My Experiments with Food and Fasting


Folks who know me from childhood will assert I was not an easy child to feed. My mother and her mother struggled hard to keep me well-nutritioned. In fact, my mother has so much practice that I’m pretty confident if she was on the UPA’s side, by now Anna Hazare would have quit crying about Lokpal or another one of his imaginary pals and go to sleep well-fed.

All that exposure to wholesome food is hard to get over. I’ve always eaten well save second year at NITK… It’s impossible to get unused to filling your craw every few hours with something or the other. Which is why my desk drawer always, always has some assortment of junk food and my fridge is well-stocked. Touchwood. I can’t for the heck of me fast.The system is always being fed at regular intervals. It doesn’t stock up on adipose because there’s no need to; the next source of energy will not be long in coming.

But a couple of weeks back, I’d just gotten done with a killer course and wanted to let myself off a few days, where I could just sleep and eat and watch movies and all that. I did end up watching a lot of chickflicks. Which is why I didn’t sleep much more than usual. But eat….. ahh…. that’s a story.

Living by yourself (or with a roommate whose culinary requirements are way different from yours) means nothing moves unless you move it. And your larder will not be stocked unless you stock it. And food will not magically appear until you make it. But given that I had resigned myself to a vegetative state, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about all the dosas, uthappams, sandwiches, burritos, palyas and other things I usually am enthusiastic about, and that increased how lazy I was to even eat. I think I had only about 33% of what I had everyday. So while I wasn’t technically fasting, for my body, which rings its alarm bells rather loudly at regular intervals, it was a reasonable approximation.

The point is, there was no lasting damage to me or my appetite or anything. I did feel weak after I got bored of the movies, but it wasn’t anything one square meal couldn’t fix. I’m sure if I was outside for a greater part of the day, I would have groaned in hunger and taken refuge in pizza, but given that all I was doing was wasting time on the Internet, watching movies and talking to friends, my calorie intake pretty much sufficed.

So I find it hard to figure out why the government caved in so early to Anna Hazare’s blackmail. I mean, this guy has made a career out of threatening to go hungry. He’s used to days without food. What’s more, he was in the damn Army, and I’m pretty sure their constitutions are sturdier than mine, and they’ll be used to standing in the sun without food for hours on end. So…. his threat doesn’t really strike me as a threat. More so since people of less sturdier constitutions go hungry not by their own will but because they don’t have the resources to procure food, and still continue to survive. Agreed, Anna Hazare is thrice my age, but I’m the desk job person who has to actually try to gain weight and goes to the rec center just so that I don’t forget what it is to run, and he is the one who has built a model village with his own hands.

The trick to starving well is to not remind yourself or your body that you need food. You need to keep yourself distracted, but not too active. You shouldn’t indulge in tasks that require much physical exertion or mental flexing. So solving differential equations is out, as is taking a long walk in the sun. Even more so, you shouldn’t indulge in this for more than maybe a few minutes at a time. Ideally, you would have to breathe correctly from your stomach to keep the circulation to your brain up so that you don’t get a headache from the lack of food, and to not tire your eyes, it would be helpful to go into a vegetative – oops – meditative state.

Now what exactly do these fasters do that violate these things? They sit in a public place, that’s it. They might make speeches, but that just keeps them distracted and not thinking about the food. They pretty much suspend their day-to-day activities. And they aren’t even exposed to the hot sun; their followers make sure of that. People, the sun is the biggest enemy to lack of food. The hotter your head gets, the hungrier you get. If you are not facing the sun, half your troubles are avoided while fasting. And I suppose no one watching the show would even be eating. I dare Anna Hazare to carry on his fast-unt0-death in a crowded restaurant, where the smell of well-cooked food assails his nostrils. Or to do his day-to-day work while not eating a morsel… that makes sense.

When we think of hunger strike, we think of the said person requiring the number of calories we require on a day when we’re going about doing our work. It doesn’t strike us that someone who is just sitting around in a comfortable environment requires far lesser number of calories and hence the not eating doesn’t affect them as much as we think it does.

On a related note, I suppose everyone assumes Gandhi had his simple diet which did not consist of milk or sweets or anything ostentatious. ‘He lived on fruits’ sounds so austere. I used to assume that too, until I came across some magazine where a former assistant of Gandhi’s was talking about his last day. The description of the morning meal baffled me. True, it consisted only of fruits, but heck, how much? Five oranges, three large tomatoes, several apples and a bunch of bananas to finish off, along with some juice as well. And possibly goat’s milk to tide over that technicality of his not having cow’s milk, but I’m not sure that was included. I sometimes have a single banana with milk for breakfast when I’m late for class, and I know several people who go without breakfast.

