Don’t Make me Take my Chappals off…

shoe at you.jpg The shoe-throwing incident. People love the shoe-throwing incident. Now, I’m blogging about it here, despite the fact that it was an Iraqi who did it to a non-Desi. I am doing this for three reasons:

1) It brought back bad memories of my last trip to Kerala (more on that, after the jump)

2) We think of shoes as dirty and thus, disrespectful as well (AFAIK)

3) The Lobb-ber has received a marriage proposal for his act of bravado:

An Egyptian man said on Wednesday he was offering his 20-year-old daughter in marriage to Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in Baghdad on Sunday
The daughter, Amal Saad Gumaa, said she agreed with the idea. “This is something that would honor me. I would like to live in Iraq, especially if I were attached to this hero,” she told Reuters by telephone.
Her father, Saad Gumaa, said he had called Dergham, Zaidi’s brother, to tell him of the offer. “I find nothing more valuable than my daughter to offer to him, and I am prepared to provide her with everything needed for marriage,” he added.
Zaidi’s gesture has struck a chord across the Arab world, where President Bush is widely despised for invading Iraq in 2003 and for his support for Israel. [link]

Disrespecting someone with a shoe AND a potential “alliance” of families? Oh, that’s so brown, even if it’s not technically brown. Whatever mang, I’m down with the spirit and the letter.

It didn’t just strike a chord across the Arab world. A Professor of Technocultural Studies at my alma mater, U.C. Davis (go ags!), published the following thoughts in the Huffington Post (via Sunaina Maira of ASATA, the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, whose website seems to be down):

Know what Bush was saying when al-Zeidi threw his shoes? “The war is not over. But . . . it is decidedly on its way to being won.”
And Muntadhar al-Zeidi lost it. Threw both his shoes, yelling that shoe #1 was ” a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people!” His second shoe was “for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!”
This was a gift to the entire world. We all owe a debt to this 28-year old journalist who, for one beautiful moment, letting go of all rational calculation of the possible consequences, stood up and spoke truth to power.
He is currently being held by Iraqi security forces and faces an unknown fate. I would not want to be in his shoes right now. [link]

I’m not sure any of us would want to be in his position, right now:

…an Iraqi judge said on Friday that al-Zaidi was beaten and had bruises on his face and around his eyes…
His family says he suffered a broken arm and other severe injuries after he was tackled by Iraqi security officers and US secret service agents and dragged away struggling and screaming.[link]

I’ve written about the “Cheee!”-inducing nature of shoes both here and on our tumblelog, so obviously I like this topic far too much. This wasn’t always the case. Until 1989, I was unaware that shoes were anything other than foot covers which had to come off the moment I stepped inside our home.

In 1989, we were in Kerala, at my Father’s elder brother’s home in Thiruvilla. In that lush, gorgeous Southern state, danger apparently lurked everywhere, so obviously, the best thing to do with a 14-year old girl would be to keep her indoors, so no one could kidnap, molest, eve-tease, cast the evil eye upon or otherwise affect her adversely. The end result of this brilliant strategery? I was so bored, I had called my Mother and pleaded to be released back in to the wilds of America.

It was approximately day 17 of my confinement and more relatives whom I did not know and would never see again were visiting, to peer at me and my American father, the only child out of his eleven siblings to settle in the U.S. of A. I noticed that my new Bata flats were already coming apart; the silvery thread which embroidered the toe-area was unraveling. This annoyed me very much, as loose threads are wont to do. I was standing, so I mindlessly picked up my right foot and placed it on a hard wooden bench, to get a better look at the situation.

Suddenly, though I had been thoroughly ignored for the last two hours (after I had dutifully recited my name, age, and the fact that I didn’t know any Malayalam IN Malayalam in order to be a smart-ass) the chatter and laughter-filled room went silent for a few ugly, scary seconds before my father’s elder brother roared at me.

“DIS-REE-SPECK-FULL GER-IL! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DEW-ING?” My sister looked at me and shrugged. I desperately scanned the room for my Father, who didn’t say anything at first but then shook his head.

“She doesn’t know these things, Achayan.”

“THEN YOU SHOULD BE TEACHING HER.” As scared as I was, I was starting to get frustrated, since I still didn’t understand what the hell I had done, which merited such a public shaming. While my relatives wailed about the dangers of children growing up abroad, my father looked at me and then dismissively mentioned, “You shouldn’t put your shoe or your foot there, not when someone elder is sitting.”

I looked at him incredulously. The bench was a good eight feet long. And nearly empty. Seven feet from me, an ancient woman with wavy silver hair, who was wearing chatta and mundu was giving me the nastiest look while slowly shaking her head. I quickly moved the offending foot and shoe and then hissed “How was I supposed to know that?” at my Father. I felt humiliated and couldn’t understand why he didn’t brief me on these new and confusing customs.

My shoes were brand new. We had purchased them the day before and I had never even worn them out of the house. My eyes started to fill with tears as some asshole blamed my Mother for my shameful behavior. My father saw this and mentioned something about Communists and strikes; within moments I was forgotten, as people competed in a shouting match to see who could make their point the loudest.

