As soon the parting of my hair was secured with vermillion, my frequent flights to assorted feet began. It’s a touching story! Literally. All older folk in the family including those who claimed to be younger had to suck it up and fasten pyjama-belts for a bahu-landing. The bahu, in the meantime, had to practise the perfect landing and immediately thereafter, a successful retraction of all gear and preparation for next landing.
Deceptively simple, the art of touching feet needed skill and perseverance to master. Being an over-achiever, there was not going to be any defeat around this feat about feet. The first sub-skill to master was distance. Too far, and it meant I never reached the toes, too close and I bumped into the belly above while returning to original position. The first belly that I nudged with my hair-clutch was soft and jiggle-y. It trembled apologetically as I re-adjusted my trajectory. The second, sigh, was the grim rock of Gibraltar. Maybe, it was destined that I master this sub-skill the hard way — with a bump on my head.
The speed also mattered. Retracting too fast could cause injuries to the palm spread out to bless.
Something akin to biting the very hand that feeds. I had to alert the palm with a gently rising skull to get out of its way.
I also needed to stabilise the journey to and fro. Feet slightly apart and planted firmly was key. Never quite elegant in my public appearances, I must have looked like Bahu-on-Brandy during those unsteady manoeuvres. Once, I rose so shakily that I had to clutch onto the blesser’s petticoat for dear life. I almost took her along with me, to the bed of golden marigold beside us, had it not been for her holding me with one hand, and her petticoat with the other.
I also learnt that I was not supposed to touch ANY maternal uncle’s feet, as per a long-standing belief. Something really bad must have happened in history leading to them being struck off the Bahu-Respect-Beneficiary List. Sorting out maternal uncles and their wives from the line-up has never been easy. I can’t see faces from behind the ghunghat! How do I sift a mama from a non-mama when I can’t even see them? I wish there were a feet-recognition app for it. Or, maybe, the wise seniors should prescribe differentiating footwear for mamas, with a clear ‘Do Not Touch’ symbol on them.
The times are changing and adults have not been quite clear on their current feet-touching beliefs. Some feel that the practice is sacrosanct and should be upheld, others believe it’s outdated. But, since there are no formal guidelines that have been published, the youngster is left guessing. So, it’s better to just go ahead and touch feet, just to err on the side of caution. If he’s lucky, he’s praised for being sanskari and blessed. If he’s not, the adult says, ‘No, no beta, no need for all this’ and forces a hug.
The only problem is that the kid has already commenced his journey to the toes when the hug is initiated. It culminates as a skull(kid’s)-belly(senior’s) hug.
This, I reckon, is ultimate feet-al distress!
(Bestselling author Rachna Singh is a sit-down commedienne)