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Saturday, August 14, 2010

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(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 24th July, 2010)

“Vizhu, vizhu,” she says, in rapture, signalling me to rush to the booty – the leathery feet of a lecherous professor from Salem, complete with gold watch and black shirt to advertise his political affiliations, “you might not get an opportunity again.”

Despite the ominous prediction, the octogenarian professor is beaming with goodwill, and the dancer I am waiting to interview is glowing with the fine fortune she has brought me.

“Back problem,” I mutter, putting a hand to my spine as I bend as far as his knee.

After cursing me with sixteen children, he moves on to better pursuits, while I thank my stars for the brainwave. A full prostration just might have merited thirty-two.

“They’re like vultures,” my grandmother grumbles, to a cousin who is six months older than she is, “at least those wait till a few hours before your death. These creatures have spent years queuing up to get our blessings before packing us off!”

She spends most festival days trying to outrun ten grandchildren chasing after her under the command of her children-in-law. With remarkable alacrity, the eighty-year-old matriarch of the family usually manages to jump into bed before the nimblest of us can grab her feet.

“Not anymore!” she screams out in warning, “if you touch the feet of someone who’s lying down, that means you’re equating that person to a corpse!”

All of us spring back, while she leans back with the triumphant smile of the proverbial cat.

My own turn comes during Pongal, as a shuffle of brothers and cousins line up, with grimaces and money, to fall at my feet. I habitually count the cash before blessing them with academic proficiency and abundant progeny.

“It’s unfair, ma,” my little brother whinges to my mother, “why do we have to give her money, and fall at her feet? I don’t mind falling at people’s feet for money!”

“Your sister is like a Goddess,” my father silences him, as I swear at the table for being in the way of my foot, “there’s nothing wrong with praying to the Lakshmi of the house.”

“Even if she’s more like Kali?” my brother murmurs resentfully, watching me put his pocket money into my purse.

“Duh,” I say, as he pouts, “Lakshmi gives money, Kali temples make money. Who do you think I’d rather be?”

“You should fall at Vimala Chiththi’s feet,” my littler cousin advises him, “she always gives me money to. And the thatha in her house is even more generous.”

I hear the below-waist-level population of my house has been running quite a successful prostration racket, using their respective distant relatives to nourish a common kitty. My cousin proudly tells me they have made enough to buy a Nintendo Wii.

They’re yet to squeeze a donation out of me, though.

“How can you be so comfortable with this?” my mother asks me, “it’s so humiliating. I had to fall at everyone’s feet; no one fell at mine! And thank God for that!”

However, her record was to break at a wedding reception.

As my father pronounced, “my wife”, the groom – who reports to my father at work – doubled up in deference. She tried to protest, but he persisted, moving the folds of her sari so that he could find the bottom of her feet.

I for one have no objection to embracing the dust at someone’s rear paws, as long as it is for the greater good of oneself.

A timely touch of my landlady’s feet was instrumental in sealing the deal for my tenure and rent in Noida.


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