InTravel

Two feet or not two feet

feet 3The younger cousins bent down and touched my feet as their hands then quickly touched the middle of their foreheads and then made a swift move towards the center of their chests. It is very similar to the sign of the cross only there is no Holy Spirit gesture. All four of them did this, one by one, gracefully, naturally, with no apprehension. It’s a common Indian etiquette.  Delicate. Beautiful. Divine.  Unfortunately, I didn’t always perceive it this way. The first time I was introduced to this common Indian gesture was through a conversation with my husband.

He was lying down on our sofa as his legs and feet rested on my lap.  “It’s a sign of respect for the elders,” he said. People are inoculated with this custom as kids. Many children are expected to greet their parents this way in the mornings and before going to bed in the evenings.  “It’s the way I always greet my parents after not seeing them for so long.” He looked up at the ceiling as if regressing back to some secret memory he shared with them. I let him escape on his own. I’m not a fan of disturbing those in the middle of a thought or while recollecting a memory long forgotten.  Sometimes we need to get lost in those memories, to preserve some sanity. I looked at him admiring his high standards of decorum.“How do you greet your mother?” He asked as he got up and poured us some more wine.  He returned. I guess he wasn’t that far away.  “I give her a hug and a kiss.” There’s nothing really special about our hello as far as making a marked distinction between generations. We hug and kiss anyone and just about everyone. Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, Friends, even absolute strangers. It’s a co-ed thing as well. Men hug and kiss women and women in return hug and kiss men. There is no gender or age divide here when it comes to that at least. It’s a sign of affection more than respect. Perhaps affection and respect can be interchangeable in this case. I’m not sure. “Show me,” he says with his boy-like smirk. I walked towards the edge of our sofa where he stood ready to learn how people can invade other people’s space with such ease. I got on my toes (we’re talking about a man who is 6’1) and placed my cheek against his, put my lips together and kissed the air. “What’s the noise your lips just made?” he asked a bit dumbfounded but still with as much intrigue. We went on for several minutes as he practiced his much awkward hug and kiss on me. “Here’s a tip,” I said trying hard not to laugh, “Be subtle when you stick out your butt. It’s a hug and a kiss. Not sex.” 

A kiss on the cheek is so sentimental

A kiss on the cheek is so sentimental

 

I took another sip of the Cotes du Rhone as we both remained standing, smiling. “I’m going to suck at this. I just know it.” “Well, why don’t you teach me how you touch people’s feet and then perhaps we can both suck together,” I said, trying to console him as he gets lost in what he perceived as a future flop.  (His fear stems from several months ago, while meeting a friend of mine, he placed his wet lips right smack on her cheek. He felt disgusted and needless to say he was humiliated. My friend and I laughed it off as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hands.)

“What do you mean? Just touch the person’s feet,” he said as if this was not the obvious part to me. That much I understood. What puzzled me was how this is done? For all I knew, these people were going to swing their feet up in the air. Did they have to be seated first? If so, if there is a man and a woman who gets to have their feet touched first? Do I kneel down on both knees? Was it one foot at a time? Both feet simultaneously? Was it a brushing of the hands to the feet or was it my entire hand, meaning my fingers and palm wrapped around their feet for a certain duration which would then proceed by a nod from them letting me know, ok, times up, you may go now. I was very confused by this and no, I have never seen it in any movie either. So you can safely conclude I was sadly ignorant to the entire concept. 

 feet

He was laughing by this point, those deep heartfelt chuckles. The one where your breathing stops for sometime, your mouth is wide open, and your stomach hurts. I’m glad he found my questions amusing. “You’re a horrible teacher. Teachers are not supposed to laugh at their students. It can cause irreparable self-esteem issues.” I gave him a soft nudge with my elbow as he placed his hands on his stomach, “Ok. Ok,” catching his breath, “Let me show you. There really is nothing to it.”  He bends down and barely touches my feet, as the same hand met his forehead and lastly his chest. “That’s it? ” I asked somewhat perplexed. “You barely even touched my feet.” I felt cheated.  I expected some high almighty ceremony, something of grandeur.  If you sneezed, you would have missed it. “Yes that’s all there is to it. Now you give it a try.” I was looking at him nervously now. I looked down at his feet and then back up at him while his boy-like smirk gave me that extra vote of confidence. I bent down in haste, hand to the forehead, then chest and ta-da. Steps 1, 2, and 3 were done. I did it. – And although that may sound like a feat, I felt like an absolute idiot. When you take someone out of his or her comfort zone, it takes a while to acclimate. It takes time for the behavior engaged in to process in your mind and then there’s another step. Your mind then has to analyze the behavior. Is this normal? Can I actually touch people’s feet? I loathe feet. I associate feet with odor and sweat. In a nutshell, they disgust me, unless you’re my sister. She has the cutest feet in the world. “I don’t think I can do it, “ I said with undisguised dread. Me touch feet? No way. He responds with calmness, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

I wish we didn’t have to learn our lessons in retrospect, but damn what a great teacher Hindsight can be. If only though we had more foresight or at least applied it more often to our daily lives. Perhaps then we wouldn’t have to feel so crappy about ourselves when we flip through those dusty pages of our past.

