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. 47 · Nibu Achar said

    I was a feisty and “self actualized” youngster, and I remember being teased, scolded and proded by Indian relatives on our regular visits back (every 2-3 years without fail from the time I was born). However, being who I was, I always teased and prodded back. Don’t like my Hindi? Let’s hear your angrezi. Oh how they hated me and vowed their kids would never go to Amreeka and turn out like me. The thing about desis is they can dish it out but they can’t take it. Especially when they are jealous of you and their only way of feeling “equal” is to make fun of the object of their envy. I remember when I reached my teens and how my cousins and their friends would make fun of me. And they were the ones dressed like it was 1971. Get real people.

    Nibu, I wish I had your courage when I was that age. You actually verbalized everything I kept to myself during those trips back in the 80s.

  2. It’s totally irrelevant to an American teenager (at the time) or adult if they speak an Indian language correctly or not. For us, our parents’ mother tongues are nothing more than a light hobby at best, unless we plan to teach English as a second language in India or something. I see some American Desis here have similar attitudes as outdated elders do in India. What gives for God’s sake? I thought I left that all behind me years ago.

    You’re entitled to your views…many people feel as you do. And obviously your relatives in India have given you a hard time over this. But don’t speak for all ABDs…I’m an ABD who has great pride in his mothertongue (note: I didn’t say my parents’ mothertongue although that’s obviously where it comes from). Quite a few ABDs (and 2nd genners in the UK too) feel pride in their desi language as an important aspect of their cultural heritage and personal identity.

  3. Since the original post was on culture/respect etc and this thread has taken a more serious turn, here are some mood enhancers. See this, this and this.

  4. I see some American Desis here have similar attitudes as outdated elders do in India.

    I have to admit I often resemble that comment. Not in every aspect of life though.

  5. Nibu, I wish I had your courage when I was that age. You actually verbalized everything I kept to myself during those trips back in the 80s.

    I have Henry Rollins to thank, and all those punk bands that went mainstream in the 80s, ha ha. But really, I had then and continue to have now a real aversion to in your face type of inter-personal dealings. There is nothing subtle at all about the way many desi relatives pick on their own.

  6. was a feisty and “self actualized” youngster, and I remember being teased, scolded and proded by Indian relatives on our regular visits back (every 2-3 years without fail from the time I was born). However, being who I was, I always teased and prodded back. Don’t like my Hindi? Let’s hear your angrezi. Oh how they hated me and vowed their kids would never go to Amreeka and turn out like me. The thing about desis is they can dish it out but they can’t take it. Especially when they are jealous of you and their only way of feeling “equal” is to make fun of the object of their envy. I remember when I reached my teens and how my cousins and their friends would make fun of me. And they were the ones dressed like it was 1971. Get real people.

    Lack of compassion on both sides. You were a kid so it’s excusable. I made those same trips as a kid. You’re right that certain relatives are asses who don’t merit compassion and instead should face derision…but others are well-meaning, slightly clueless folk…while others are really cool. It depends.

  7. Lack of compassion on both sides. You were a kid so it’s excusable. I made those same trips as a kid. You’re right that certain relatives are asses who don’t merit compassion and instead should face derision…but others are well-meaning, slightly clueless folk…while others are really cool. It depends.

    I wasn’t mean. I met kindness with kindness and teasing with teasing and uncalled for scolding with comebacks.
    Perfectly normal and natural if you ask me. I do the same now. The problem with alot of my family is that they ASSUME they can boss you around, invade your space, make rude comments, etc. Someone has to teach them manners, lol, so why not me? Afterall, they are so into “culture” and manners are a part of culture, hai na?

  8. It was almost like he was expecting it, like some aide briefed him on the likelihood of flying footwear beforehand. He’s got the nerves of a spider macaca

  9. I wasn’t mean. I met kindness with kindness and teasing with teasing and uncalled for scolding with comebacks. Perfectly normal and natural if you ask me. I do the same now. The problem with alot of my family is that they ASSUME they can boss you around, invade your space, make rude comments, etc. Someone has to teach them manners, lol, so why not me? Afterall, they are so into “culture” and manners are a part of culture, hai na?

    I actually agree with a lot of your statements…just not the one about desi languages! But that’s me.

    I especially agree how they make fun of what they’re envious of…

  10. You know, believe it or not, and despite all the criticism it gets from NRIs and ABDs, Bollywood and it’s films has helped me to understand my family’s psyche, growing up here in USA, not having alot of exposure to India and all. And it also helped keep my hindi passable. But all stereotypes portrayed in a typical Bolly drama? My family. Art imitating life.

