The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A matter weightier than polls
- Between breaks & breakfasts, election observer slims down

Calcutta, April 26: Election observer Ajay Pal Singh has lost 1.5 kg since he arrived from Delhi on April 7.

It’s not easy being an election observer who has to dash from polling station to polling station and from meeting to meeting.

But the reason for the 1986 batch IAS officer’s weight loss may lie elsewhere.

Singh has slimmed down from 145.5 to 144 kg by taking a special massage at a Salt Lake spa that guarantees a weight loss of half a kilo every session. Having booked himself there for a week, the six-foot-two observer can hope to be a trim 142 kg by the time he leaves Calcutta.

The battle hasn’t been easy, although the Punjab cadre officer has been following a rather demanding diet (see box) without losing too much sleep over it.

The observer’s day begins at 10.30 am sharp, when he wakes up in his room at the central government guesthouse in Shakespeare Sarani. After an exacting breakfast, he needs a spot of relaxation.

Around 1.30 pm, Singh gets into his spacious air-conditioned Qualis for a quick look around his constituency, Taltala. There isn’t quite a lot of time really as lunch hour is nigh.

In the 19 days he has been in Bengal, Singh has managed to meet representatives of political parties a full three times.

He skipped the observers’ meeting at Jessop Building on April 17, when the first “randomisation” (random selection of poll officials’ teams on a computer) was conducted. He did attend the second one yesterday.

After that exertion, he headed to a five-star hotel in Park Street. An order of fresh juice, frankfurter, tea and cookies lightened the state government’s pocket by Rs 472.

His food bills in the first five days of his stay came to Rs 6,500.

On April 18, Singh didn’t attend a meeting at the chief electoral officer’s chamber, requested by the senior-most observer for Calcutta, P.K. Choudhury, to clear certain confusions.

“Nor did he attend the meeting with Calcutta police at Survey Building last week,” an election department official said. “Other observers have been inspecting booths every other day. Every observer has visited each polling station in his area at least once.”

Singh said he missed the meeting with the chief electoral officer because he was ill. “I was down with fever and was put on antibiotics. However, I’ve visited most of the sensitive booths in my constituency.”

An official said Singh had inspected booths on four days, and stepped out of the Qualis once to see the inside of a booth. “He seems to have a problem going out in the heat.”

There’s no denying it has been hot. Physician and critical care specialist Subrata Mitra said a rich diet that includes red meat can affect performance, especially in the humid summer weather.

The observer did visit the Kalighat temple and Belur Math ' and a discotheque. Besides, of course, the spa.

The Elakizhi massage, says the brochure, is “an ancient potly (bundle) massage ' a complete detoxifying and relaxing treatment to increase circulation, become slim and reduce cellulite”.

A seven-day package costs Rs 6,900. “The client has taken three sessions and has lost 1.5 kilos so far,” said Krishna Barma, massage therapist at the spa.

With a body mass index (BMI) ' one’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of one’s height in metres ' of 40.8, there’s no question that Singh needs to lose weight. The normal BMI for Indians is 20-23, and anyone above 30 is medically obese.

Sticking religiously to the poll commission’s guidelines can make any observer lose a couple of kilos. The panel says observers should “visit polling stations personally, train and make aware public and polling personnel on EVMs, supervise randomisation of polling personnel, monitor overall preparedness of election machinery”.

They should also “monitor law and order and deployment of sector officials, enforce the model code of conduct, oversee the counting hall arrangement and counting staff and verify complaints regarding electoral rolls”.

Apparently, all this is still not enough. “Sauna and massage can never help one lose weight. One must first cut down on the calories and then burn calories. But red meats like pork contain a lot of harmful cholesterol, which even exercise may not rid you of,” Mitra said.

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