ON FEBRUARY 21ST, the eve of the Mumbai civic body elections, author Shobhaa Dé tweeted a photograph of a morbidly obese policeman captioned, ‘Heavy police bandobast in Mumbai today!’ In doing so, she ticked off an unlikely triumvirate: the Mumbai Police, fact-checkers and pun-pundits.
He’s not one of us, @MumbaiPolice twee-plied. Dé had apparently missed out the badge on his uniform, one that bore initials used by the police from the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh. ‘We love puns too but this one’s totally misplaced,’ it added. Dé’s detractors were delighted. It was, they agreed, a ‘fit’-ting reply.
The photograph, it emerged, was first clicked on the sly in 2014. It was doing rounds over WhatsApp ever since and was regurgitated during the Mumbai elections. For a satirist with a prolific output, Dé has never really succumbed to the pressures of being too witty. Or sensitive. But she had meant no harm, Dé clarified in a subsequent tweet, and went on to give some sage advice. ‘MP police, consult a dietician, if it’s an asli, undoctored image doing rounds.’
The media soon sniffed out the policeman to the sleepy town of Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh. Inspector Daultram Jogawat, a veteran of 38 years in the khaki corps, had neither heard of Shobhaa Dé nor Twitter. But never mind such details; how did it make him feel, asked journalists with microphones bared at the bewildered man. “I’m not too bothered,” he told them. “But if she likes, [Dé] is welcome to pay for my treatment.”
Two weeks on, a white Scorpio rolled-in in front of an over-eager media contingent at a clinic in south Mumbai. As Daulatram Jogawat exited the car, the cameras panned from his top to bottom, treatment usually reserved for size-zero actresses walking towards you in slow motion. The past few days had been eventful. Once in the limelight, the policeman had started getting offers for weight-loss treatments across the country. Dr Mufazzal Lakdawala, a Mumbai- based surgeon making waves for treating the ‘world’s fattest woman’, Eman Ahmed, had sent his manager to Neemuch and snapped up the prize goose with the offer of a free surgery. The bargain, it seemed, was for the policeman-turned-punchline to make an appearance at a press conference alongside the doctor after surgery.
In terms of news value, an overweight cop is less of a story, more of a stereotype. Odd hours, irregular meals and endless cups of sugary syrupy chai are usually to blame. Their lament is the same as any law-enforcement agency’s: too much work, too little manpower. A recent effort by celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar to get Mumbai Police back into shape was pooh-poohed by some personnels. For them, even taking out 150 minutes per week from their taxing schedules was unrealistic.
But the obesity epidemic isn’t going away anytime soon. Last year, a study published in The Lancet medical journal showed that with nearly 30 million such, India was among the top-5 most obese countries in the world. A Body Mass Index, commonly used as indicator for fitness, between 18 and 25 is considered healthy. At 180 kg, Jogawat’s BMI was nearly 60.
But with a successful surgery behind him, now was time for celebration. The cop was set to lose 40 kg in the first six months and Shobhaa Dé was already gloating. (‘A lot can happen over a tweet!!!’ she tweeted). A poster at the clinic, of a man with a triangle for a tummy, indicated that Jogawat would soon find 10 new friends: his toes.
Dr Lakdawala invited the journalists to a small chamber where the trophies, mementos and appreciation certificates he had received over his career formed the backdrop. Soft and sombre, he cautioned the media professionals against projecting the surgery as a quick-fix remedy. This was a laparoscopic gastric binding procedure. A part of the stomach had been stapled and its size reduced to facilitate weight-loss. Ergo, he explained, there would be no discernible change in his weight at the moment.