  11. Wait a second…just read comment 44 (skipped it the first time for obvious reasons)…Nimbu Achar, are you Pardesi Gori??

  12. I actually agree with a lot of your statements…just not the one about desi languages! But that’s me.

    I’m not ashamed of my parents’ mother tongue and I don’t shy away from using it, even if I’m not 100% fluent in it. However, my only point is that knowing it or not is not going to affect my livelihood, while not knowing english would indeed effect my livelihood.

    I especially agree how they make fun of what they’re envious of…

    Yes, but why do they have to make US feel so bad because of their envy. Why can’t they take the humble approach and be like, “wow! you are so lucky. we also want to be like you”, and build some bridges instead of smashing them down?

  13. Wait a second…just read comment 44 (skipped it the first time for obvious reasons)…Nimbu Achar, are you Pardesi Gori??

    What? I know what gori means, but pardesi? Is that like videsi? Par means “across” doesn’t it? Have never heard “par” used in conjunction with desi.

  14. Wait a second…just read comment 44 (skipped it the first time for obvious reasons)…Nimbu Achar, are you Pardesi Gori??

    What? I know what gori means, but pardesi? Is that like videsi? Par means “across” doesn’t it? Have never heard “par” used in conjunction with desi.

  15. What? I know what gori means, but pardesi? Is that like videsi? Par means “across” doesn’t it? Have never heard “par” used in conjunction with desi.

    OK never mind…she was a commenter who was quite fascinated with bathroom hygiene too. Comment 44 was eerily reminiscent of her. You seem to know pretty good Hindi btw.

  16. 64 · louiecypher said

    It was almost like he was expecting it, like some aide briefed him on the likelihood of flying footwear beforehand. He’s got the nerves of a spider macaca

    I had a similar feeling. Bush was prepared for it,looks like.

  17. 47 · Nibu Achar said

    I was a feisty and “self actualized” youngster, and I remember being teased, scolded and proded by Indian relatives on our regular visits back (every 2-3 years without fail from the time I was born). However, being who I was, I always teased and prodded back. Don’t like my Hindi? Let’s hear your angrezi. Oh how they hated me and vowed their kids would never go to Amreeka and turn out like me. The thing about desis is they can dish it out but they can’t take it. Especially when they are jealous of you and their only way of feeling “equal” is to make fun of the object of their envy. I remember when I reached my teens and how my cousins and their friends would make fun of me. And they were the ones dressed like it was 1971. Get real people.

    You don’t have to be an ABD to get that treatment. Jealous relatives, will take any and every opportunity to dish/insult even a DBD. If you achieved more than their kids, stay away from them. I prefer to hang out with family friends rather than desi relatives when I visit Desh. Sometimes I wonder if the desi culture is changing towards more dog-eat-dog because of extreme competition and population. Growing up in India, I never saw such venom spewing relatives in gatherings…maybe because I was invisible then, but I really didn’t see it towards anyone. I give the same treatment to Nibu to relatives now, but it doesn’t feel good to have to be guarded/ready at all times with these creatures. I would avoid them anyday if I didn’t need help from some them in times of emergency.

    BTW, how do you master traveling around India (or even the city) on your own ? It complicates matter that I am a woman and half the mode of transport is supposed to be unsafe.

  18. I love how we’ve come to define liberalism as anything that’s opposed to Bush. We casually mention the offering of young women by fathers as gifts in the Arab world while rejoicing Bush almost getting hit by a shoe.

  19. I love how we’ve come to define liberalism as anything that’s opposed to Bush. We casually mention the offering of young women by fathers as gifts in the Arab world while rejoicing Bush almost getting hit by a shoe.

    That’s part of their culture so it gets a pass, you know? We’re “multi cultural” afterall. All cultures are equal, remember?

  20. BTW, how do you master traveling around India (or even the city) on your own ? It complicates matter that I am a woman and half the mode of transport is supposed to be unsafe.

    I always travelled to India with my parents and when we went out on the town(s) together.

    As an adult I did visit India a few times on my own. When going out alone, I usually went out in the day time.

    But this paranoia of Indian families in not letting the women go out alone is just another way of controlling us. That’s another thing, no comprehension of someone’s desire to go out and be by themselves.

