They say never judge a book by its cover. For me, the adage is as far removed from reality as can be. I cannot pick up a book unless the little sneak peek into the story on the back cover calls out to me, unless those little snippets about the author or the book jotted on the in-flaps of the cover strike a chord. Yes, I do kind of judge a book by its cover and so, when I read the blurb on the back flap of Shuchi Singh Kalra’s ‘I am big. So What!?’ – Is it only in India where people don’t realize that starting a conversation with, “Oh, you’ve put on weight!” is incredibly rude? Perhaps I should respond with “Oh, you’ve become uglier!” so they get the point – I knew here was a story worth devouring.
The book traces the story of Roli Kapoor, a freelance graphic designer by profession, and predictably on the heavier side of the weight scale, who struggles to find true love and yearns to be accepted as she is. The thing that made Roli all the more likeable to me was that unlike most girls out there struggling with stubborn obesity, she learns to accept and love herself for who she is.
Of course, that acceptance doesn’t come easy. She has to endure a painful break-up with the ‘love of her life’ Ronit. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, she also has to put up with a whole host of embarrassing social situation and mounting family pressure to ‘settle down’. Still hung over her lost love, she agrees to give arranged marriage a chance and gears up to meet suitor number 7 – a guy named Kabir, who has an uncanny familiarity about him. This familiarity is rooted in the past and could potentially shatter her all over again just when she is beginning to believe that she has found a new love in her life. What does Roli do? How does she brave this storm? The unraveling of these questions is what makes this book truly gripping.
For me, the book struck a lot of right notes. To begin with, it takes on the issues of body image and body shaming head on and absolutely nails it.
While the book revolves around a fat protagonist, it does not eulogize obesity. There is enough emphasis on the need for a healthy lifestyle. It is precisely the kind of conditioning the upcoming crop of young girls need in order to break free from the shackles of anorexia-inducing fixation with the size zero.
Written in first person, the book gives a sense as if Roli is talking to you, making you privy to her fears, anguish, dreams and hope, which builds a great connect with the character and her journey. Other characters too, Ronit and Kabir in particular, have been skillfully crafted and each one of them contributes in taking the story forward.
The narrative is downright modern, which bodes well as the book is intended for a younger generation of readers and makes it more relatable.
The sub-plots and situations are all relatable and convincing too. You can see yourself in Roli’s shoes and empathize with her. In keeping with the realistic touch of the book, the author does not make Roli go through a drastic transformation toward the end. This seems like a conscious decision that drives home two very significant points – first that weight loss is a long-drawn, slow and often frustrating process, and second that you do not need to fit into a certain body type to be accepted or successful in your pursuits.
I am big. So What!? also has a strong feminist voice. Here we have a protagonist who doesn’t feel the need to ‘fit in’ into the stereotypes that have long been embedded into our social fabric.
She does not meet the ‘tall, fair, slim…’ parameters that underline most matrimonial adverts yet she dares to step into the marriage market without feeling the need to change her physicality.
She seeks to be accepted and loved for who she is, asks to be treated as an equal, be looked at as a human being before she is judged for her gender. And that’s why Roli Kapoor is a ‘hero’ feminism needs.
The book makes some very poignant points but at no point does it sermonize. It is a breezy and interesting read. Something you’d like you to keep company on a sleepless night.