, friends , would descend, trying to motivate me to ‘return’ to my routine. 

And the pattern was exhausting. I was looking for a solution that would be a true solution. 

I led an active social life even before my surgery, but I used to be exhausted after going out or a get together, requiring at least a day or two to get over the fatigue of the weekend.. 

3. Why did you opt for bariatric surgery?

A close family friend of ours had undergone the surgery and had got life altering results. Seeing her pictures on social media, I got in touch with her. She told me her experience and it was reinforced several times over several conversations with her. She asked me to come and meet Dr. Ramen Goel , in order to get his inputs first hand. 

The true hook for me was that it was a permanent solution. And speaking to several of the doctors who had been my physicians over the years, the decision was further validated when they said that my weight was at the root of all my problems. 

It was a no brainer. On one hand was an option which offered a permanent solution, certain weight loss and freedom from a host of problems. On the other was the fact that I would have to make permanent commitments because it was a permanent and irreversible surgery. Given all that I would gain, the sacrifice was minimal.

My biggest support came from my family: my parents, my daughter and my husband. And very very close behind was my doctor and his excellent team. For the first time I was in an environment that was ‘safe’ for an obese person: people who understood me, my problem and offered me a solution without any judgement. They gave me hope and support. It was like coming home to family.

I took the decision. It was the best decision I took.
4.How has your life changed for better since the procedure and weight loss? (You got involved in newer hobbies that you wanted to pursue; became more social; positive effects on your relationship with your spouse; became more active- Dr Goel mentioned that you also participate in marathons)

My life has changed COMPLETELY after my surgery. As I started dropping weight, I started feeling more energetic. 

Weekends no longer needed ‘down time’: I was fine the next morning. I could walk so much more, and do so much more without needing to sit down. I started to spend more active time with my daughter, I started participating in runs. It was a great experience to be able to do something like a 5k run, although I was mostly walking briskly, but not lose my breath and feel great afterwards. 

In terms of family, apart from my avid supporters, there was a sense of confusion. I no longer ‘fit’ into expected pigeonholes, I was no longer a ready ‘target’: further, many people did not understand what had happened. Most people thought I had ‘finally’ gone on a diet and solved my problem, and so they asked me my secret. There was a general ‘gushing’ response : but at the root of it was a lack of understanding of any of my transformation. I took it in stride: few people had understood my problem and so very few people would understand how I solved it. 

It was much the same in my social circle. Apart from close friends, most people assumed I had gone for some drastic plastic surgery. When asked I mentioned my surgery. But for the most part, I just went with the flow. 

Everyone told me I was an inspiration. Such statements have little impact on me. I have spent too long in the wallpaper, and been too rejected for too long to find the appreciation a plus. 

It makes me happy to see my family impressed with my added energy, seeing my daughter happy to have me share her interests: simple things like mother -daughter outings are more fun now, because I can do more and share her energy and enthusiasm. My biggest joy is to be able to run with my daughter and dance with her. Seeing her joy in my sharing these moments with her makes it so worth it!!

It makes me happy to see my husband finally ‘respect’ how I have turned my life around. At some level he pushed me to my decision, indirectly. I sometimes wonder if he feels guilty about that. I wish he wouldn’t. His support has meant a lot. 
And it makes me happy to see my parents and sister celebrate my liberation and truly rejoice in it. I remember my father once told me that his biggest fear was that he would lose me before time. And now he is happy I am doing all the things he always believed I could do.

I spend a lot of time with children and I can match their energy these days. I am running, painting, exploring theatre.. 

I am reborn!! 


The point, really…

When we were in our final year of Post Graduation, or Graduate School.. while preparing for job interviews we were often counselled to look for a job for its content rather than the compensation. And the common litany was “I want to be excited about what I do” or “I want to do what makes me happy” or “I want to fulfil my purpose in life”.. you get the idea..

What dreams we had then.. being agents of change, ambassadors for gender equality, the perfect balancing act.. achievers, trailblazers.. it was all possible. Because we had the whole world which lay ahead.

I remember a batch mate who bluntly said, it was about the money. He would work for whoever paid him the highest. And we all stood in judgement saying he was ‘selling out’ to the highest bidder.. what about ethics? And purpose? And career objective? 

The reply was succinct, honest and something I appreciate today (with the benefit of hindsight and burnt fingers). He said he was a professional, and that meant doing even unpleasant things well, doing things that one did not even like, with competence and excellence. Chances were that we would all end up in repetitive and unimaginative jobs for the most part. The least we should have is financial compensation for the drudgery. 

