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更新时间:2019/5/16 20:43:53 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

The tiny Indian village that banned shoes

As an Indian, I’ve always been comfortable with the notion of bare feet. Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to slipping out of my shoes before stepping into my own home (to not bring germs indoors with me), when I visit friends and family, or during prayers at Hindu temples.


And yet, despite this conditioning, even I was unprepared for Andaman.


A village in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Andaman is 450km (and around a 7.5-hour drive) from Tamil Nadu’s capital city of Chennai. Around 130 families live here, many of whom are agricultural labourers who work in the surrounding paddy fields.


I met 70-year-old Mukhan Arumugam just as he was offering his daily prayers under an enormous neem tree at the entrance to the village. Dressed in a white shirt and a checked lungi (sarong), his face was tilted to the sky. Even in late January, the midday sun was blindingly bright.

遇到70岁的阿鲁穆加姆(Mukhan Arumugam)时,他正在村口一棵巨大的印度楝树下做每天的祷告。他穿着白色的衬衫、方格子布的长袍,脸朝着天空。即使在1月底,这里正午的阳光也明亮得刺眼。

It is under this tree, he said, adjacent to the sparkling waters of an underground reservoir and engulfed by lush green paddy fields and rock-strewn roads, that the story that defines his village begins. For this is the exact spot where villagers take off their sandals or shoes and carry them in their hands when they enter the village.


No-one in the village of Andaman, except the very elderly and the infirm, wears shoes, Arumugam told me. He was barefoot himself, even though he says he does intend to wear sandals soon, especially in the hot summer months ahead. As I walked through the village in my thick dark socks, I was astounded by the sight of children and teenagers rushing to school and couples strolling to work, all nonchalantly carrying their shoes in one hand. It was almost like they were another accessory, like a purse or a bag.


I stopped 10-year-old Anbu Nithi who whizzed past me on his bicycle in his bare feet. Nithi studies in standard five in a town 5km away, and he grinned when I asked him if he’d ever flouted the barefoot rule of the village. “My mother told me that a powerful goddess called Muthyalamma protects our village and so we don’t wear slippers here out of respect for Her,” he said. “If I wanted to, I could, but that would be like insulting a friend that everyone adores.”

我拦下赤脚骑车从我身旁经过的尼提(Anbu Nithi)。10岁的他在5公里外的一个小镇上读标准五年级。当我问他是否违反过在村里要光脚走路的规定时,他咧嘴笑了。他说:“妈妈告诉我,一位名叫穆塔亚拉玛(Muthyalamma)的女神法力强大,保护着我们村,所以出于对她的尊重,我们这里都不穿鞋。如果想穿,我也可以穿,但那就像侮辱一个大家都爱戴的朋友一样。”

I quickly find that it’s this spirit that sets Andaman apart. No-one enforces the practice. It isn’t a stringent religious code, rather a time-worn tradition that is steeped in love and respect.


“We’re the fourth generation of villagers to live this way,” explained Karuppiah Pandey, a 53-year-old painter. He was carrying his shoes, but his wife, Pechiamma, 40, who works in the fields to harvest rice, says she doesn’t bother with footwear at all except when venturing outside the village. When someone visits the village wearing shoes, they try to explain the rule, she says. But if they don’t comply, it’s never enforced. “It’s purely a personal choice that’s embraced by all who live here,” Pechiamma said. And though she’s never imposed the rule on her four children either – who are now adults and working in nearby cities – they all follow the custom when they come to visit her.

"我们是第四代坚持这种生活习俗的村民,"53岁的油漆匠潘迪(Karuppiah Pandey)解释说。他手里正拿着鞋子,但他40岁的妻子,在田里收割水稻的佩奇亚玛(Pechiamma)称,她根本懒得穿鞋,除非要去村子外面。她说,当有人穿着鞋去村里时,他们会试着解释这种风俗。如果对方不遵守,也不会有人强制执行。这完全是一种个人选择,这种习俗得到过住在这里所有人的支持。尽管她从未强迫过现已长大成人、在附近城市工作的四个孩子遵守这项规定,但他们每次进村来看她的时候,都会遵守这个习俗。

But there was a time when fear propelled this practice.


“Legend has it that a mysterious fever will strike you if you don’t heed the rule,” said Subramaniam Piramban, 43, a house painter who has lived in Andaman all his life. “We don’t live in fear of this prophecy, but we’ve grown accustomed to treating our village like a sacred space – to me, it’s like an extension of a temple,” he said.

