A doctor told me that Indians unfortunately get hit by a “double whammy”; they have to ward off weird infectious diseases and now also suffer from “lifestyle diseases”.
The common infectious diseases have bizarre names, such as Dengue, which BTW, is not pronounced ‘Dengyo’ or “Deng”, but ‘Den-gee’, with a soft N.
Or you have Chikungunya, which is again caused by the lowly mosquito, and it makes matters worse for doctors to know which exotic disease people are suffering from because of the way Indians pronounce English medical words.
For some reason health officials have a tendency to give tongue-twisting names to diseases and the advice for not getting infected is to avoid mosquitoes bites, which is easier said than done. Someone also said if you sit next to animals, such as a cow, the mosquito will bite the cow, not you.
(My wife’s great grandmother had a couple of cows in her backyard, but I never heard my wife tell this story about sitting next to cows).
Speaking about pronunciations, I had a friend who could never say “queen’, and would say ‘quoon’. Bollywood realised there is a story in all these wrong pronunciations and produced a movie called The Lion of Punjab. It was about a ruthless philanthropist, a bhangra rapper and a Lion King. I believe the film did well on the international market.
Back to infectious diseases, Dengue is tackled on a war footing in Bengaluru and everywhere else in India.
Every evening when we venture out for a walk, we go through chemical fog. It feels like walking through Dickensian London, shrouded by fog, with the infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper, stalking helpless walkers on their daily constitutional.
The chemical fogging does not do a thing to the mosquito. The skeeter goes about its job even more enthused in sending unsuspecting Indians, sweating and delirious to the hospital.
So, what is this other category of deadly diseases, called lifestyle diseases? The one good thing about lifestyle diseases is that they are not infectious, not communicable, like the disease which you get after someone sneezes on your office computer keyboard.
These are diseases that are exclusive to you alone, and you alone are responsible for them. They are also known as non-communicable diseases or diseases of civilisation.
To be fair, it is not all your fault: it is the fault of the Western civilisation, specifically American civilisation, that first gave you sliced bread, when you were used to having the nutritious ‘roti’ made from multiple grains, or ‘chapati’, flat bread, and then it gave you sugary chocolate cereals, when you earlier ate ‘idli’, ‘sambar’, made from rice and lentils.
If you have watched a zombie movie, such as World War Z, you will know that it takes just one person to get infected by tainted blood, or fast food, or processed foods, and it turns into an epidemic, and it is not just your spouse and bratty son that have now turned obese, but also your neurotic uncle, and your skinny daughter. For example, when hamburgers were introduced into the Arab Gulf states, they ran riot and changed the dietary patterns of a huge number of people. Some of them, who grew up on a diet of dates and camel’s milk, were now suddenly bingeing on junk food and unhealthy choices.
Again and again the doctors note that there is one cure for these lifestyle diseases - you should change your lifestyle. But we know how difficult it is for humans to change, so most of us — in India and other places — are basically doomed and need to buy extra-large jeans for the rest of our lives.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.