And if we were excellent, the dream, and career clarity and success would follow. 
I have lost touch with this person over the years, but I often reflect on what he said.. and I realised that the most profound dream come true is working with contentment. 

Whether it is filling a high flying role in a corporate job, or stripping coriander to garnish a dish, or cleaning and polishing the car.. contentment is the key. 
Doing what I love, doing what I must and doing what has to be done. Semantics? Not at all. It spells the key to how we live, how we relate to others and how others relate to us. When we are content we aren’t really out to prove any points, strike any poses, posture to gain the upper ha d.. in general we are pleasant people. And that attracts the right kind of folks into our lives.. people who are also comfortable with themselves. 

Isn’t that the dream? Isnt that what all the drama is about? Contentment, and content will bring the compensation. The journey is toward contentment. 

I acknowledge today how much discontent I was bottling up inside me. And like poison it bloated me up and made me an ungainly 127kgs in weight. So many little hurts, big shocks, resentments: could have, would have, should have buried me alive under layers of adipose.. I was buried alive and I smiled through it all because I did not know how much my body was screaming out to be loved, to be acknowledged as a part of who I am .. I was the parent who abused the child to make up for the stress of everyday life. The parent was who I was, the child was my body. Because it was mine to do with has I wanted. Because it was the one thing I had complete ownership over.. 

The buck stopped somewhere. When I realized what I was doing to my family, people who loved me by destroying me, I had to take a hard look in the mirror and wiped off the fake smile and the practiced guffaw and replace it with care, regret and love for myself. It took me a while to give myself a hug..I struggle to do it even today.

Am I home yet? I don’t think so.. but I am on the path that takes me home: to loving myself, to contentment with myself. 40 kilos off is only clearing of rubbish from the cupboard. There is still a lot of settling and sorting and arranging to do. But for the first time in 40 years, I want to, for myself.

And that’s the point, really. 

Let’s pin up the poster

I gotta tell you about Hilda. I love Hilda. She epitomises everything that I want to see corrected in the representation of women in popular culture. I love the woman she represents, not just for the way she looks but for the way she is. She. Is. Gorgeous!

She is also fictional and a watercolour character, created by Duane Bryers. And she is more than 70 years old! (That’s how long she has existed..)..
She was created in the 1950’s as a pin up calendar girl. Painted in watercolour, she is generously curved, and as a character scantily clad also.. with itty bitty scraps of flower garlands and others. 
Hold your horses, indignation or otherwise. She is a pin up girl and so this comes with the territory. Yes: she objectifies the woman’s body. But I see something different when I look at those pictures. I see someone who is full of the joy of life: a little playful, a little accident prone, very deeply alive. I see someone who is content. I see a woman who lives life fully, talking to birds and puppies, painting her fence, farming, fixing stuff up, sunbathing, fishing..
I see a pretty face with a double chin and masses of curly red hair.. beset by doubt as she holds up a pair of overalls that are too small.. in a plaster cast after a skiing accident.. precariously balanced as the boat sails away.. and in various other predicaments..giggling, laughing, dancing.. 
And that’s what makes her so very very human and charming.. she is you and me, she is not perfect and she is adorable. At some point in time she represented the pin up girl: stuff of fantasies, not perfect, but gorgeous! 
The ideal was achievable and real. The fantasy was touchable and real. 
Hilda would not have sent women into starving sprees.. she may have sparked a wistful smile in them to live with that freedom. So the freedom to be herself was what appealed, he carefree nature was what was appealing.. she was a Goddess but not one on a pedestal.. and in that she represented something wholesome. 
We need more of the wholesome. We need a more achievable dream. We need to tell ourselves and our daughters, sisters and friends that it’s ok not to be ideal, perfect. Let’s celebrate our imperfections, and wear them without apology or shame. Be it in appearance, or any other imperfections, we have to be kinder to ourselves and say we don’t have to be perfect. But we need to be wholesome. And real. 
Hilda needs to be our poster girl.. not just a water colour pin up girl. 

Normal. Is. Boring. 

Often, when I meet friends and family nowadays.. after the usual exclamations of surprise and awe at the weight I have lost, they ask me, “So now, everything must be back to normal?” I have also been told, “You look normal now.” (Of course I enjoy the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.. who wouldn’t?)
And then I wonder what normal is.. the person who is commenting is supposed to be ‘normal’, right? Is normal uniform? Aren’t we all different and unique? Then how do we say “This is abnormal” and “This is normal.”

