As media coverage of Dasara began, an old photograph made headlines. A photograph from 2019 of Sudha Murty touching Pramoda Devi Wadiyar’s feet made the news.
Many asked why Sudha Murty should touch the feet of someone from the royal family in an Independent India. Others defended Sudha Murty’s gesture saying it was her choice.
In our culture, we touch the feet of people we revere, respect or of the elderly to seek their blessings. I, for one, touch the feet of kind, decent and wise older people and seek their blessings.
But one has to be very discerning about touching feet. You don’t have to seek the blessings of every older person. Not all of them are worthy of that respect.
I am a Kodava, a community which, like many other communities in India, has a culture of touching the feet of their elders to seek blessings. For most youngsters in the community, Kodava weddings and gatherings are like going to the gym — a workout for the lower back and thighs as one has to keep half-squatting and bending to touch an elder’s feet every few minutes. So, over the years, I have touched hundreds of feet and have noticed a ‘Feet Touching Pattern.’
When one is young, one is enthusiastic about touching the elders’ feet sincerely; You half-squat, bend low, and feel their feet. As you hit your late teens and 20s, you become too cool to bend all the way down to touch their feet. Instead, you bend and touch their shins.
As you hit your 30s, you start touching their knees. In your 40s, you bow while keeping your right arm extended, aimlessly pointing to the ground. In your 50s, you just “air-touch” the area around their thigh region. In your 60s, you bow and swing your arms as if you are swatting a fly off their fly region.
Finally, in your 70s, there are hardly any feet left for you to touch as most have passed. Also, by this age, you are busy getting your own feet touched.
The ‘feet touching pattern’ is an excellent indicator… an indicator of what? Well, the fewer feet you are touching, the closer you are getting to “The End”.
I dislike elders who demand that you touch their feet. One must always command respect, not demand it.
A few years ago, a not very old man at a wedding demanded I touch his feet. I didn’t. He asked again with a stern voice. I did not want to create a scene, so I did. But the man was unhappy. “Bend and touch properly, I say,” he said rudely.
I was taken aback and embarrassed. All the same, I did what he asked me to. I again squatted low and touched his feet for longer than usual. As I did this, I heard him say with a tone of arrogance, “Yes, like that”. He had tested my patience enough.
As I stood back up, I did so with great speed and moved my torso forward. The top of my head caught the bottom of his crotch, and he squirmed in pain. He tested my patience, and so I tested his testicles.
I saw him again a few months later at another wedding, and as I approached him slightly bent like I was going to touch his feet, he immediately recoiled with fear and extended his arms forward, signalling, “no need”. Guess, that’s the last time he’ll “demand” respect.
Most older people always bless you with long life with health, wealth and happiness. But the best blessing I have received is from Mittoo Chengappa, the owner of Amanvana Resort in Kushalnagar. Every time I touch his feet, he puts his palm over my head and blesses me, saying, “wish you a happy life and sudden death.” I like that. It’s kind and pragmatic. I would love to live a happy life and exit this planet suddenly.
Then there is touching the feet of Godmen, which can be tricky.
I once witnessed a devotee trying to touch a Godman’s feet. But every time this devotee was about to touch the Godman’s feet, the holy man would step back. The devotee tried again. The Godman stepped back again.
The third time around, the Godman’s assistant told the devotee that he must not touch the Godman. “No skin-to-skin touching”, he warned. It sounded a little like what one would hear in a “naughty massage place” — skin-to-skin touching, body-to-body massage. But why no skin-to-skin touching with Godman? Well, it seems the Godman may lose his power if there is a touch from another mortal!
We also have the political feet touching which largely these days has nothing to do with respect but loyalty and appeasement. A party worker diving to the feet of his patron turns this gesture of respect into servility and sycophancy.
Now, there are some rules for people who get their feet touched. Basic one — keep your feet close together when someone approaches you to touch them. But many don’t do this.
Some people remain seated cross-legged as you try to touch their feet. For such people, I cross my arms and touch their feet. Then there are ones who keep shaking their legs as you try to touch their feet. For such people, I, too, sway my arms vigorously close to their feet.
Then you have men who are seated and “manspreading”— keeping their legs spread wide open like they are breathing through their crotch. For such people, I spread my arms like a cricket umpire giving a “wide ball” decision as I bend to touch. Over the years, my family has made it their form of entertainment to see what all types of feet touching I will execute at events.
After all this touching, I suddenly notice many are touching my feet now. A sign that I’m getting older. For me, the indicator that one’s ‘second half of life’ has begun is when the number of people touching your feet is more than the number of feet you are touching.
Let’s hope that as we all get older, we don’t become grumpy old men as youngsters come to seek blessings. Let us close our feet, accept their respect with graciousness, lest you test their youthful patience, and they test the youthfulness of your testicles with a head butt. So be respectful of people who respect you.
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