Facebook Feet

Written by SUMANA ROY
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The Saga of the Facebook Feet Photos and the Tales They Tell

IF YOU’VE EVER posted a photo of your feet on Facebook, chances are that you have been reminded of those famous words from the Hindi film Pakeezah while doing so: ‘Your feet are very beautiful, don’t put them on the ground’. I say this with a-bathtubis- a-swimming-pool kind of conviction because I did: for the longest half a minute that my slow internet connection took to upload the photo to my ‘Profile Pictures’ album, my eyes played ping pong between two things–the photo of my feet and my ‘real’ feet, peeping out from behind the laptop. The camera had inflicted a version of persecution complex on me for decades: I am terribly nonphotogenic. Even my feet had not been able to escape that curse.

It was one of my first profile photos on Facebook, a time when I was faceless and thus optically anonymous. I had few ‘friends’ then–I hadn’t yet begun to say ‘yes’ to strangers. My ex-classmates from school and university were curious to see how I had aged. A photo of my foot, in spite of no anti-ageing cream ever applied on it, would be of no help to them. I now find that there are only three ‘likes’ below my feet. This is the moment I regret being human. If I was a Hindu goddess, there would be 83 million ‘likes’ on the photograph, a version of the virtual pranam. My mother, Facebook-illiterate but ever the curious onlooker from behind my back, asked whether I considered my feet ‘special’ (she always uses the word in quotes), special in the way Goddess Lakshmi’s is, she whose footprints are drawn in Hindu households in Bengal on Lakshmi Purnima night.

Over the next four years on Facebook, I found many kinds of feet, but it was of my mother’s mention of the goddess’s feet that came back to my every time. For all these feet that I spotted on profile and cover and Timeline photos belonged to women alone. What were the men doing with their feet? I asked a friend who works for Facebook. ‘Playing footsie,’ he replied with a winking emoticon. The mention of male feet immediately takes me to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, where Crusoe, alone on the uninhabited island, discovers Friday’s footprints before he actually sees the man in person. And then there are Velutha’s feet in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. The absence of photos of male feet in my Facebook news feed directed my attention to the kind of men Friday and Velutha were: perhaps only the feet of the marginalised male could be made visible in the arts? The amateur sociologist in me reasoned– perhaps that explains why the fetish of foot binding, also called ‘lotus feet’ is meant only for Chinese women, not their men folk.

Facebook feet told stories. In late July this year, Alexandra Pringle, Editor in Chief at Bloomsbury Publishing, posted a photo of her feet resting on a table. Her nails were painted in a shade of red, a large cushion rested against a wall, a patch of sunlight fell on her legs–she had titled the photograph ‘Afternoon, Early Evening’. There were two comments below the photograph: ‘Nice case of the welldeserveds’; ‘Great toes’. The first was by a man, the second by a woman. In my mind, the photograph arranged itself in the mental folder that I have tentatively titled ‘Holiday Feet’. A fortnight later, a day after Indian Independence Day, I found a similar photograph: this time it was Trishna Chaudhuri, a teacher in The Sri Ram School in Gurgaon, who had put up her feet on the table in her balcony. The photo was titled ‘Brishti, garam chai and the newspaper’ (‘Rain, a cup of steaming tea and the newspaper’). Both Pringle and Chaudhuri’s photos of their respective feet were coded in leisure, a literal putting-my-feet-up.

Exactly midway between the time of Pringle posting her photo and Chaudhuri posting hers, Sukanya, one of my closest friends from school, had posted a photo of two pairs of feet from a recent holiday– my friend in her sandals, her daughter in her running shoes. I found this to be a subgenre of the Facebook foot photograph–in them, the steppinginto- my-shoes is tweaked to indicate a bloodline, a genealogy that can be traced through similar shaped feet and toes and nails. It’s a genre that never fails to stir the wannabe anthropologist in me–is that a part of the genetic inheritance, I ask myself, similar feet in various sizes that turns my computer screen into a shoe store. In one such photograph posted by the journalist and writer Smriti Lamech, she, her mother and five year old daughter are wearing silver anklets. This photograph of the ‘happy feet’ of three generations of women, where the feet are resumes of age and economic class, is the best ‘happy-family’ photo I have seen on Facebook yet.

The genre also includes photos of footwear, often of the kind that reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s famous six word short story, ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ Chandini Santosh, a poet who often writes about her homebound lonely life, once posted this as a Facebook update: ‘So I am taking my stilettos to the beauty parlour, sigh. At least, they should have an outing.’ Photographs of shoes, one half of a pair, sometimes with the wearer’s foot in them, make Cinderellas of many Facebookers just as red altapainted feet make brides of women in our Facebooking imagination.

Recently, I found two interesting ‘Cover Photos’ on the Facebook page of Radhika Iyengar, Features Writer with Platform Magazine. In one, taken in Uttarakhand, a woman’s toes, with silver toe rings on them, peep out from under her red sari. She must be from a village, I conclude. In the other, a slipper with red marks on it is lying on sand, possibly a sea beach. In this too, the identity of the wearer is not revealed. That is, in my reading, a kind of subversion of Facebook’s privileging of the face. (Some day, I would like to post a photo of my bandaged feet as my identifying photo.)

Type ‘feet’ in your Facebook search box and you will find ‘more than 1,000’ results. It’s a buffet: happy feet, six feet under, fancy feet, feet fetish, kiss your lady’s feet, cute Indian feet, Soft Indian feet, Indian sexy feet, and so on. When I type in my password to enter Facebook these days, I often think of the ‘Please remove your shoes’ sign that stands guard in front of our places of worship, and when I log out, of my Facebook footprint.

Read 5837 timesLast modified on Friday, 15 November 2013 13:05
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