  21. 76 · Nimbu Achar said

    But this paranoia of Indian families in not letting the women go out alone is just another way of controlling us. That’s another thing, no comprehension of someone’s desire to go out and be by themselves.

    While it was true to some extent, but I could see the rationale behind it. I was told that I can travel anywhere alone in a developed countries but NOT so in India: that made me fume at the time, and threw some chappals off my feet while throwing tantrums about being controlled and subjugated…no fair ;) ! but I can see their point now. Even while traveling with parents in public transport, I experienced groping hands if I fell too behind. Now I have mastered the art of kung-fu walk where I can react faster and protect myself. But I hate all the work out and prefer private transport. But even then I have to be wary of leery drivers. And yes, I dress quite conservatively while in India, but still…

    Anyway, I would not like to move the discussion away from the ‘chappal’ thread. But dear SM bloggers, I would love to hear some discussions about travails of travels in India in future, if possible.

  22. 75 · Nimbu Achar said

    I love how we’ve come to define liberalism as anything that’s opposed to Bush. We casually mention the offering of young women by fathers as gifts in the Arab world while rejoicing Bush almost getting hit by a shoe.
    That’s part of their culture so it gets a pass, you know? We’re “multi cultural” afterall. All cultures are equal, remember?

    Yes I forgot. Bush is the evil one. All will be well once we are rid of him.

  23. What? I know what gori means, but pardesi? Is that like videsi? Par means “across” doesn’t it? Have never heard “par” used in conjunction with desi.

    Got bangla? :)

  24. zee said: I was told that I can travel anywhere alone in a developed countries but NOT so in India:

    I spent one summer with my then fiancee backpacking through Europe wearing nothing but tanks and short shorts and never got so much of blink or a stare. Late summer, the same year, I moved to the Southeast (USA) and my first weekend, was walking to work wearing the same tank top and I was hollered at, stopped by 2 guys and asked if I wanted a ride, wink,wink. Needless to say, I have dressed very very conservatively after that especially if I am walking alone. On the other hand, while living in Bombay I have traveled local trains/ buses at all hours and have not experienced being manhandled or harassed. I was told by my mother that other Indian cities esp New Delhi are notorious with a lot of unaccompanied women being accosted and raped/

  25. Yes, but why do they have to make US feel so bad because of their envy. Why can’t they take the humble approach and be like, “wow! you are so lucky. we also want to be like you”, and build some bridges instead of smashing them down?

    SMIntern, I’m using Chrome and the editing toolbar isn’t showing…

    Nimbu, I’m not sure why you expect your relatives to be humbled by your American-ness– I should think that stance/expectation would make any relatives anywhere bristle and behave wickedly. Maybe they don’t want to be exactly like you.

  26. 81 · Amrita said

    SMIntern, I’m using Chrome and the editing toolbar isn’t showing…

    Fixed! You almost had it, just needed a “/” in the last blockquote tag.

  27. My relatives used to tease me when I wore shorts. They said girls shouldn’t wear knickers like boys. cries

  28. The guy’s a hero as far as I’m concerned. Nothing like a mad spontaneous outburst. I also agree with the comments that Bush got something right for the first time with those deft ducks of his.

    Btw, the non-punjabis (in Delhi at least) say nibu not nimbu (we say neebu ka achaar and neebu pani). It’s probably Urdu.

    I’ve also started using Chrome and the formatting bar doesn’t show.

  29. Btw, the non-punjabis (in Delhi at least) say nibu not nimbu (we say neebu ka achaar and neebu pani). It’s probably Urdu.

    The Hindi pronunciation of the nee(m) sound is a cross between the nee (as in Tee) and neem (as in Team) sounds. In Hindi, the nee sound in neembu is nasal. Saying the word in a flow like in neembu-pani makes it sound like neebu (nibu).

  30. 85 · Divya said

    I’ve also started using Chrome and the formatting bar doesn’t show.

    I’m guessing that’s because Chrome didn’t exist when we made it, but I’m the non-techie in the bunker, so…

  31. Fixed! You almost had it, just needed a “/” in the last blockquote tag.

    Thanks much, SM Intern, you so rock! Anna, belated thanks right back from Mithua.

  32. I’m not ashamed of my parents’ mother tongue and I don’t shy away from using it, even if I’m not 100% fluent in it. However, my only point is that knowing it or not is not going to affect my livelihood, while not knowing english would indeed effect my livelihood.

    I think you mean to say… “not knowing English would indeed affect my livelihood.

    For someone so sure of her mastery of English, you’ve made a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes. I almost thought you were a DBD.

