Saturday 22 October 2016

Making Light Of Solidity

At last, a get-thin book from India that chucks cheese for channas, yet puts on some weight around the covers
Don't Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight
By Rujuta Diwekar
Random House India Pages: 279; Rs. 199
If devouring diet books could make you lose weight, your reviewer would be a thin woman. She is not. What a good diet book does however—to paraphrase what some lipstick king once said about his cosmetics—is sell hope. It leaves you with the strong conviction that, as writers in this genre are apt to tell you, You Can Do It. It has you reaching for your diary, writing "This is the first day of the rest of my life" next to tomorrow’s date, scribbling menus on the backs of envelopes, starting a food diary and calling up your best friends—all, of course, dying to drop a few kilos just like you—and saying, Hey guys, this is the book, buy it.

Now, if you stuck with the guidelines, usually spelt out so clearly that any half-wit could understand them, the chances are you would lose weight, as you would on any careful eating plan—but ‘if’ is of course the hardest word in this sentence. However, human frailty is not the point of this review. The point is: what makes Rujuta Diwekar’s book a winner? This Mumbai dietician has notched up the highest sales of this half-year (50,000 copies), outstripping IT czar Narayana Murthy, whose pearls of wisdom finished a poor second. Zip through her chatty book and you will know why. Rujuta’s ideas aren’t revolutionary. She is not the first of her tribe to extol the benefits of several small meals a day over three big ones; to advise you to get most of your eating done before sundown; to tell you to count nutrition rather than calories; watch your blood sugar levels and weight loss will follow, and so on. But when did you last read a diet book by an Indian writer that was halfway readable, funny, well-organised, sensible and persuasive, all at the same time? Told you both the rules and how to cheat intelligently, if you slipped up? And saved you from wading through Ayurveda English or illiterate sentences with either too many articles or too few ( "take juice of karela before the dawn"), or weird only-paneer-today, bran-rotis-tomorrow eating plans?

Because there haven’t been desi books worth the read, diet-book junkies have largely had to survive on Western bestsellers, which is harder work than it sounds. It means trying to relate to the woes of case study Katie A whose grandmother in Pennsylvania fed her only processed and packaged foods and goodies from the candy shop because she was too busy running her business. Oof, these Americans, you tsk-tsk virtuously as you read. Or then, you scratch your head wondering what to substitute for steak tenderloin and where to find extra-light Laughing Cow cheese. (The latter, prescribed by a wildly popular American diet, has now come to be stocked by upmarket Indian grocers, and at least one is known to nod knowledgeably and say, "Accha to aap South Beach pe hai" when customers ask for it).

After such absurdities, what bliss to pick up a cheap-and-cheerful bag of roasted channa for your mid-morning low-glycemic-index snack and read about compulsive fad dieter Kedar ("arre 15 to 16 nimbu squeeze karne ka aur peene ka, kya cleanse hota hai total system") and his bewilderment after a lecture on nutrition from Rujuta ("Matlab yeh sab mehnat karke mein to ch***** ban gaya! Sorry madam"). With, one suspects, generous assistance from her savvy editor Chiki Sarkar, this diet guru has got not just the advice but also the tone right.

Where this talented duo seem to have overdone it is in their dependence on Bollywood tittle-tattle to sell the book. Kareena Kapoor is mentioned not less than three times on the cover (she being Rujuta’s client), the book is dedicated to her, has a foreword by her and has an afterword devoted to her, in which Rujuta reveals how "normal and real" she is (reminding her in that respect of another client, Anil Ambani), what she ate on which shoot and how she made her momentous journey from thin to thinner. Now, we all know Bollywood sells, but still, it is a bit of a letdown to have your newly discovered fount of nutritional wisdom jump off her pedestal and turn into a groupie. Rujuta, the next time you write a book—and I do hope you will—please cut the flab. You Can Do It.

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