How do we set down the ‘rules’ that make one normal?
I have heard stories of children incarcerated by teachers because they are dark skinned. I have heard stories of children ostracized by classmates because they had a skin rash caused by allergy. I have heard stories of girls being teased mercilessly because they had short hair (‘Princess’ Diana did too, but clearly we have to impose our definition of beauty on others).. apart from the usual culprits: ‘loser’, ‘stupid’, ‘fat’, ‘ugly’…
And it doesn’t change as you grow up, or do we grow up.. we just drop saying what we think. And we think it more vehemently, with harsher judgement and behaviour that drips with cruelty- verbal, active.. and so normal is defined and you are expected to toe the line.
And so we go on. The outer shell is so very important. “Does this make me look fat?” is a question I have never understood: the only question that makes sense is “How do I look?” Fat, short, skinny, dark, fair, gangly, awkward, loud, elegant, snazzy, swag.. how do the specifics matter if I look good? Better still, if that is how I feel?
Let us define our own normals, please. 
If that is comfortable jeans and cotton tops, with sneakers, or four inch heels in shift dresses. Eating what nourishes us, laughing as loud as we like, talking without worrying how it will ‘sound’, loving without prejudice, caring without inhibition: living as we are comfortable. Can we let that be normal, please? Comfortable is normal. So is sanity. 
So when you ask me if things are back to normal, I smile. It’s what we do when you can’t do anything else. 
Because I don’t know what normal is. And I am not going back either. 
Normal. Is. Boring.

Dark proof

My daughter wants to ‘count her steps’.. she thinks she is lucky as she does not enjoy sweets. And she has lately asked to cut down on butter and cheese. I was glad that she is making healthy choices. Perhaps watching me struggle with weight was having an impact. An idle comment from her made me stop short. she said she wouldn’t wear some outfit because her ‘paunch’ showed.. 

And I did a double take. Why was I hearing this from her.. ? I was wondering if I was over reacting .. and then some other things I heard from other parents started to play back. Girls who were watching their weight and wanted to lose weight. Girls who had stopped eating because they were being teased in class as  ‘Moti'(fat)..! And these were 7 year old children! Children whose only worry should be how to spend more time in the park.. or which theme to have for their birthday party.. or some such worry. Not how to lose weight So someone will not tease them. 

What are we doing? Little girls are starting out by hating their bodies. Where do we go from there.. eating disorders and the whole plethora? This darkness is deep, and it never ends in a good place. Let children play, work up a sweat and focus on their health. Why on their looks? And both those children were girls. Why are girls subjected to stricter standards when it comes to appearance? 

This disturbing reality has to change, this narrative has to change. 

Let us equip our children to love themselves. I remember watching a video  where a father stood his little girl in front of a mirror after brushing and made her repeat, “I am strong. I am healthy. I am unique.I am beautiful. I am better than no one. No one is better than me.” That is the narrative we need to teach our children. These sentences encapsulate succinctly the essence of good self image. It focuses on health and strength, on individuality, on self confidence and respect for others. 

When children start living this and believing it, they will believe in themselves. And stop calling their friends ‘Fat’ or ‘dark’ or ‘stupid’ or anything derogatory.. because “I am better than no one’.

Because we aren’t .. we are wonderful in our own unique ways.. there is a vast sky out there and plenty of stars in it..there is  enough space for all of us to shine our own unique light. And especially for all children to shine: bright and hopeful and energetic. Let’s keep the darkness out of their light. Let’s ‘dark proof’ them with love and kindness. 

“Will there be anything else..?”

A pleasant smile accompanied the question, “Will there be anything else, maam?” We were a group of 5 women. I occupied the most space. And it wasn’t the waiter’s fault that the question was directed at me. I was most likely to order dessert, or ‘something else’.. for the record, I didn’t. It was tough to stand down the judgement in the eyes of people if you did order that lovely red velvet cake with cream cheese topping.. or the caramel custard.. or the gulab jamun.. or the kulfi.. or another drink.. 

Eating out.. something that was ‘social’ was often an exercise in posturing and managing judgement. “Are you sure you don’t want anything else?” “Come on.. have something else..” “One day won’t change anything..” .. there was a pattern to it. It was well meaning most of the time. After all, I was within friends and family. 
How we order the healthy options on some days: the salads and the fiber and the low cal options and look ‘good’ in public, only to sneak home and feast at night from the fridge.. how we just let go and order the double cheese pizza or the Death by Chocolate dessert.. how some one judges us as we order, or pities us, or orders for us (because how can someone like me know what is good for me?).. 

