We were taught, from early on, to not touch things or people with our feet. If by accident, we did end up touching something with our foot, we were supposed to apologize to it (or to the universe) by touching it to our heads and saying the name of Vishnu. This applied, more than anything else, to books. So even when I did not really know what a book was, I knew it was something to be revered.
Call it a silly superstition or a religiously and culturally sanctioned way of inculcating respect for books. It worked.
My less-than-angelic elder cousin however, had a very different use for the custom. Whenever he wanted to play, he got himself a piece of paper, touched it to my feet, and ran away with it. He knew full well that I would not rest till I had touched it to my head and said ‘Vishnu’.
He was right. I chased him across the house, up and down stairs, and even right out of the compound and into the local market so I would not be stuck with the sin of having disrespected the written word.
In his defense, he always ended the day’s running around by allowing me to say Vishnu.