"Dad, How are you? Fit and fine?" I asked over the telephone.
"My feet? Fine? Oh! it is the same old story", my dad said.
And that reminded me that the story of his feet was indeed an old one, but a rather interesting one.
Dad was a perfectionist. The day's Hindu when not being read was always to be neatly folded along the original crease and tucked away in the lower right corner of the 'teapoy'. Letters were to be opened with that slow, blunt letter opener and never hurriedly torn open by inserting fingers into any available space missed out by the glue. Wristwatches and wallets too had their places in the bedside stool and should not to be found over the TV or the fridge. Cobwebs have never survived in his home for more than two minutes. And that was because it took dad that much time to get the cobweb picker from the garage.
His garden was his pride. No reed of weed has stayed to see light for more than half a day. His coconut trees were orchestrated in their growth, in their output of fruits and the fronds. When drought set in, they even had a set pattern of falling from the tree, so as to minimize damage to the surrounding plants. The only upstart to his 'systematic' regime was the jackfruit tree, which did not follow any pattern of flowering. One year it would offer six fruits, the next year none, followed by 15 the subsequent year. When I questioned him about it he said something about 'alternate Fibonaccian rhythms', which I did not comprehend.
Of course, people who worked under him always had problems meeting his expectations of efficiency and perfection. As a result, his home had a phenomenal attrition rate of servant maids, cooks and gardeners.
In this perfect world he had achieved, his feet were a source of despair.
His feet size according to our neighborhood Bata store was 13. Though their scales could measure feet size up to 16, Bata rarely made footwear measuring more than size 12. And the ones they made fit my dad's right foot well but had the left foot feel very uncomfortable. He even made a grudging shift to other brands, but with no better luck. The shop attendants had frustrating experiences trying to please him. Some suggested that he try made-to-order footwear with a cobbler round the corner, while a few of them said that such feet size aberrations were a sign of saintliness. Probably they hinted that he walk barefoot.
When his children reached the famed home of Reebok and Nike, they did their bit and sent home some big sized fancy stuff. These new-age shoes did not go with his image; moreover, he still needed something to go with his 'dhoti'.
The structure and shape of his feet were not the only issue, the skin on his feet were a greater and a more painful problem.
His feet were a victim of cracked heels. While in most people it manifested as mere cracks, in dad's feet they took the form of canyons. A lot of remedies - like the tried and trusted 'Saibol', newer ones like 'Krack' and 'Heelguard' - were attempted, but they gave little relief. For over a year, he tried a regimen that one of the dozen health magazines he read suggested - every afternoon, he diligently massaged his feet with pumice stone in a tub of lukewarm water, dabbed them dry, applied Vaseline and put them over a stool as he took a nap on the 'easy-chair'. Sadly this too did not fill up the cracks.
Though he could not do much about the looks of his cracked heels, he chanced upon a way of walking around without much pain. He bought himself a pair of acupressure slippers (in fact they were at least two sizes bigger than his feet!) crying for attention in a 'China Bazaar 'All Rs.65' store.
The main cause of his despair was the painful dry skin covering his feet, which made it look spotted and discolored. Though he had no faith in doctors ' the reasons for which are too many to narrate here - my mom pressurized him into meeting a new one each season. Each prescribed an elaborate combination of medicines and massages, but none worked.
Finally, he met a doctor who declared that the problem was not just skin deep. In fact, the doctor opined, that it had nothing to do with the skin at all and that it was a case of varicose veins. My dad became terribly proud of this doctor, hailed him as the greatest and religiously did whatever he suggested ' like wearing socks and compression bandages through the day. In fact he bought seven of the recommended special stocking set ' one for each day, so that the infections don't carry over - and each was washed and dried with care at the end of the day and put away for use the same day next week. Though the results were very encouraging, the relief did not last. The tautness of the stockings caused worrisome variations in his blood pressure, which was frowned upon by our family doctor. So, my dad reluctantly gave up the stockings as a regular habit and resorted to them only when our family doctor gave him the nod after periods of satisfactory pressure levels.
And so the same old story continues'