Indian relatives have always been the epitome of kindness and sensitivity. They’re never rude or brash; instead, they’re understanding and compassionate. They’re not shallow and they understand that beauty is not only skin-deep. I also admire that they are hardly ever out of line and that’s why, when my cousin recently attended a family wedding, the first thing they told her, was:

“Wow! You’ve gained a lot of weight, no?”

(eyeing her from top to bottom) “I bought you a dress but I don’t think it will fit you now.”

“Too much matter and not enough space, eh?”

She was greeted sensitively ofcourse, with pitiful smiles and earnest advice. They hugged her gingerly and told her that ginger green tea is a weight reduction miracle. She was obviously denied rice and chapattis (“No carbs for you, okay?”) at the wedding. When she finally got her hands on a bowl of gulab jamuns, they tut-tutted and pointed disapprovingly at HER gulab jamuns.

I think I’d understand this if she was an aspiring model, actress or Page 3 socialite. But guess what? She’s doing a PhD in Sociology. She wants to be a Professor.

So, when a similar incident occurred with me, I was unfazed. My aunt and her daughter had come home after quite a while. I was in the shower when they came so I quickly shoved myself into some clothes and walked into the living room to greet them. As I smiled and hugged my aunt, I expected her to start a conversation with the usual ‘how-have-you-been’s and ‘how-were-your-exams’ or even a lone but sufficient ‘hello’. Instead, she held me at arm’s length and said,

“You’ve gained a few pounds, na?” Then, she looked at her daughter and asked, “Hasn’t she?”

My cousin turned around, took a good look at me and replied in the affirmative, smiling apologetically.

Then, they looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to provide an explanation as to how I could possibly have the audacity to gain weight by sitting in my room and studying for two months. The most studying my cousin had ever done was on her friend’s Micheal Kors bag; a desperate attempt to determine its authenticity. So, I just looked back, smiled and thought to myself: no gulab jamuns today.

Sadly, superficiality is more widespread than subtlety. But, if your family is more sneaky than upfront, here are a few cues you should keep an eye out for, if you can’t tell for sure that they have a problem with your weight.

  1. If biscuits are being offered on a tray and your aunt skilfully skips you (She goes from cousin picking nose on your left to snooty, frowny cousin on your right)
  2. If the desert counter closes just as you wanted some blueberry cheesecake kulfi.
  3. If you’re above twenty and nobody asked you when you’re getting married. Or, no one offered to search for a partner for you. (They didn’t want to rub it in.)
  4. If your aunt slips you the card of a plastic surgeon. (“Tummy tucks never hurt anybody” she whispers with a sly smile and walks away in a sari revealing an unnaturally tiny waist.)

The next time you want to make someone feel like the hippopotamus in a flamingo zoo, please think twice. Instead, ask your niece or nephew about their studies, their jobs, their parents or even their pet plants. Then, if you subtly slipped them some green tea, I won’t judge you.

And if you’re tired of being the target of advice that you never asked for, just smile and wave. If that doesn’t work, mock the flock. It’s the only way I know how.

Now excuse me while I push my stomach into my rib cage.