What is fat? (Extract from Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid)

The Big Man

Murad Badshah, MA, rickshaw fleet captain and land pirate, at your service. Allow me to begin at the outside and move in. Huge (and also massive, enormous, and gigantic) describes me well. I am very, very rarely called fat. Perhaps you smile thinking this is because I inspire a certain sense of caution in more modestly proportioned persons? I must most respectfully take issue with you on this matter, and I beg your indulgence as I present a simple proof.

What is fat?

“Fat” is a small word which belies its size in the girth of its connotations. Fat implies a certain ungainliness, an inefficiency, a sense of immobility, a lack of industry, an unpleasant, unaesthetic quality; unmotivated, unloved, unnatural, unusual, uninspired, unhappy, unlikely to go places or to fit, under the ground with a heart attack at fifty-five. In short, fat involves the lack of many attributes which, you must concede, are generally held to be good.

When the word “fat” is mentioned, people do not tend to think of the awesomely powerful rhinoceros, the supremely efficient and magnificent sperm whale, the deadly grizzly of North America. They do not say,”fat as a well-fed tiger.” No, they say, “fat as a pig,” a creature which eats its own faeces and has never in our literature been a symbol of dignity.
Very well, then. The collective consciousness has assigned to fat a meaning, and as I speak this language I must accept fat on these terms. Fat is bad.

And so I am certain you will not disagree when I say the word can hardly be considered to apply to me. I am weighty, yes, but I carry my mass wonderfully. I am quick, light on my feet, and graceful. I have poise; delicacy and elegance characterize my every movement. My fingers are nimble, my hands deft. It is no secret that I dance well and most willingly. Furthermore, I possess those very qualities the lack of which is assumed by the word “fat”: industry, drive, dexterity, cunning. I am the living embodiment of so many unfat qualities that their enumeration would be a project of enormous scope.

If A has fundamental characteristics the very absence of which characterize B, it cannot be said with any degree of accuracy (or, may I add, sophistication) that A is B.

Thus, I am not fat. Quod erat demonstrandum.

But I do stutter, it is true.

You pretend not to understand the logic which links this statement to that which preceded it? Come, come, now. There is no need for such modesty on your part. A stutter, like fatness, is considered a bad thing, a flaw. I simply wish you to understand that I am not perfect and I am aware of my imperfection. I stutter.

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