Belly good: Why India loves its paunch

Belly good: Why India loves its paunch

Getting a grip on India's relationship with midriff rotundity: In pictures
Indian potbelly
"Having a belly is a sign of prosperity too. When I go to my village, at least people know that I am not starving in Mumbai," says Ganpat Patil.

In Japan, the sumo wrestler is a sex symbol -- which is probably no less counterintuitive than the potbelly as an emblem of prosperity in India.

"More money, more food" seems to be the faulty equation.

This old logic, that measures prosperity by the size of a paunch, however, seems to be giving way to modern standards of nutrition. Obesity and tubbiness is increasingly being recognized for what they are: signs of malnourishment.

At least in urban India this is partially evident in the range of baked soya snacks available as an alternative to heaps of deep-fried batter.

The concurrent growth of the fitness industry and healthier eating options are also testament to a trend that favors the image of the well-toned Bollywood hero to the waistline of the endearing god Ganesh.

Data from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development on health patterns in emerging economies, shows India still has the lowest obesity rate as compared to Brazil, Russia and China. But even if one in five Indians are overweight, that's still a lot.

Swelling stomachs that threaten seam lines are still a common sight.

Take the traffic cops, for example.

All across India, Police Departments are taking sizable measures to get their cops to fit into uniforms that aren't meant for the likes of Santa Claus and Obelix. Traffic officers are being shipped off the street to shape up.

In the capital city, hundreds of tubby policemen have been warned they could lose their jobs if they don't get in shape by going to the gym or attending bhangra lessons.

I mean, where is a good reality T.V. show when you need one?

In Mumbai, photographer Divya Dugar explores this obtruding problem through photographs and candid talks with men -- and some women -- about their relationship with their rotundity.

India potbellyCops have been asked to trim their tummies to 34 inches.

Potbelly 1: Traffic tummy

Name: Vinay Shekar

Age: 56

Profession: Traffic policeman

"With all this chaos, increasing traffic and accidents, I am sure I will lose all my extra weight in no time."

India potbellyHe never thought to think about the size of his stomach.

Potbelly 2: Street foodie

Name: Rajesh Ram

Age: 40

Profession: Street food vendor

"Having a potbelly is hereditary in my family, my grandfather, father and even my brother has a potbelly. I don't think too much about it, in fact I never did till you asked me."

India potbellyIt's normal to have some paunch, says this cabbie.

Potbelly 3: Emergency airbag

Name: P.N. Upadhyay

Age: 53

Profession: Taxi driver

"My belly is not that big, this is a sign of good health. I just have one meal a day and never sit around in taxi waiting for passengers, always keep taking small strolls, it is normal to have some paunch."

India potbellySell potatoes. Or be one?

Potbelly 4: Potato tomato paunch

Name: Ganpat Patil

Age: 48

Profession: Vegetable seller

"This potbelly is due to my work -- I am all the time sitting and selling vegetables, that's why. But having a belly is a sign of prosperity too. When I go to my village, at least people know that I am not starving in Mumbai."
India potbellyThe stomach -- a sign of maternity.

Potbelly 5: Yo mama so

Name: Ratan Dutta

Age: 35

Profession: Street vendor

"What to do? Now I am like this only. It is OK after having four children; what do you expect? Having a belly is natural. I am happy with it, my children like me with some fat, makes me more motherly."

India potbellyWomen still think I'm hot. Why worry?

Potbelly 6: Poser paunch

Name: Bhola

Age: 30

Profession: Washerman

"I don't have any medicine to reduce my pot belly. I just eat and be happy. It is not that bad, I know some women still find me attractive."

India potbellyThe barber's not sure why he's so fat.

Potbelly 7: Barber belly

Name: Mohammad Akbar Siddiqui

Age: 38

Profession: Barber 

"I don't know why I am fat and have this paunch. I am becoming more fat every day but it is OK, one should take things easy. I will try next year to reduce some of my paunch. Visit me next year, you will see a whole new me, hopefully."
India potbelly"People make fun of my belly," says Moinuddin Iqbal.

Potbelly 8: Telly belly

Name: Moinuddin Iqbal

Age: 34

Profession: Telephone booth owner

"I have always been like this, people make fun of my belly but it is now part of my personality. It does affect my movement and also my social life. I hope one day things can change for me."
India potbellyHousewife thinks life's too short to stress about size.

Potbelly 9: The wife

Name: Reema Talwar

Age: 55

Profession: Housewife

"I have always been a bit chubby and had a belly. But frankly speaking, I don't care, life is too short to fuss over such things."

Divya Dugar now freelances as a photojournalist for various publications, works on documentaries and travels non-stop.

Read more about Divya Dugar
Raised in several cities across India, Tarini's constant search for new homes forms the basis of her desire to explore incessantly.
Read more about Tarini Awatramani