April 15, 2011

All the family members agreed amongst themselves that I needed Chappals. The valedictory function for primary school was looming at large.

My entire childhood until then was spent running in thorns, nails, mud, water, grass, stones, creatures and insects. Nobody around me- my relatives or friends – really cared for the look of my body parts called feet.  When alone, or when the classes were boring, our favorite pastime used to be picking out from feet those foreign objects or the scales that looked like a second rhino skin. Winters used to be horrible. Although I was forced to dip the feet in lukewarm Sol (Amsul/Goa butter), the next day the feet would be full of scale again and full of blood oozing out of the cracks. But I did not care. Footwear was an expensive luxury. Not that I did not try at Grandpa’s pump shoes, but they must have been a size twelve, difficult to even carry for single step.

Along with the fourth standard exam we had appeared for a surprise scholarship exam. Grandpa Anna and Granny Tai were a touch too confident that I would bag the scholarship. They had also hatched a plan to buy a rubber slipper for me, which was a novelty and fashion those days, so that I look presentable at the function. I had overheard their open door conference, wherein the tempo was being built around the possible prize I might secure.

On a sunny Sunday, I set out with Anna, holding his walking stick, in search of suitable footwear. We stopped innumerable times. Whoever met us came to know that I was going to have new footwear. Most of them pleaded to Anna that it was really not necessary. My heart bits skipped during every such discussion, because it revolved around the result of scholarship exams. I inquired as to why we could not postpone the purchase until the results were out. But he wanted me to look good at any cost. We scavenged through a number of road side leather shops. Nobody had a tailor made kids’ footwear. All the artisans promised that if we order, they can deliver a made-to-order one. But the price was prohibitive. Finally we arrived at a lane of Sindhi shops that had come up recently where the rubber slippers were hanging from the ropes everywhere.  Thankfully, these slippers also were above size seven, one and a half times oversized. We ended up buying potatoes and came back home with a sack on my shoulders hung over Anna’s walking stick.

Next day, Anna took me to my Parent’s town where a fare was on. Anna requested my father to urgently find footwear for me…. Repeat of the same story. I accompany my father, he tells everybody why I needed footwear, I skip beats, we do not find anything and finally return home with a sack of onions on my shoulder.

My mother viewed the proceedings for a day and then requested my father to let go the purchase, since I was getting nervous. My father then said that I should not worry about the cost and announced that he had already placed an order for a chappal with a vendor and I should go and give measurements. So, I went.

Looking at me, the vendor said,

“Chappal is no good. I shall sew a belt at the back so that the chappals do not slip when you walk”

I shrugged and said, “Uncle, you are free to do whatever you think is fine for me.”

He looked quizzically at me, took measurement on a paper and said,

“Lighten up, this is your first chappal, right? I am going to use the best quality leather. What color do you want your chappals? Sandals?”

I did not lighten up, but said, “Red should be fine.”

“Men’s sandals do not look good in red. I don’t have red leather.”

“But I need red.”

“As you please.” He closed the topic.

He had not committed a date for delivery. I was on vacation, had no other business; therefore I visited this leather shop every day. When there was no progress for a few days, first my father and then Grandfather accompanied me to the shop. As if by magic, the next day, he showed me the rough cut. But that was all. Anna had to visit a few more times and tell the sandal-smith the urgency involved before the final trial piece was ready. It was around size Seven, one and a half times oversized.  When I complained, the vendor said,

“That is not for you to decide. Your father has ordered this size, so that you can wear it for a year more… And there is this belt at the back. What difference it makes?”

It was red, but inked red on black. Funny red! But it was my choice and I could not protest. For added value, it had horse shoe on its heel and another steel piece at the toe.

“This will stretch its life further.” He said.

I tried it. Neither I could walk straight, nor could I walk in one plane. The Sandals were biting the feet at several places and the leather was extremely stiff. They were terribly noisy because of the horse shoes. The heavy duty horse shoe nails had pierced the sole right through and were worse than thorns. In all, my feet, gait and walk appeared funnier with the sandals than they actually were.

“You want them or no?”

“Definitely not,” I said and ran home.

But in the evening, my father paid the dues, collected them and brought home the packet while returning from duty. He promptly informed Anna that his responsibility was over.

“Try it,” he said, “And what is this stupid color you have selected? We will have to paint them black ones the function is over.”

“I have tried and they are fine,” I had to say, bowing to him and to the fate.


The function was in Hindi school. This was the first time I was visiting this building. The auditorium was quite oppressive with all the students filled to the brim. I was glad that the function was on a working day and none of my family members could attend it. I was escorted by Anna’s friend.

“What is that you are holding on to your chest?” He asked.

“My sandals,” I said.

“Sandals? Let me have a look.”

I had to wear those and parade in front of him.

“What a fine craftsmanship and antique design…Not from our town, definitely…. How I have longed for such footwear.”

He introduced me to his son Kanti, who was in the same boat as I was. He was from Hindi school, same fourth standard as I was. We established an instant rapport when we both insisted to his father that we sit at the very back. Here was a huge gathering from all schools, ours the Marathi, the Urdu and the Hindi; also the co-ed schools and the girls’ school.

The results were announced. As expected, I did not receive any mention in the list. The scholarship went to a girl student from Girl’s school. Further she got a prize for bagging 100/100 in maths. In the end, we were called to receive a bouquet for we had topped the Marathi the Hindi school respectively. We went, collected the bouquets and were happy that something came our way.

The function over, we started walking back and then I remembered about my sandals. I had deposited them with Kanti’s father while I went to collect the bouquet. He did not remember any such a thing.

We went back and waited until every boy and girl left the premises and then took a thorough look at every nook and corner. Kanti’s father then went to the organizers and told them about my sandals. They said they will spread the news, it was a small town and nobody can hide a new sandal. Kanti’s father asked us to go home and said he would wait a little longer to see if somebody was honest and returned the sandals.

On our way back, I and Kanti were worriedly discussing the Girl who had scored more than us. We were sure that she will be in our class in the intermediate school, since there was only one school in town. We decided then and there that we will not allow her to top once she is in our school. Still, if she tops, then?….well, we had no answer.

Although they were obscene and therefore distinguishable, the thief did hide those Sandals well. They could not be traced. Although I prayed inwardly that the Sandals may never be found, I, Kanti and his father kept a strict vigil on each and every walking and parked footwear in the town for a year or so, but to no avail.

Anna was quite flustered when he knew about the lost sandals, not so much about my performance, but he took it well in the end, when Tai said that they were utterly unlucky for me and it was good riddance.

Anna did not force me to wear footwear afterwards. Later on, I myself requested for it when I was ready for high school. There was no problem having thick skin over delicate skin or some thorns embedded for spice; actually it was better than constantly worrying about the price of the Sandals.


5 Responses to “Sandals”

  1. As always, you’ve broadened our young readers’ perspective on a subject which we would never have thought about, primarily because we’ve never faced such a socio-cultural-economic situation ever in our lives! Wonderful narrative too, it livens up the story. 🙂

    • PeACEMAKER Says:

      Thanks Nikhil. Have you taken a break from blogging?

      • More of a sabbatical actually! I’ve got a few drafts too, but haven’t published any currently. A few events at the start of the year warranted that I fine-tune some aspects of my thought process. Now that the process is almost done I should be back to blogging soon. Words like yours, though, are motivation enough!

  2. Vidya Murali Says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading ! Quaint vignette from the bygone world which would seem unreal to today’s kids ! Beautifully narrated.

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