21st-century nail-bed

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on June 22, 2018 Published on June 22, 2018

Illustration: Manjula Padmanabhan

The other day I see an item online that sets my feet a-tingling. Not just tingling but practically screaming: “please-please-please,” howl my feet, “PLEASE buy that thing!”

It’s hard to explain this behaviour. I blame it on a pair of acupressure sandals that someone left behind in my flat, 25 years ago, in Delhi. I believe they used to be available from Bata’s. They were open-toed, with no back-strap and on the sole were dozens of hard little bumps. Each one was maybe a quarter-inch tall and rounded like a grain of corn. I tried them on, thinking they couldn’t possibly hurt. Venerable companies aren’t allowed to market weapons-grade footwear after all. I was instantly hooked: they felt WONDERFUL. My feet began to purr with delight.

I used them exclusively inside the house and I wore them all the time. Then one day, when I wasn’t paying attention, I lost them. I have no idea how. More importantly, I was never able to replace them. Bata had apparently stopped making them. For a while, I kept looking for them, bought a couple of disappointing substitutes, then eventually lost interest. I had forgotten them until a week ago. On one of those websites selling wacky, unlikely collections of products I saw this thing: An acupressure mat. It’s about the size of a pillow, but flat, with a thin sheet of sponge inside. The upper surface is covered in dozens of small white discs. Each disc is made of hard plastic, with tiny spikes poking up.

Barely had I glanced at the picture but my feet began to buzz and whine. “But it’s a mat,” I said to them, “not sandals.” “We doesn’t care,” said my feet in their silent but insistent way, slipping into pidgin, for better purchase on my attention. “We wants ’em! You never does anything for us! We wants some joy!” On and on. “What about that wonderful acupressure spa my sister takes us to in Chennai?” I ask them. “Not enough,” snarl my feet. “We only gets taken three or four times a year! Pooh. We needs more! We needs DAILY stimulation!”

So I get the mat. It’s exactly as advertised, small, flat and bright orange. The spikes are like tiny shark teeth, triangular and really sharp. About the length of two-day-old stubble on a man’s face. The instructions: “Lie on the mat with bare skin [...] get on and off carefully.” I spread it on the floor, my hands flinching wherever they touch the spikes. It’s like all those cartoons of sadhus on nail beds. My skin sends up a startled shriek when I lie flat. Five seconds later ... wow.

It’s as if the sun is shining under my back. A steady golden hum. No pain. It’s amazing. My feet begin to snicker. “See?” they say. “We is find good stuff, huh?” “Outstanding,” I answer dreamily. “You feets is da best.” “Yah,” say my feet. “We is knowing.”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on June 22, 2018
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