But unless you walk in somebody’s shoes, you cannot understand where it pinches. For someone who has never experienced obesity.. it is difficult to understand what it means to beat it. Why on some days it is NOT ok to let go of the diet, because that means we fall off the wagon and getting back on is really difficult. Why in some days compassion and empathy may be better options.. than stepping out for coffee smack in the La La land of Temptation (croissants, muffins, cookies, red velvet cake, blueberry cheesecake, pastries, danish, cinnamon rolls,….)… why don’t we catch a movie instead..(popcorn, cheese nachos, giant servings of areated drinks..) … or let’s take a walk .. ( and cross the Chaat shop, or the samosa thela..).. you see, if you want to help, you can’t.. unless I let you, and say NO to it all.. finally, finally.. it’s not you, it’s me. And only I can understand me, if I am honest to me and try to get it.. 
Get why I swing between the Feast and the Fast and never ever lose weight in a sustainable way because I can lose the 15 or 20 kilos and start feeling good and then the ‘one day’ happens and the slide down the slope is rapid, or the festive season happens and I feel entitled to ‘reward’ myself for all my sacrifices which bear fruit.. or some days because it is really so much simpler to indulge in the pleasure of that serving of sinful food and the comfort I seek from it because nothing else is comfortable, and nothing else gives joy or satisfaction than that ‘hit’… 
Or because the darkness is so bad that I delude ourselves that the ‘comfort’ food is golden light.. that the filled and satiated sensation is contentment.. 
So “Will there be anything else, madam?” No, mon Ami, there will not be.. unless you can serve a sense of self worth, or contentment, or security or confidence.. and you don’t usually serve those at a table.. I have to serve myself that in generous proportions by tapping the infinite strength within.. and if I am very very fortunate, as I have been, with a little (or lot of) help from my friends..


We all know the story of the Greek sculptor Pygmalion. He spent a lot of time sculpting the figure of a woman and, when it was finished, he fell in love with it because it was perfect. He prayed for it to come to life and it did, as Galatea. And the story ends there. 
I sometimes wonder if they had a ‘happily ever after’.. what did Pygmalion wish for in Galatea.. after he just sculpted her outward physical self: what about the person she was? Was she submissive and did exactly as she was bid? Was she independent and beautiful in her own sense? Why doesn’t the story ever tell us that?
Isn’t that what is important? Why does it matter so little what Galatea thought and felt? Why does no one talk about what she was like as a person? Was she self absorbed? Or kind? Or vapid? Is it not the way a woman ‘is’ that is important, not just what she looks like? 
Throughout my life, I have inspired people to their best creative effort. I don’t know what it is about me that inspires people to be at their ‘fix it’ best. Is it the Pygmalion in people that they always comment about the appearance of some one and try to ‘fix’ it? 
“Basically you have such a pretty face.. if only you lost a little weight..?” “You have a wonderful smile, but…” “Don’t you think it would be so much easier for you if you lost weight?” “You need to fix the shape of your body..” and on and on and on .. twenty five years of sculpting.. twenty five years of ‘fixing’..
When I was seven or eight, I was called Motu. Looking back, I see I was fine.. 

It kept on and on and on.. the weight added on.. 

… till I got here.. 

And .. here.. 

And … here..

Today, I am here.. 

At 12 I was convinced I was just too fat to be presentable in any way. I had stopped wearing jeans, or any fitted clothes hiding behind loose and baggy clothes.. the hatred for my body was beginning to build.. 
It’s natural to feel awkward about yourself at that age, but to have every bit dissected and to receive feedback on it.. was so normal that I never questioned it. 
It never stopped .. I always felt alone and that no one ‘stood up’ for me when I was being insulted or hurt. It’s taken me all these years to realise I was a moron. I wasn’t standing up for myself either, was I!?
And so the Pygmalions chipped away at me .. all the time. And as Galatea I always felt that if I shaved off that bit, I’d be okay. All that was left after that, were the chips and shavings, right? I needed a sculpture.. and I was left with rubble.. 
Galatea should have walked away and found her own path. 

Spending your life and love on someone who wants to ‘fix’ you ‘just right’ makes you a cup of tea or a salad.. and people are way more than that! 
Happy New Year, and may you fix your own salad! 


I remember sitting in the lobby of our apartment chatting with some neighbours. We sat talking about working out in a gym (I curled my toes in, I HATED these discussions) and the invariable discussion veered to how much weight X had put on and how much the rolls were showing on Y. As always, I listened.. and waited for the inevitable. Someone would turn to me, put on the most conciliatory tone and patronising expression and counsel me to lose weight. 
I was so used to it by now that I threw in my own gauntlet: “Ladies, the day you feel miserable, just look at me and feel good!” By then I was already a good 50-55 kilos overweight, well into three digits and .. numb to all this. Offence was the best defence, innit? And in any case I found all these discussions so very vapid.. at least I could lose weight, (really?).. but how far would his conversation go? 
Ever looked at a gift box in a shop window? Or a store? Or received one? How beautiful everything looks inside! Artistically arranged and colourful, and so attractive and appealing! 
Now, stop a moment. What else do you remember of those gift boxes? The ribbon? The flourishes in the packaging? (If you are an observant soul.. the colour of the wrapping paper?)
Do you remember the cellophane? The transparent acetate cover of the box? Do we remember anything that is transparent?
Now imagine living your life in this manner: invisible, people see through you. 

