Friday, September 03, 2004

The Amazing Tiffin Box II: The Interview

Continued from The Amazing Tiffin Box I: Save our Stomach

Look out for the ‘hand’, I was told.

My cab pulled up in front of the Congress office at Dadar, with a large mural of the party symbol. Adjacent to it, was a nondescript two-storey building with a tiny board over the entrance, ‘The Health Awareness Centre’.

I entered a small room, which led to a spiral staircase on the right and opened out into a large kitchen on the left. A dozen or more workers in smocks and caps were filling row after row of shiny tiffins. With anticipation mounting, I climbed the staircase.

The room at the top was bright and airy. There a few low tables and wicker stools arranged around them. Potted plants and wooden bookcases lined the walls. Pithy quotes on health also dotted the room. It didn’t seem like a formidable setting for an ‘interview’.

'Can I help you?',
a petite, bespectacled woman in a pink salwar, asked me.

'I'm here for the interview', I stammered.

She disappeared into another small room and came back with a 6-page form.

"Here fill this first", she said.

Either this was an endurance test or they were trying to dissuade me from getting the tiffin. Whatever the case, I decided they’d have to try harder. I sat down on a wicker stool and started filling the form, detailing my medical, mental and emotional history. A small ball of fear began forming in my afflicted gut. The thoroughness of the investigation made me suspect that I was in for a major overhaul.

I handed over the completed form to her. She looked at the form and then peered at me over her glasses, ‘So tell me, what’s the problem?’

That was my cue to spew. Two years worth of gut-wrenching tales poured out.

She nodded grimly and said, ‘Hmm… I see the problem. But you’ve to be prepared for drastic changes.’

I nodded anxiously.

(A note before I proceed: The following stunts have been performed by an ahem.. expert. Please don’t try them without prior consultation with a nutritionist.)

'You eat a heavy breakfast?’,
she asked

I nodded.

'That's got to stop. Eat only fruits until noon.'

This went quite contrary to the ‘breakfast like a king’ idiom I’d grown up with, but I continued nodding.

'You consume milk and milk products?’, she continued

I nodded.

'That has to stop. Your body doesn’t need it and it interferes with your digestion.’

I’d dismissed lactose intolerance as a new age fad. In fact, I was sold on the ‘Doodh doodh’ commercial on TV. But she gave me a slew of reasons why milk was anathema.

'How much water do you drink?’
she asked

3-4 litres a day, I said, sure that this would earn me merit.

'It's too much. You don’t need more than 2-3 glasses.'

Now, this was too much for me. Everyone concurred when it came to water – that you could never get enough of it. For the first time I was being told it was straining my kidneys.

She systematically eliminated foods from my diet - non-veg, alcohol, sugar, foods with refined flour, oily food, even wheat products. I saw my social life wither with her injunction to eat dinner latest by 7.30.

What CAN I eat, I asked, feeling weak and malnourished.

Plenty, she said enthusiastically. All fruits, all vegetables, sprouts, dry fruits, juices, unpolished grain, green tea…

Whee! I thought cheerlessly.

She gave me a detailed explanation of the body’s functioning and how to maximise energy. She wrote down a chart of what I should eat and when. And she wrote down a long list of donts, underlining the key words, just in case I missed them.

I didn’t mind following this eccentric diet (she made very convincing points and I was too weak to protest.) But what worried me was the logistics of carting all those fruits, vegetables and dryfruit to work.

Suddenly, I remembered the real reason why I was here. The tiffin! I asked her when she’d start me on the tiffin.

She thought for a moment and said, 'Start this routine and I’ll check your improvement in two weeks time. Then, we’ll talk about the tiffin.’

I staggered out of The Health Awareness Centre clutching my diet chart and nutrition primer. Not getting the tiffin was bad enough. But now, all my ideas of nutrition were turned on their head. I didn’t think I could even drink a glass of water now without worrying about my kidneys.

That evening, I went and bought out the neighbourhood grocer. My mother shrieked when she saw the mountain of fruits and vegetable in the fridge. But I was determined.

Two weeks, she said. Let’s try this for two weeks then.

Part III – Despatches from Streehitavardhini Audyogik Sahakari Sansthan

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