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India: The Flat Foot Era

kids playing cricket in indiaIn India, every field has it’s own story. Back on Argentinian soil, I was used to seeing kids playing with soccer balls. Here however, millions of children play around for hours imitating their idols without using their feet to kick the ball. Rays of sun stream down on the field waiting for the next pitcher or batter to take his position. Everyone in this hemisphere of the world knows everything there is to know about cricket, and I know absolutely nothing. I have learned from watching the game that the pitcher throws in a particular circular forward movement while the batter slaps at the ball in a somewhat spastic stroke with a wooden plank resembling some element of masochistic torture. Players resembling English Lords dressed in long pants and jumpers tally up their runs in an equation that is foreign to me. The whole nation excitedly prepares for the much anticipated game between long-time rivals, India and Pakistan (which compares to the Argentine / Brazilian rivalry in soccer with a much larger degree of unhealed wounds). Still today, in some corners of Kashmir state, residents fear the sounds of gunshots. I ask myself, “How could it be possible that the sport of soccer, which moves millions, cannot impassion more than a billion people?” The answer, I suspect, is probably because if they attempted to play it, they would probably have the most collapsed soccer goal. Wouldn’t they?  We shall see. pushkar market india

I suppose it is near impossible to arrive to India for the first time in your life and not explode from the differences you experience. Without ever noticing the broad spectrum of different shades of grey, I was only capable of seeing the intense black contrasted with stark white (while paradoxically, the streets were a bombardment of colours). Upon seeing so many differences, my mind automatically began making comparisons while my body rapidly went into a receptive mode. Not only my sight, but every single bodily sense was influenced in some way, as was my mind.

My first encounter with an Indian was certainly one of the most immensely confusing situations of my life. Every answer to any question I asked was almost always a bobbing of the head, exactly like those plastic bobble-head toys you find stuck onto the dashboard of any taxi. It is not a “yes” nor is it a “no”, and it is not an “I don’t know” either. Its is a gesture that means “anything is possible”. This may seem like a contradictory answer to a black and white question when the gesture refers to the scale of greys in its entirety. Definitive answers can only come from contact with us, “the intruders”, since we are thoroughly different, starting with the way we take our first steps in this world. Of course to me, it’s unimaginable to walk “flat footedly” in Buenos Aires at midday in summer with the pavement “frying”. I can picture the scene now: Me hopping frantically from the shade of a bus to that of a “Made in Paraguay” stand. And at night, wearing glasses, examining the sidewalk several metres ahead trying to determine whether that stain was only from oil or else, it came from a dog poop that had escaped from the nearby park. In India, this “Chaplin-esque” scene would never cross the minds Two cows in an alley way with a woman in Indiaof hundreds of millions of people, so I think we can safely say that the “flat foot” era is far from danger of extinction. In fact this era has survived millions of years and the streets in India still cause incessant calluses. The shit is also part of the scenery (however if it were only dog poop, it would be a blessing) and the sun still heats the surface of the streets. Everyone walking on it feels the heat over and over, which serves as a constant reminder of the days past that they have endured. Thousands upon millions upon billions of people have gone “flat footed” through life. I would be willing to bet that millions of people have never had the chance or even the dream of trying on a pair of flip flops during their long wait to reincarnation. I bet that in millions of cases this has nothing to do with lack of money, it is simply a way of life.

So I sit for a while on the sidewalk with my field of vision directed towards the hundreds of “flat feet” crossing my path and see people walking and pedalling with the same air of confidence as someone who is wearing a shiny new pair of Nikes for the first time (in the Western world).  On the men’s legs I can barely see the slightest hint of a calf muscle. I predict that it must be from a “collapsed arch”. If not, we can leave the diagnosis to an orthopaedic doctor. In the case of women, it is much more difficult to perceive. The Sari (typical Indian dress) only allows one to see the women’s elaborately painted “flat feet” decorated with careful henna designs, silver toe-rings and ankle bracelets. Honestly I don’t know how they measure the aesthetic value of their feet, or if their jewellery is an attempt to disguise the “elephant step” and the notoriously widely-spaced toes.

These are the typical thoughts of a Westerner like me, who goes through life with a different step. The arch in our feet is the “bridge” that inhibits us from truly experiencing India 100% while it remains erect. It is the bridge that divides our original roots from our “mutant life”, our foundations as individuals and our imperious need to follow trends and fashion. Please don’t misinterpret me. By no means am I trying to teach a lesson or glorify the “flat footed” way of life. I simply feel that the black and white scenario that I spoke of earlier was born from this realization.

In India, nobody cares if the moustache has been out of fashion since the 1980’s, almost everyone has one. Women A shirtless older man in Harmandir Sahibdon’t care about the size or shape of their midline. Their two-piece Saris leave their bellies uncovered as they stop abruptly below the bust. Gods used this type of clothing!  The “Sarong” and “Sari” are not only the traditional dress of India, they are also worn on special occasions and in daily life for all Indians across all religions and castes. They are large pieces of coloured fabrics (cotton, silk, etc.) that envelop the legs of men and the bodies of women. The Sarong is like a beach wrap made of more resistant fabric and used as a skirt. It’s impressive how the men use it so naturally and easily. It is miraculously held in place in a Cinderella-dressed-up-for-the-ball type of fashion in order to ventilate the legs and intimate parts of the men while they walk. Or it can be adjusted from behind and tied in front in a “miniskirt” type of design like a cowboy holstering his pistol. The Sari, on the other hand, benefits from the characteristic of always good looking. Even women who sleep on the streets, can fix themselves up with a simple India Woman smiles at camera dressed in traditional garbface wash and look presentable for any occasion. Of course there are Saris of all types, but the beauty of the detailed golden borders and all the ornate jewellery that is worn on the wrists, ankles, nose and ears, creates the final touches. Everyone wearing a Sari is unified and equal. When someone greets you in Hindi, they bow down to you and say “Namaste” meaning “We are all one and the same”. It’s a harsh comparison with Argentina, where people make an expression of disgust when they see someone wearing the same clothing as themselves.

Today, our “mutant heel” has taken many “ego generators” from Indian culture, such as nose-rings, toe-rings, henna tattoos and beach sarongs for men (things that when used in a Western context naturally create separation, not unification). Hopefully this is a signal or a hint that in the future we should try to avoid meaningless worries and to place more value on the truly important aspects of life. And I only hope that it is a coincidence that our “mutant heel” and the “Achilles’ Heel” (symbol of our weaknesses), are so physically close. But that reality seems very far away, and I can certainly say that I have a long way to go to reach it, perhaps as far as the millions of Indians, and the many “millions” that separate us. Definitely, being 2005, and proportionally related to the overwhelming globalisation, the “Flat Foot Era” seems to be steadier than ever. And my bipolar step will follow its course, healthy and ill at the same time.

In the end, it seems more than clear to me that we will probably never see an Argentina vs. India soccer match, and much less a cricket one.