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Des pieds et des mains

“Faire des pieds et des mains” – literally “to do feet and hands”, this French idiomatic sentence could be translated by “to move heaven and earth”.

Some of the Israeli readers will be familiar with Azriel Carlibach’s book “Travel diaries”, relating his three-weeks journey in 1954 India. Among those, some may also remember the way he describes the Indian heads:

“ראשים אשר עורם שחור כשחור הלילה וראשים שחומים בצבע הקפה, ראשים כשוקולדה, כקקאו, כתה חריף, כתה קלוש, ובהירים לחלוטין, ראשים חשופים לאור השמש וראשים מוצלים בצל מטריות שחורות, ראשים מגולחים לגמרי, למחצה, לשליש, לרביע…”

Here's my humble translation :

“Heads as dark as the darkest night and heads the color of coffee, heads the color of chocolate, of cacao, of strong tea and of weak tea, and absolutely fair heads, bare heads under the sunlight and heads sheltered in the shadow of black umbrellas, heads completely shaved, half-shaved, one-third shaved, one-quarter shaved…”

On and on he goes, over several pages, offering us wonderful glimpses of India as it was half a century ago, ever more diversified, more colorful, more incredible.

I keep being told about this India by the Indians and older travelers I meet on the way, so I know for sure that what I get to see now is only a fraction of what it used to be. Yet, like Carlibach, and probably like most travelers, I too was awed by the human river that is India, much bigger and stronger than the Ganges itself in the middle of the monsoon.

But, unlike Carlibach and probably unlike most travelers too, even in India I’m shorter than average (yes yes), so unfortunately I don’t get such a clear sight of heads. What I do get to see clearly, however, is feet and hands, hundreds, lakhs of them. Hands and feet as dark as the darkest night, hands and feet the color of coffee, the color of chocolate, of cacao, of strong tea and of weak tea, and absolutely fair…

Working hands, idle hands, lazy hands, hands choosing fruits, cutting fruits and eating fruits, hands wiping mouths. Sweaty hands, manicured hands, henna-painted hands, discolored hands, wrinkled hands, hands with skin as thick as a crocodile’s, hands that look like silk. Skinny hands and chubby hands. Bare hands, gloved hands, hands covered in gold, and covered in dirt. Fluttering hands, like butterflies, slow hands, like elephants. Shouting hands, deaf and mute hands, silent hands, soothing hands, threatening hands. Hands holding children, hands fixing a flower garland as a hair ornament, hands replacing a fallen dupatta, hands adjusting a turban. Hands lighting a fire, hands holding a cuppa chai, hands grounding spices and sculpting marbles, hands sewing and hands tearing, fishing hands. Hands doing laundry, hands making chapatis, (right) hands scooping dhal. Hands playing cricket and cheering hands. Hands picking tea leaves, hands cutting coconuts off the trees, hands selling necklaces, flowers and pakoras, hands begging for money, hands held out in blessing. Hands saying Namaste, hands saying Vanakkam, hands saying HaSalam Haleikum.

And then, the feet. Feet bathing in the sun, and bathing in the rain, feet walking at the speed of light, feet pedaling like mad. Your average five-fingered feet, and then, once in a while, the lucky six-fingered feet. Tired feet, strong feet, wiry feet, bloated feet and dry feet. Feet silent as a panther, feet clinging and ringing with anklets and toe-rings. Feet covered in dust. Perfumed feet, oiled feet, smelly feet. Feet in plain sandals, feet clad in sparkling golden mocassins, feet in shiny leather shoes, bare feet. Feet under saris and burkas, under churidars and salwars and patialas, feet under lungi, feet struggling with dupattas and pallus and with other feet. A forest of feet, twisted, straight, leafy, naked, deep-rooted, uprooted, banyan feet. New feet showing up suddenly, pushing other feet out of the frame. Schoolgirls’ feet, old men’s feet, pilgrims’ feet, “smart feet”. Poor feet, here and there one foot, no foot. Feet huddled together, feet scurrying away. Feet going somewhere, feet wondering where they are, feet going in one direction then the other then back again, feet arguing about which way to go. Feet on the pavement, off the pavement, on the road, in the sand, in cow dung, in sewers, in garbage, in fresh monsoon rain. Feet dancing to Bollywood hits, feet dancing to the rhythm of rickshaws.

Always in motion. Des pieds et des mains, Indian feet and hands moving heaven and earth, everywhere, all the time… Keep moving !

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Posted by clemhadd 08:23 Archived in India Tagged people india impressions

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