The hallowed gathering nodded solemnly. Then the photographers asked the younger Jogawat to help his father up, hold him by hand and take a walk around the cramped room. The doctor’s protests that his patient can walk just fine made no difference. Then the TV journalists took turns to ask him how he was feeling: physically (“You must be feeling pretty light, no?”) and emotionally (“That Shobhaa Dé tweet... It must have hurt, no?”). Jogawat was quick to catch on. He dismissed the first question and, to the second, offered an inspired non-sequitur: “Main mahilaaon ka samman karta hoon. Naari shakti mahaan hai. (I respect women. The power of women is great)”
If you are thin, they laugh. If you’re fat, they laugh. Here, we don’t have a culture of taking offence. It’s the educated people who say, ‘Why call people fat?’
Everyone was in splits. The do-gooder doctor laughed, the well-meaning journalists laughed, and the fat man realised he was the funny fat man. The ensemble was complete.
Located in the north-western tip of Madhya Pradesh, Neemuch is a regular semi-urban Indian town where cows, dogs, goats and pigs co-exist unblinkingly with their human counterparts. Its roads are deplorable, food unexceptional and its chief aspiration is to escape to a larger, more prosperous city. Neemuch does have a few redeemers, however. Its countryside has numerous opium fields to feed into Asia’s biggest opium and alkaloid processing plant in the vicinity. Also, a 2006 BBC report once crowned it ‘India’s Eye Donor Capital’.
Daulatram Jogawat stays in a police colony, in an L-shaped block consisting of two-storeyed apartments. When I visit him a couple of days after the Mumbai press conference, a gossipy group of neighbours are standing at a polite distance from the Jogawat residence. Over last two days, the district collector and the police superintendent have been over to meet the now-famous man. But today is a slow day, so it’s only prudent that the neighbours’ eyes follow me to right until I knock on his door.
Jogawat, in a white-like kurta-pajama that only just covers his oversized belly, takes me to a small living room with a TV, bed and a sofa-set. He isn’t much for small talk; his gaze is steady and business-like. VIPs, journalists, well-wishers and curious-joes, he has seen them all. His son had called me up the previous day to ask if I could postpone my visit to Neemuch as his father was considering travelling to his native Jodhpur for a week till the curiosity cools off. Mercifully for me, they decided against it.
“You must have a list of like 50 questions, right?” Jogawat asks me briskly. “Let’s begin.”
For the most part, his has been an uneventful life. Born in Ratlam district of MP, Jogawat finished schooling and joined the police force at 18. Over the next four decades, he was posted across the state in rural and semi-urban areas. In 1993, he had a gall-bladder surgery after which he started putting on weight. He tried everything: ayurvedic chooran, aloe vera juice, yoga sessions, even the strap-on ‘sauna belts’ advertised on TV, the ones that make your tummy jiggle. Nothing helped. “Those belts break down after a couple of months. You don’t get a replacement,” he reflects. “When you are fat, you get lazy. A man can run for 2 km, but I couldn’t walk beyond 200 steps. But my seniors were understanding. They said, ‘So what if he can’t chase a thief, he can at least write up the cases against them’.”
Soon after the tweet started snowballing, Neemuch Police Superintendent Manoj Kumar Singh had asked Jogawat to share photographs from his youth with the media. In those black-and- white photos from his late-teens, a tall, trim Jogawat looks every bit of the footballer he claims he was. By now, his colleagues had started eulogising him. Jogawat had been very good with detections and seizures, the superintendent told The Hindu. He had won over 200 rewards for his work. His investigations had been cited in court by judges. He could drive a four-wheeler as well as a two-wheeler. He could even be on duty for over 12 hours on foot.
When you are fat, you get lazy. But my seniors were understanding. They said, ‘So what if he can’t chase a thief, he can write up the cases against them’
But for the balancing act, Jogawat is keen to give the impression of being unaffected by jokes, scrutiny and sympathy. Indeed, he almost sneers at the support he received. “If you are thin, they laugh. If you’re fat, they laugh. Here, we don’t have a culture of taking offence. It’s the educated people who say, ‘Why call people fat?’ When you’re too educated, you become egoistic,” he says.