I was in and out of sleep on the plane to Raipur and my conscience was digging through my memory bank until it reached the night we spoke about the first lesson in manners all children in India are taught. There was something unsettling for me as my thoughts took a long pause on that particular night. It was like a film I was watching in my mind. It was our last flight for the next couple of days.  My husband was asleep next to me. The contours of his face reflected peace and I envied him for that. I have to take a fistful of Valium so I can duplicate that level of tranquility.  I shifted my body weight from one butt cheek to another and stretched one leg across my husbands lap. I had traveler’s fatigue. I wanted to sleep in a bed and place my head against a pillow. I missed my sister as she had arrived on a much earlier flight than we. I was concerned about her too. She was feeling ill, and I desperately wanted to be by her side.  Was it the big sister instinct that was troubling me?

We arrived at Raipur airport on time.  It was evening and I was experiencing a mixture of emotions. Rarely does one ever experience just one emotion. Right? First it was anxiety due to my phobia of flying, which the Valium tends to wane off a bit and then a combination of the following: mental and physical exhaustion, unease as I was about to immerse myself blindly into foreign land and customs. In addition, let us not forget I was an Indian Bride and with that came a lot of responsibilities. I was accountable for the name of this family. I knew that much going in. I also knew I was going to be under microscopic lens for the next five days and I didn’t even know where to begin. I was snapped out of my thoughts when from a far I saw two figures waving frantically. My husband and I looked at each other with a warm smile and we knew it was Maa and Baba. They were like two kids who caught a glimpse of Mr. and Mrs. Clause. We eagerly started waving our hands, with big smiles and as we started to get closer to them (yes it was a lengthy walk) I leaned in to my husband and whispered, “I’ll touch your parents feet.” He looked at me startled as the boy-like smile gradually forms across his lips. He squeezed my hand and picked up the pace. “Of course, you’ll have to take the lead,” I said jokingly as we both kneeled down to pay our respects.  

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21 Comments

  • Juan

    Lovely story! Read it all. Please keep it coming.

    We live trough your experience and emotions, every single detail was passing by in front of me as you recount your experiences. Glad you are able to experience another culture and embraced it with love and intrigue.

    Proud is an understatement.

    Love your Dad!

    PS : To your readers, I’m not bias, but love is a big influence in our life! Lol

    January 24, 2013 at 3:06 am Reply
    • soulconalas

      Thank you for your support as I continue down this path. Knowing that you enjoy and are able to connect to my stories makes it all worthwhile.

      I hope to continue to make you proud.

      Stay tuned for Part 3!

      January 24, 2013 at 3:11 am Reply
  • Jennifer A. Post

    We want more! We want more!
    Way to leave a girl hanging!!!

    January 24, 2013 at 4:16 am Reply
    • soulconalas

      Hi Friend,

      More soon! I’m already working on Part 3. Hoping you will return.

      January 24, 2013 at 4:18 am Reply
  • sanjeet

    Super – loved this one

    January 24, 2013 at 6:56 am Reply
    • soulconalas

      Hi Sanjeet,

      I’m very happy to hear you “loved” it. It’s comments like this which motivate me to continue writing. More soon.

      January 24, 2013 at 12:47 pm Reply
  • Meenal

    Hey Linjen, you know all this customs which we are taught from our early childhood are so much embedded on our heart and mind that we stop asking questions like why are we doing it?What is the purpose of it?So reading your blog not only refreshes my childhood memories , but also gives an insight of looking these customs from an other angle. It’s just like Ved( my 7 year old ) who is always curious and comes up with the questions of Indian festivals and cudtoms that even we can’t answer:)
    Well written as always!

    January 24, 2013 at 2:39 pm Reply
    • soulconalas

      Dearest Meenal,

      I’m happy to hear my story brought you closer to your childhood memories. It’s quite a compliment to know I was able to do that.

      When rituals are embedded in one as a child, you don’t really ask why do we do this versus why we don’t do another. We as children are told to do something and due to lack of curiosity or just because we see this is how things are, we do them. I suppose from my personal experience with my traditions in my culture as well as in my husband’s I feel the need to explain the why to my children, so they know, so they understand and hopefully so they have a deeper appreciation to the customs. I think it’s great your children ask you questions, and even if you can’t answer them, it reflects deep thinking on their part.

      Stay tuned for Part 3.

      All the best,
      SoulconAlas

      February 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm Reply
  • Nat S.

    Love it!!! Keep them coming!

    Eager to know how the next five days go..