Discussions on weight loss, people who let themselves go.. ‘fat’ jokes in poor taste.. faux concern, real concern. 
Counselling by family, friends.. people who try to police you, people who try to ‘motivate’.. incentive plans if I lose weight.. (I have been offered holidays, new wardrobes, jewellery…)..
And you are sitting right there.. being judged, diagnosed, counselled and ‘fixed’ : without your participation, or consent or buy in.. 
Cellophane: invisible, ornamental, incidental, disposable. 
Growing a thick skin, and an even thicker layer of fat becomes a downward spiral. 
When does it start? When I look at snaps of myself as a child, and growing up.. I realise that it builds up in little bits.. and little by little we move away from who we really are and grow into how the world sees us.. fat, obese, unattractive, rejected. 
Because we don’t love ourselves enough to shatter their self image, because we don’t love ourselves enough to fight for ourselves.. to understand what we can really do to ‘fix’ us.. 
The journey starts with holding our hands and telling us that we are loved and accepted.. unconditionally.. no ‘if only’, no ‘why don’t you”. 
I am also reaching out to you all. I have also been cellophane like you, and only just found a way back into colour, visibility and light.. 
Bariatric surgery and meeting the extraordinary people who have worked with me to make mine a success has shown me the light. 
And cellophane is transparent: light shines through! Shine on! 

Fasten your seat Belts

Traveling by air with “excess baggage” can be quite challenging due to many reasons. They are commonly discussed by frequent or not-so-frequent travelers.

An oft repeated story is how they may have had an overweight person sitting next to them, due to which the entire flight was a nightmare. Sure, I can understand that.

I also have a story to tell. Having travelled for decades as said overweight passenger, there are challenges galore in that.

Firstly, leg space.. once I attained full height it mystified me as to why the space was getting smaller. It really was.. not because my legs were growing but because the airline industry was celebrating my growth y reducing the space in which to stuff myself. Add to that I believed in egalitarian growth..  not only did I grow in height, I started adding horizontal growth too.

In the process, the seat belt gave up on me. It just threw a tantrum and refused to meet its mate on the other side. 

So I started perfecting the art of putting on a bland expression and asking for my additional seat belt. It was one of the first things I did as soon as I reached my seat because I have had experience where it has been handed to me as we were taxiing for take off.

Now, when being handed I have seen such a vast variety of expression in the faces of he airline staff.. were you to ask for a glass of water, it would be handed to you with a smile, or an indifferent blank face. But the additional seat belt inspired their range of expression.

Very very rarely has it been handed to me with a pleasant and professional smile. It’s either an expression that says,”There! Take it!” Or one where there is a struggle to mask judgement with a neutral expression, but which only ever domes out a smirk. Sometimes, they actually look down their noses at you, too.

And the question unspoken is always,”Have you looked at yourself lately?”

The more pertinent question was, “Had I?” Somewhere in the upward spiral that was my weight, and the myriad issues that came with it, I truly truly had stopped looking at the mirror. Even when I looked, it was at parts of my body: to check if the parting was straight in my hair, to look at the eye as I applied make up, to check if the hem of my saree was at the right level, to check if the bulge of any of my rolls was in need of further camouflage..and so on.

We stop looking at ourselves. We stop looking at how dead our eyes look. We stop smiling at ourselves. And the darkness fills us up inside. And there is so much of it that you bloat up.. until the seat belt does not meet its mate.. until the chasms between you and your body widens under all the inches, and judgment and inevitably, pain. Back pain, heart pain.

We may smile, we may soldier on.. each moment is a struggle until your body eats away at your soul..

After my surgery, as I was on my way home, I asked for the extension seatbelt for the last time. The next time I travelled, I had a comfortable flight where the seat handles didn’t dig into the sides of my thighs, and I could sit comfortably and I actually adjusted the seat belt to ‘reduce’ its length to be appropriate..

It was not a small moment or a tiny joy! As the buckle clicked, I put a tick on a checklist for the rest of my life..fasten your seat belts ladies and gentlemen! Here I am!

Amrita C Paul

20th December 2016


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