It seems masculine valor, machismo and bravado are quantifiable in precise inches. They add up to a 56 inches; a 56-inch broad chest.
This is the kind of barrel-chestedness that the Indian prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has introduced to the political lexicon. The narrative is testosterone-fueled in league with the folklore about men of inordinate courage shaking the earth while walking that was once popular in the countryside of the northwest Gujarat region of Kathiawad. The bandits of Kathiawad were supposed to be barrel-chested in the folklore I frequently heard while growing up.
A 56-inch chest automatically presumes a large man with a large ribcage, large lungs and therefore extraordinary physical endurance. That is the gladiatorial image Modi has been assiduously selling. In my memory, I cannot find another election campaign where the theme was so frequently cast in such unambiguously male terms. Modi has harped on it so frequently that he gives the impression of overcompensating for a sense of some unknown inadequacy. I half expect to hear Modi mouth that tritely male chauvinistic line from the Manmohan Desai movie ‘Mard’ (Man) that goes “Jo mard hota hai usey dard nahi hota hai, memsaab. (The one who is a man, has no pain, ma’am ).”
I tried to do some quick research about the precise figure of 56 inches and why it is supposed to signify such in-your-face valorousness but could not find anything in particular. I am sure there is a reason why the precise figure has come to denote all that it is supposed to denote. Modi’s obsession with that number has been commented on by others but perhaps it is for the first time that a woman politician (albeit a seasonal politician) has chosen to comment on it. At an election rally in Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh, Congress Party member Priyanka Gandhi said, “Yeh Bharat desh hai. Isey chalane ke liye chhappan inch ke seeney ki zaroorat nahi hai, Isey chalane ki liye dariya jaisa dil chahiye.” (This is India. You don’t need a 56-inch chest to run it but you need an ocean-like heart to run it).
The term 56-inch is supposed to lend a certain swagga to those who have it. I presume that Narendra Modi measures up to that swagga because otherwise what would be the point of mentioning it? Perhaps his tailor can enlighten us. Mine is 42 inches and I can barely carry it without my center of gravity going haywire. My stickman legs can barely bear the burden of a 42-inch chest. Obviously, I have no future in the India of Narendra Modi’s imagination. Forget me, Mohandas Gandhi would have no place if the literality of 56 inches was a prerequisite to greatness. You don’t have to tell me that Modi means 56 inches in a metaphorical sense, although it seems he means it in an anatomical sense.
The Indian republic has seen a somnambulant prime minister ( H D Deve Gowda), a self-urine drinking one (Morarji Desai) and a barely spoken one (Manmohan Singh). Perhaps it is getting ready for a barrel-chested one (Narendra Modi) or a barrely-spoken* one.
* Barrely-spoken is not a word but under the circumstances what choice do I have other than manufacturing a pathetic pun?