    Xoxo

    January 24, 2013 at 2:44 pm Reply
    • soulconalas

      Hi Natalia,

      I look forward to sharing with you and all those who read my blog what the next five days entailed. It was intoxicating to say the least.

      Come back soon.

      All the best,
      SoulconAlas

      February 3, 2013 at 1:58 pm Reply
  • Yessy

    This morning I woke up and the first thing I did was read your post. I love the way you tell stories. This was amusing and filled with so much information simultaneously. Your prose is spectacular and really allows a reader to see all of what you saw and feel what you felt. What a great read this morning.

    January 24, 2013 at 7:14 pm Reply
    • soulconalas

      Hi Yessy,

      To read my story as the first thing in the morning, when most of us turn to the newspaper is quite a compliment to me. I’m humbled. Thank you.

      I’m delighted to know you were able to connect with the story and feel and see it too. It is important for me to know that my readers are able to do that, otherwise I will feel as if I have failed them.

      Stay tuned for Part 3.

      Love always,
      SoulconAlas

      February 3, 2013 at 2:01 pm Reply
  • Josie

    One of my favorites so far! I love the visuals. It brings in a level of comedy and depth…you are not afraid to laugh at yourself or our awkwardness with new customs…it works
    well.

    January 25, 2013 at 10:55 am Reply
    • soulconalas

      Hi Josie,

      Writing allows me to express what I think and how I think more than talking. Hence, I’m happy to hear that you were able to see how easily I can make fun of myself . I’ve never been afraid to do that, though I wasn’t sure how my loyal readers would take that. One thing I can say with certainty is that writing helps me lose all inhibitions consequently allowing me to expose myself in raw form.

      Thank you for being wonderful and inspiring.

      All the best,
      SoulconAlas

      February 3, 2013 at 2:09 pm Reply
  • div

    Great post, and definitely struck a chord! Even though the husband and me are both from India, I was SO surprised to find that our customs about touching feet were completely different: where I’m from there is no order as to whose feet I should touch first, we “fall ” at elders feet while saying goodbye and not greeting them, to name a few. This is not to mention the several other subtleties involved! Loved reading, as usual!

    January 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm Reply
    • soulconalas

      Hi Div,

      I am learning that for every Indian state the customs can vary or drastically change. That makes India that much more intriguing in my eyes. Even though everyone is Indian, there’s huge pockets of diversity.

      Thank you for sharing with me your ritual! It adds to my story which is always a treat indeed.

      Come back soon!

      All the best,
      SoulconAlas

      February 3, 2013 at 3:44 pm Reply
  • Ruth Sobalvarro

    Linjen, this is truly an amazing post. I have laughed and cried. The comedy is great and I can really see you going through it all. I cried out of happiness when you decided to touch his parents feet because I could almost feel how much that meant to him as it seems very important to his culture. I love you for that! This is wonderful! Keep it going. Looking forward to reading more.

    January 30, 2013 at 9:02 pm Reply
    • soulconalas

      My Dearest Ruth,

      I’m surprised I was able to evoke laughter and tears not only in you, but in some of the other loyal readers as well. I didn’t know my story would have that effect, but it’s a wonderful surprise and I’m deeply humbled it has had that affect on you and others.

      When you love, and love deeply with open heart and mind, you tend to adapt a lot more easily than perhaps you ever thought you could. Hence, me touching my in-law’s feet was not something that was as difficult to adapt to as I thought it was. I embrace that ritual but mostly admire it.

      Thank you for reading my blog. Do come back and stay tuned for Part 3.

      Love always,
      SoulconAlas

      February 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm Reply
  • Belkys

    Your writing is as unique as your name. You could take all your short stories and turn them into a book which of course would make the New York Times bestseller; so simple “Linjen Pichardo- Neogi’s Short Story Compilation”. I can envision that name on a million copies of the book.

    My eyes were tearing the whole time which made reading blurry but great for my contacts. Is it because of your talent? Is it because you’re my niece? Or is it because through you I’m reading an incomparable love story? Please keep writing. This world needs to read what you have to write.

    February 2, 2013 at 3:49 pm Reply
    • soulconalas

      My Dearest Tia Belkys,

      You have touched me, as you always do when you write to me. I have cried reading your words to me.

      The world should know that a you, my aunt, are one of those rare inspirations for me. You’re writing inspires me to continue to write, and have aspirations. It’s through your writing that I see more and more of the writer I want to be, hope to become.

      So thank you! Thank you for being one of my biggest influences and fans.

      Love you,
      SoulconAlas

      February 3, 2013 at 2:14 pm Reply
  • Raquel

    Lovely. It is always precious when our real life can inspire us to write prose that reads effortlessly and yet provokes unexpected thoughts. T and you are brave souls to lay your fears on the line and embrace the new and beautiful future both your cultures will bring together. Tell him that he is fine when I greet him hello; no slobbery kisses here. 🙂

    February 11, 2013 at 12:30 pm Reply
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