    OHSNAP.

  33. No, the “m” is a soft m in nimbu, therefore the spelling nibu is more accurate to the sound.

    Total bullshit.

    I believe its neebu and not nimbu with an ‘m’ in Urdu/Hindi. In my household they call it neebu and not nimbu.

  34. I believe its neebu and not nimbu with an ‘m’ in Urdu/Hindi. In my household they call it neebu and not nimbu.

    I stand corrected. I have never heard ‘neebu’ but so many people here are saying that that’s how they say it, so I guess there is some regional variation regarding this word’s pronunciation.

  35. I believe its neebu and not nimbu with an ‘m’ in Urdu/Hindi. In my household they call it neebu and not nimbu. I stand corrected. I have never heard ‘neebu’ but so many people here are saying that that’s how they say it, so I guess there is some regional variation regarding this word’s pronunciation.

    Ummm, I always heard that “neebu” is the uneducated way to pronounce “neembu”…

  36. Oh for god’s sake. It’s just a matter of accent. In India there are different dialects and accents for every language. I would know; I’m Bihari. We make it a point not to pronounce anything the shuddh way ;) But that doesn’t mean we don’t know the shuddh pronunciation and spelling of the words. I bet even the people who pronounce it as “nibu” would spell it “nimbu”. As long as they were formally educated in Hindi, they would know.

  37. Oh for god’s sake. It’s just a matter of accent. In India there are different dialects and accents for every language. I would know; I’m Bihari. We make it a point not to pronounce anything the shuddh way ;) But that doesn’t mean we don’t know the shuddh pronunciation and spelling of the words. I bet even the people who pronounce it as “nibu” would spell it “nimbu”. As long as they were formally educated in Hindi, they would know.

    Exactly my point :)

    Knowing “shuddh pronunciation” (and that’s a telling phrase) and deliberately choosing not to use it would still result in ashuddha (or illiterate) sounding usage :) .

  38. 44 · Nibu Achar said

    And finally, about the washing-butt-with-hands debate – I’ve done both, and I know which is cleaner: using soap and water. Paper leaves you feeling icky and your crack feeling slippery.
    The solution in the west combines the best of both worlds and gets you the squeeky cleanest; 1. Poo on sit down toilet. 2. Wipe with toilet paper. 3. Get in shower with removable shower head and point in proper direction. 4. Clean yourself thoroughly with the rush of intense and properly directed water.

    At the beginning of my grad school career in US (fresh from India) one of my housemates used to this. This is extremely gross to use the shower region to wash away the small amount of fece. Gross. Use a bloody small plastic mug, get water, wash it after the TP and then use lot of soap and wash your (L) hand while using (R) hand to operate tap etc.

    Whew, I am done with my anal retentive preaching on the fine aspects of hygiene to NRIs.

  39. As for lime/lemon, it is ‘narangah’ in Malayalam and ‘elimichhe’ in Tamil. Nibu is a guy’s name in Malayalam…… ;-)

  40. I am just tired of you ABDs picking upon some little thing about India and acting as if it is the cause of all evil in the world. If you don’t like it so much, please do not go there

    @Oruvan I am an ‘nri”, but while I agree with you for accurately pointing out the perceptions on culturally offensive behaviors, I don’t agree of your personal attack on the OP or any other ABD whining about their complaining. You should condone them not condem them so easily. This leads to the usual sword wielded by Abhi on SM, who will be very quick to come back and say ” Dont visit sepia” and I think it actually starts sounding right at some point. Nobody is putting a gun to your head asking you read anyone’s whines (aka posts). If you truly want to whine about this and not get your post deleted, the best way to do is start your blog, track back links to these posts and whine there separately.

    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? If you had been doing it on Pallavan buses you might not have heard about it or even realized it).

  41. Why, in spite all the support from almost every corner of the world, is the man being held? That too by Iraqi forces? If he had the guts to throw a shoe and if people admire it so much, why anyone hasn’t yet done something to free him?

  42. Ummm, I always heard that “neebu” is the uneducated way to pronounce “neembu”…

    Actually it’s gnibu’nh. [g is silent of course]

  43. I am sorry I brought up the “wiping with hands” thing. The descriptions of people’s habbits after the drop a number 2 really make me want to vomit. Although I could tell for a minute that an intense debate was about to erupt about “Paper vs hand”. It’s a Chirstmas miracle that it didnt.

    I would have loved to see the intern handle that one.