As you can tell, that experience affected me; recalling it was effortless, and that’s exactly what I did, when I saw the news clip of the Iraqi journalist hurling his shoe at our lame duck President. I was reminded of that miserable moment in Kerala as well as how my Punjabi Sikh best friend’s Mom once threatened to take off her chappal and beat her brother with it.

Shoes. Bad. I get it. Did Bush? Who cares. I’ve never been more positively disposed towards him– and by positive, I mean I mustered a half-hearted, “Well, he took that better than I expected him to” while nodding– as I was after that moment, when he seemed to take it all in stride. His life-altering, world-ruining policies aside, it was a powerful example of how to avoid a humiliating attack and recover quickly; I’ll try and remember it the next time I’m moderating.

116 thoughts on “Don’t Make me Take my Chappals off…

  1. 104 · ShallowThinker said

    Although I could tell for a minute that an intense debate was about to erupt about “Paper vs hand”.

    looks like you missed #96 and its predecessors. such hideous imagery.

  2. 100 · iruvan said

    regards the best place to keep 14 yr old girls, if you read it carefully you can see that she is voicing the words/thoughts of elders in Kerala (or Tamil Nadu etc.) who would not let 14-15 years wandering out and about in the village. And mind you, that is an issue of safety for women out in the public is most parts of India/latin america/SE Asia/italy/US at varying levels (heard about eve teasing?

    One more comment from someone too stupid to understand what Iruvan kindly explained above OR from anyone who wants to flame the author of the post and I’ll shut this thread down. As far as I’m concerned, both are off-topic. Way to zero in on a minor detail in an essay and use it as an excuse to vent your troll-spleen/threadjack a discussion. Enough.

  3. 103:

    Bush handled it really well: calm and cool.

    Slate had a good piece on this, in which John Dickerson argued that the shoe incident may be the best thing that’s happened to Bush in months (http://www.slate.com/id/2206779/)

    “But my guess is that a lot of Americans will see the shoe al-Zaidi threw but not hear the words he spoke. (He said he was acting on behalf of “the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq.”) And if they do hear, they won’t linger over what he said. They’ll marvel at the president’s quick reflexes and calm.

    Bush brushed off the incident, joking that he saw into his attacker’s “sole,” a reference to his famous misreading of Vladimir Putin. It’s the kind of incident where Bush’s no-big-deal attitude, so maddening in other contexts, serves him well. “It was just a bizarre moment,” Bush told journalists later on Air Force One. “But I’ve had other bizarre moments in the presidency.” (Once, I thought there would be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq …)

  4. It’s always been bizarre to me how my dad FREAKS when I step on a book or how my grandma needs a separate foot towel. When I was young I made the mistake of wearing white shoes in India. I asked the maid who had been scrubbing my underpants if she wouldn’t mind doing my shoes too….the look on her face. I don’t know about you, but I’d MUCH rather wash someones shoes than their skid-marked underpants.

    On a side note the water hose technique is NOT superior to toilet paper. So you’re sitting there and a force of water sprays EVERYTHING in the bathroom leaving traces of fecal matter all over. Then you are to pull your pants back up while your butt is wet. The next person steps in to a room that resembles a petri dish. gross!

  5. So you’re sitting there and a force of water sprays EVERYTHING in the bathroom

    Are you trying to clean yourself or breakup a prison riot?

  6. 111 · Coconut Rice said

    I don’t know about you, but I’d MUCH rather wash someones shoes than their skid-marked underpants. On a side note the water hose technique is NOT superior to toilet paper.

    Gross! I think you just undermined your own point. :)

  7. I for one dont think Bush is totally stupid, I think its nice he took a step that India never unfortunately it was on the wrong country and didnt know how to stop. But I do think he’s got punjabi genes, there is no way anybody can duck so quick if he hasnt eaten “juttis” growing up :)

  8. “I for one dont think Bush is totally stupid, I think its nice he took a step that India never unfortunately it was on the wrong country and didnt know how to stop. But I do think he’s got punjabi genes, there is no way anybody can duck so quick if he hasnt eaten “juttis” growing up :)

    i agree 100% lol

  9. Bush has inspired lots of comedians, one Iraqi journalist and game programmer(s). On the web is a game called “Bush Shoe Dodge” or something of that nature.

  10. “Bush has inspired lots of comedians, one Iraqi journalist and game programmer(s). On the web is a game called “Bush Shoe Dodge” or something of that nature.”

    Sure has i must have watched 50 youtube videos before googling this link.

  11. If the guy was an American Republican and this happened before the elections, he would’ve beaten Obama any day.

    About using plain toilet paper – it does not clean thoroughly. Hence now it come as wet tissues – which clog the flush. I use ordinary toilet paper and later use the tub – Indian style. Now call me names but I’m certain many do the same.

  12. Display of heel/footwear has not been a sign of dis-respect but rather a matter of hygiene according to native Indian tradition. Different communities derive their own perception from holy books, places of worship and folks. I am surprised to learn even non natives follow this.