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Inzy's Story: A Cautionary Tale

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February 05, 2004 14:46 IST

Inzy is how we know him. A typically up north name is etched in his dog-eared birth certificate, no doubt issued by a disinterested municipal babu.

Chubby cheeks, flabby waistline and ponderous gait were his defining traits. That is till he held a cricket bat in his hand.

Then his pleasant disposition and ready laugh would be replaced by a fierce determination. No matter how fast one threw a ball at him he would have Father Time on his side. Quicksilver reflexes and dexterous foot movement ensured fielders had a good cardiovascular workout. Just like the real McCoy across the border.

His width and his strokes bestowed him the name Inzy. Visibly proud to be called Inzy he would have a broad smile on his face when addressed that way. That was three years ago.

Last week during a visit to Delhi when I bumped into him he was unrecognisable. His flabby waist had been chiselled down to a rock hard iron board tummy, his chubby cheeks had melted to reveal a square jaw and his ready laugh was replaced, quite surprisingly, by a self-conscious diffidence about his looks.

His engineer-turned bakery shop owner father, and cash laden, had asked him after a successful first year in college what he wanted. Inzy did not want to be Inzy anymore. Cricket wasn't cool too. Basketball, girls and discotheques were, and not necessarily in that order. And all three required far less clothing than cricket. Less clothing, said Inzy, meant more flesh.

Soon a butt of jokes, Inzy's self-esteem took a dent and his nickname became his bane. Now he preferred being called Rocky and when I called him Inzy he just about kept his displeasure under wraps. For all his sleek, mean look he appeared dissatisfied with life.

His father too was a worried man. Inzy, now Rocky, wasn't eating well, at times not eating at all. His role models were the Baywatch stars peeping out from the walls, cupboard, closet and, of course, the television in his room. Each one having exactly six abdominal biscuits, identical waists and ditto chests. So similar were each they seemed out of a factory, except for the faces. Just like Lifebuoy plus differs from Lifebuoy.

Inzy, of course, was still not a 'Baywatch star.' And that bothered him big time. The friendly neighbourhood doc had issued an ultimatum. If Inzy's head did not clear out soon enough he would be heading into the treacherous territory of anorexia nervosa. A disorder in which the afflicted person becomes obsessively sensitive about the intake of food, often resulting in self-destructive behaviour.

Inzy's story by itself may be quite unremarkable and parents of growing children may identify with it in degrees.

Anyone who has gone through the adrenaline charged years of adolescence would understand the almost obsessive need to look good. Part of sexual awakening, it is programmed in our biological memory chips to preen up to attract the opposite sex. After all, the very survival of mankind depends on these love games.

Teenage years are also the time to develop definite like and dislikes. What is desirable and what is not takes the form of 'cool stuff' and 'uncool stuff'. Places to hang out in, friends to be seen with, clothes to be worn; everything is weighed within the 'cool-uncool' matrix.

But what happens when the concept of desirability acquires a global form? What happens when the concept is wedded to selling, buying, markets and TRPs and becomes a commercial proposition? What happens when heroes are no longer flesh and blood human beings, but 'hot bods' beaming out of the tube?

It is true that a shrunk world has meant blurred boundaries, shared soaps and tears and a never before seen closeness and cooperation. No doubt choices -- from washing machines to condoms -- and opportunities -- from outsourcing to e-commerce -- have increased too.

But it is also equally true that such integration has also narrowed down the 'desirable' choices available. For instance gone are the days when mothers and fathers dragged their kids to the neighbourhood tailor for a makeover.

I, for one, remember being carted thrice a year to the tailor. For a pair of school uniform, Diwali clothes and something special for the odd marriage that cropped up in the extended family. They were functional, not 'cool'. Best of all size just did not matter. The only tailors in demand now are those who call themselves fashion designers.

Branded clothes have their own logic. Humanity for Levis, or for any other brand, can simply be divided into five sets of alphabets: 'S, M, L, XL, XXL.' And God forbid if you are 'XXL' with short legs. You will end up with a pair of jeans fit for a sack race.

The pressure to conform to these sizes, of course, is on the consumer. And reinforcing the adage 'size does matter' is our daily 24x7 companion whose flickering images exercise a near hypnotic control.

If perceptions were to be formed only on serials, movies and music videos beamed across countries one would think the world is made up of bulging biceps, washboard tummies and firm derrieres.

So difficult it is even for the adult mind to resist the seductive boob tube that is it any wonder that for the impressionable Inzy 'L, XL and XXL' are the undesirables, the 'uncools'?

Reinforcing Inzy's impressions are the numerous gyms that have sprouted in every locality. Ostensibly fitness centres, these body factories feed the frenzy to acquire those much-lusted after biceps, triceps and biscuits.

Add to that the late night teleshopping network shows hawking miracle teas and capsules that magically melt away fat in days and you truly have an industry that wants to make Barbie dolls of all -- united in one shape.

In an election year why should Inzy matter? He does because in Brazil and Argentina, where body sculpting has acquired the status of an art form and plastic surgeons are next only to gods, one out of three persons is dissatisfied with the way he or she looks. Anorexia nervosa is rampant, self-esteem of teenagers and young people is a prisoner of vanity and psychologists are in huge demand.

India is well on the path to emulate its Latin American friends. Not one bit a comforting thought.

And how do I plan to tackle it? For one I will never have a tattoo or colour my hair. For another I will keep my paunch till it does something to my cholesterol levels. When I wake up in the morning and peer into the mirror I see a crooked nose, puffy eyes and pockmarked face. But most importantly I see a happy, smiling face.

A bucktoothed smile at that, mind you.

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