Till age 14, I could not imagine myself ever observing Ekadashi fasts – no grains in diet, but it turned out, the no grains is a technicality to be tided over – you can as easily have delicacies made of sabudana, as I learnt from a pro-at-ekadashi-fasts sort of person. Apart from the litres of milk and the kilograms of fruits, of course.

So heck, the next time someone says “He’s on a diet of onlyyyy fruits and still is so active!”, I’m going to sock them one. Even though it’ll be a rather weak punch because I only eat cereals, vegetables, lentils and junk…. beat this… my sister and I quit junk food for a while and snacked only on fruits, and it turned out we felt less lethargic, more active and more alert, even without coffee or Red Bull. Or maybe especially without.

The point I make after 1200 words here is, hunger strike is not a big deal until you’re at it for a week or something, if you are not indulging in any activity during it. All that it serves is to publicize your cause.

But even that is pretty suspect…. Irom Sharmila has been hungerstriking and has been force-fed for 10 years now, and the media is pretty tired and is pretty much ignoring her and her cause. And hunger strikes don’t always work…. which is why they are not so common. And read this piece by Manu Joseph, it’s pretty harsh on Anna Hazare, but it points out that he does the hunger thing mainly because he seeks publicity for his causes. I mean, if not the publicity surrounding him, why else will the country bother about yet another person dying of hunger?

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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14 Responses to My Experiments with Food and Fasting

  1. Logik says:

    I’ll just leave this here.

  2. harish says:

    ayyO ayyO! You are talking lightly about Anna Hazare’s fast! And as if that was not enough you are linking to articles that are critical of the man and his methods. These articles and their writers should be banned along with that book on Gandhi. I will now inform the ‘civil’ society about this and they will then allege that you have been bribed by politicians.

  3. Arjun says:

    We can discard that point Manu Joseph makes about the timing of the fasts and their lifting. Without publicity for the cause, nothing will come of it, so there is a need to ensure that people know. Gandhi did it back in the ’30s.

    Much better critiques of the fast and the whole show have been written. This one just came across as bitter.

    • wanderlust says:

      critiquing the whole concept of hunger strike and all that will obviously be done better by people elsewhere; they are paid for it. i can’t compete with that, more so since such pieces are my source of information (and opinion) about what’s happening out there. plus i’ve sort of given up verbalizing strong political opinions in strong terms.

      publicity is the big deal here. hazare is a pro at it. irom sharmila, no offense, sucks at it. im not exactly complaining about that, any publicity is good publicity. though in my opinion, the government caving in to blackmail is very unbecoming of it and sets a bad precedent.

      what i meant to say was hunger strike is not a big deal. the hysteria surrounding ‘omfg, he is starving’ is not worth it. or, for that matter, ‘he is vegetarian/observes ekadashi and hence is a better person’. nor is any other sort of food-based austerity. if you’re throwing your weight behind this cause, do it because you believe that giving some bunch of random people Inquisitor-like powers is worth it, not because someone claims to be going hungry for its sake.

  4. Arjun says:

    Wait, I think you got me wrong. When I said “Much better critiques of the fast”, I was referring to Manu Joseph’s piece. Apaartha maaDkobardamma. Adakke fast maaDbarDu annodu. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Nangu ade artha aagtilla, how the govt decided this fast was worthier than other fasts. People’s support? People lit candles and expressed outrage even after 26/11. Govt, like Harish, maintained a “This too shall pass” attitude; and it did pass. Not sure why they caved in this time.

    • wanderlust says:

      yes. oops. i misunderstood.

      im beginning to buck the theory that hazare is a congress agent.

      and manu joseph (and his entire magazine) seems to be making a career out of bitching about their fraternity and raking up muck by taking things out of their context. i mean, most of the stuff there seems to be of the ‘when i was a reporter, this guy used to do this insignificant thing that doesnt get reported coz everyone does it and it’s not a big deal, but since im mentioning it here, taken out of context, it’s your turn to be sickened and hate this person we have a vendetta against’.

  5. harish says:

    Needlessly my name has been thrown around by Arjun here. And he has tarnished my name by associating with a decrepit, dysfunctional, almost dead Govt. I protest this. and unequivocally condemn Arjun’s comment apart from demanding his ban.

  6. harish says:

    Not reeally. Maybe George Harrison. He was more generic and definitive when he said ‘All things must pass’. alve?

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