43岁的皮拉姆班(Subramaniam Piramban)是一名房屋油漆工,在安达曼村居住了半辈子。他说:“传说如果不遵守这项规定,就会无缘由地发烧。但我们现在并不害怕这个预言,早已经习惯了把我们村当作一个神圣的地方。对我来说,它就像一座寺庙的延伸。”

To find out how this the legend evolved, I was directed to the village’s informal historian. Lakshmanan Veerabadra, 62, is a success story of staggering proportions for this little hamlet. Today, he runs a construction company in Dubai, after having travelled overseas as a daily wage labourer nearly four decades ago. He returns to the village often, sometimes to recruit personnel, but mostly to keep in touch with his roots. Seventy years ago, he said, villagers installed the first clay idol of Goddess Muthyalamma under the neem tree on the outskirts of the village. Just as the priest was adorning the goddess with jewellery and people were immersed in prayer, a young man is believed to have walked past the idol with his shoes on. It’s not clear whether this man viewed the ceremony with any degree of scorn, but legend has it he slipped and fell mid-stride. That evening, he was struck with a mysterious fever, and it took him many months to recover.

为了弄清这个传说的由来,我在村民的指引下找到了村里俗称的历史学家。在这个小村庄里,62岁的维拉巴德拉(Lakshmanan Veerabadra)有着惊人的成功故事。40年前,他以日薪工人的身份出国务工。现在迪拜经营着一家建筑公司,他经常回到村里,有时候是为了招工,但主要是为了与家乡保持联系。他说:据传70年前,村民在村口的楝树下竖起了一尊泥塑穆蒂亚拉姆玛神像。就在神职人员用珠宝装饰神像,人们在虔诚祷告时,一名年轻男子穿着鞋从神像边走过。不知是否对仪式心怀不屑,但传说他脚下一滑,摔倒在地。当天晚上突然发烧,过了好几个月才康复。

“Ever since then, the people in the village don’t wear any kind of footwear,” Veerabadra said. “It evolved into a way of life.”


Every five to eight years, during March or April, the village hosts a festival during which a clay idol of Muthyalamma is installed under the neem tree. For three days, the goddess stays to bless the village, before the idol is smashed to pieces and returned to the elements. During the festival, the village is filled with prayer, feasting, pageantry, dance and drama. But because of the huge costs involved, it isn’t an annual affair. The last festival was in 2011, and the next event is uncertain, depending as it does on donations from local patrons.


Many outsiders tend to dismiss the legend at the heart of this village as a kind of odd superstition, says Ramesh Sevagan, 40, a driver. At the very least, he says, the legend has helped carve a strong sense of identity and community. “It has brought us together, made everyone in the village feel like a family,” Sevagan said. This sense of kinship has bred other local customs, too. When someone in the village dies, for instance, regardless of whether the deceased is rich or poor, villagers gift a modest sum – Rs 20 each – to the bereaved family. “Apart from wanting to help our neighbours, to be there for them in good times and in bad, it has made us feel that we’re all equals here,” Sevagan said.

40岁的司机塞瓦甘(Ramesh Sevagan)说,这个传说是安达曼村的凝聚核心,很多外村人认为这种传说是迷信不予理会。他认为,这个传说带来了一种强烈的认同感和归属感。它让我们村子里的人团结在一起,感觉村里的每个人都像自已的家人。这种亲近感又让村里延伸出另一种习俗。比如,村里有人去世时,无论死者贫富,村民都会给失去亲人的家庭送去数额不大的礼金,每人20卢比。既帮助了邻居,也让村民感觉无论顺境还是逆境都有人陪在他们身边,村子里所有人都是平等的。

I wonder if time, travel and global exposure can dent this feeling. I asked Dubai-based Veerabadra whether he still feels as strongly about the shoe ban now as he did as a young boy. He says he does. Even today, he goes barefoot in the village and the years away haven’t dampened his enthusiasm for following the legend that lies at the heart of Andaman.


“Regardless of who we are or where we live, all of us wake up every morning believing that we will be well,” he said. “There are no guarantees, but we still go about our day. We make plans for the future; we dream, we think ahead.


“Life everywhere revolves around such simple faith; it’s just another version of this that you see in our village.”