- Suppose This Is Globe
Last year, Baba and Dadi—my grandparents—visited us in California. They had been there for a few weeks before I arrived. In my own personal tumult just before my first medical licensing exam, I spent what time I could with them.
Each night, our family of aunts, uncles, and cousins coalesced at my aunt’s house. One evening, Baba sat in his wicker chair in the middle of the room. I sat on the floor next to his legs. We were both quiet, listening to the surrounding chatter. Leaning against him, I felt his arm making lazy circles around his belly. He whispered, “Suppooose this is globe.”
I looked up at him—“Eh?”
“When I was in school, I had a math teacher,” he said, stopping his rhythmic motions. “He was very strict. But sometimes, he would turn to us and say, ‘Suppooose this is globe.’” Baba lovingly began to rub his own belly again as he repeated the words.
By this time, the whole room was listening. We waited for more as he paused.
“And then what?” I asked, imagining young boys sitting in a damp cement village room.
“What?” he responded.
“Didn’t he use the globe to point out countries or something? Why was it a globe?”
“No—that’s all he would say.”
Seeing my dissatisfied face, Dadi told me to stop listening to Baba’s stories because “Unka na sir hai na tang” (they have no head or legs). But this one had [End Page 59] something, because I couldn’t stop going up to Baba again and again—grinning as I reached for his belly and rubbing it gently while repeating his own phrase, “Suppooose this is globe.” He would echo the words in amused response.
Before returning to medical school, I touched Baba’s feet—as my family does in deference to our elders—and gave him one last pat on his abdomen. It was the last time I saw him. He died in India just a few weeks later.
Rendered suddenly grandfatherless, I couldn’t stop thinking about Baba and all the ways in which I was a reflection of him. After my birth, a relative had seen my round face with its baseline pout and cried out that another Baba had been born. How when he and I lay on our sides and read—as we both loved to do—one leg stood sturdily as a triangle, perpendicular to the bed, and the other crossed in a parallel but inverse triangle in front of it. We both also told stories, regardless of whether we had an audience that wanted to hear them.
Fat activist and clinical social worker Sonalee Rashatwar says, “We look as we are supposed to look. We look like our family. We look like our ancestors.” People from my state of Bihar are predisposed to abdominal adiposity, as are many South Asians. Our bellies store extra fat around the gut organs, which means we share similar shapes. It is not entirely clear why. Epigenetic and evolutionary theories hint towards a relationship with both physiologic and psychologic trauma, particularly histories of starvation. Bihar has experienced its share of famines, the most insidious and devastating occurring during India’s colonial occupation.
Medical school taught me more intimately how abdominal adiposity might kill me, namely, via diabetes and high blood pressure—which themselves are not benign chronic illnesses, though we hear them so frequently as threats and diagnoses that they sometimes feel less scary than they are. The very term chronic suggests on one hand a lengthy path but does not adequately encompass its potentially arduous nature.
The truth is I disliked my rounded abdomen before I knew about its potential health consequences. Throughout my childhood, it was another marker of how distinct my brown, immigrant body was in suburban California during the 1990s. I would stand in front of my mirror and suck it in while pulling at my T-shirt to see what I would look like if it didn’t exist. When I had lost most of it before starting college, I whined to my cousins, “Why won...