Before the offers started pouring in, Jogawat had never considered going for a surgery. Like many, he thought it involved slicing off a part of his flab, like a knife through butter.
Dr Lakdawala has a theory for the reasons behind this ignorance. Such is our cultural make-up, he told the Mumbai Mirror last month, that most of his Indian patients were uncomfortable admitting to having had a bariatric surgery. They’d much rather insist that their dramatic weight-loss was due to a healthy diet and spirited exercise. Due to low awareness of the treatment and sheer tediousness of explaining everyone its many details, Jogawat often improvises while talking to his relatives.
“Kitni charbi nikaal li?” (How much fat did they take away?)
“15-20 kilo nikaal li.” (Some 15-20 kg)
“Kya kiya phir uska?” (What did you do with it?)
“Phek di naale mein.” (I threw it in the drain)
“Khoon woon niklaa kya?” (Was there any blood?)
“Thoda bohut niklaa.” (A little bit)
“Good. Ab khan paan mein do waqt ki roti khaana aur aaram se rehna.” (Now eat twice a day and take lots of rest)
We have been talking for nearly two hours. Jogawat insists that I stay back for a lunch of dal-baati. It’s awkward to eat the rich, ghee- laden delicacies in front of a host who is on a liquid diet of rice, water and antacids. But breaking bread with him seems to thaw his animosity towards my kind. He sprawls on his bed and laments some more on the lack of education among his relatives. Then he reiterates his theory on the drawbacks of too much education.
Life with a well-educated, financially secure wife is rife with uncertainty, he proposes. “A husband should work; a wife should work in the home, teach kids.” Just like in his family. I try to nudge him towards his comments on naari-shakti, the empowerment of women he had advocated only days ago. Jogawat ignores me. Instead, having learnt that I had recently spent a year abroad, he advises me that one should only marry within one’s own community.
Towards the evening, a colleague calls upon him with his 85-year-old mother. They have been reading about the inspector in the newspaper every day. Seeing the woman, Jogawat’s wife joins us and the two lapse into an animated conversation. Soon, the wedding albums come out, as do the pictures of Jogawat’s youth. “Bilkul Rajput dikh raha hai (He looks like a Rajput),” the old lady says. “Rajput hi toh hai (He is a Rajput after all),” his wife cooes.
It is perhaps the memory of the younger, slimmer times or the unabashed compliments on his physical attributes, but it doesn’t take long for the brazen cover of bravado to come off. Yes, Jogawat admits brusquely, it did prickle him when journalists asked him to walk slowly for their cameras; when they barged into his hospital room for a byte. He stayed mum because as a policeman, you are supposed to be a man of discipline. It was, after all, them and their bizarre ways that got him free medical treatment from a top-qualified specialist.
“The Indian Government should make a law that no one make fun of someone so much that they feel victimised,” he says. “And that’s the note I want to leave you with.”
Now it all falls into place.
Daulatram Jogawat is the man I had first seen at the Mumbai clinic climbing out of the car, resolutely looking away from the prying flashbulbs. A man whose son had clasped his hand when the questions became too uncomfortable.
A man who would be seen praying at a local temple later that evening, hands clasped in front of his meek face, telling me that there’s no one greater than God. A man who would easily part with a hundred rupee note when a beggar had only asked for a tenner.
Daulatram Jogawat is your regular guy. He talks tough only so that you’ll never know when he feels the pinch.
ON RETURNING TO Mumbai, I get in touch with Shobhaa Dé. For all her cattiness (‘Wow,’ one of her tweets read, ‘It’s really fantastic to see so much love and support pouring out for cops all of a sudden!’), she seems remorseful. ‘I felt terrible when the man was located and identified,’ she writes to me over email. ‘As it turns out, several larger issues are now being addressed thanks to that tweet! And he is finally receiving the sort of medical intervention he should have taken advantage of much earlier.’
‘The only problem is, I am getting requests from all sorts of people to tweet about their ailments!’
Watch this space.