ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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My Elegant Toes


The unravelling elegance of a body part provides for a meditative reflection about life itself.

I have given my body a thought. It’s not a work of art or a novel of perfectly edited words. It is short, lean, sinking into a dot. In the mirror, my face looks like an open book with the spine of my nose visibly prominent. The chest is flat and hairy, but the stomach that hangs above my waist is often a pool of mistaken mess. My legs and crotch exist to hold my attention and direct it to the toes. Here, in my toes, I see my life’s blessing and belonging. I grew up watching my three sisters paint the nails on their toes. They would draw out my mother’s box of nail paints. Tossing the dried ones away, they’d form a circle on the terrace and coat their nails thickly with red, pink, and violet. Under the setting sun, I would watch them do their weekly ritual while I picked up the parched bottles, filled them with a little water and tried my best to apply at least a papery layer on mine. When I failed, I approached them putting my legs in the circle. They laughed together, “You’re a boy, move them away.”

Disappointed, I’d run down to my mother. She would kiss my forehead and promise to buy a separate one for me. In the market, I’d take her to the counter and point to the golden polish glittering under the yellow lights in the shops that jangled with anklets, bangles, and smelled of perfumes. A frown would immediately appear on her face, but my sad face won over it and she would get that one packed.

By the time I was in secondary school and had to denude my feet for swimming classes, I had stopped painting my nails. My parents were relieved, and my sisters did not care. In the pool, I pointed my toes and smacked the water with it. I was a fish, perhaps a mermaid in trunks. The coach held my feet in his hands and showed them to my classmates. In a year, I became a fish for other ponds. I bagged medals for my school, and I thanked my toes in a whisper before thanking the coach.

I am on my haunches over the toilet. I stare at my toes, my elegant toes. The skin around the nails is red, bearing the weight of my body as I push cakes of waste out of it. I turn my head around and refuse to let my eyes fall on the swollen wound shaped like a soft-boiled map of India. I begin splashing water, cleaning the muck, the scabs making my feet reek of dried fish and rotten curries.

When I was 19, the eighth family had come at our house to arrange their son’s marriage with my eldest sister. I was asked to make tea by my mother as the cook had suddenly disappeared and my sisters were splotching our elder sister’s dusky face with powder. I did not complain as I had no wish to play the role of the son-of-the-house in front of strangers and hear my father boast about my sports achievements to make up for the constant use of my hands, dipping walk, and the intermittent pouts. The tea had brewed thoroughly; the ginger, cardamom, and cloves had permeated the different corners of the house when I flicked my hand to scratch my scalp. It hit the handle and the boiling saucepan came tumbling down on my legs. I screamed and stood transfixed, unable to tread on the tea releasing steams on the floor. My mother came and shoved me away, “Impossible! Just impossible these kids are. Good for nothing.” She picked up the saucepan and washed it under the basin, cooling it under the tap before clearing the remains. Carelessly, she poured water, some milk and began making the tea, muttering to herself. Finally, she turned around and said in an angry voice, “Go and get the mop at least. Your sister is 30! Why don’t you all understand?” She shovelled tea leaves and sugar from the tin and threw them in the simmering saucepan.

That night, for the first time, I had seen my toes suffer. Blisters of watery bags had formed from the burns. I wanted to show it to my family, but they were preoccupied with the prospect of my sister’s marriage. The boy’s family had left the house and called back in an hour to decline my father’s offer of an enormous dowry. “Our son doesn’t want to marry her, we are sorry.”

The house was in mourning. My sisters and I hugged our elder sister as she wept inconsolably. With time, the blisters had healed, but the binding tissues around my big toe became delicate. It turned into a vulnerable repository. My sister aged unmarried.

But my toes were never elegant again. They became guest houses for stinking boils and infections. I stopped going for my swimming lessons. My boyfriend assured me it was fine, that there was nothing to worry. Often, he’d rub an ointment or put a hot-water compress. I would lie on the bed with shame. I would think of the wretched tea I had to make, the family that had declined my sister, and my mother’s uncaring rage.

I wash my hands with soap, clean the tip of my fingers, and step into my room. From a roll of white cotton, I tear a wad and twist it into a frayed ball. After dipping it into a brown antiseptic liquid, I bring the limp ball against the swelling on my toe. I pat it carefully, dabbing the pouch a little too firmly. I press my mouth together as the pain begins shooting to my throat. Dab, dab, dab, pop! The walls have cleared—pus and then blood come rushing out, like they did before. I collect them in the cotton and crinkle my nose as its smell fills the room. I am in control of my body, its pain, and the inelegance of my toes.



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Updated On : 8th Jul, 2022
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