There are so many stories related to shoes. This goes to show that one’s experiences in life are very much attached to one’s shoes as well
Few years ago a short video of a poor boy and shoes on Facebook had quite an impact on me. I still vividly remember him looking at shoes other children wore and wished he could have a pair like them. Unfortunately his pair of bathroom slipper was old and its y-shaped thong constantly slipped out of the sole. This video made me think about my journey with shoes. I know people are thinking, ‘what is there to write about shoes?’ I thought the same thing but interestingly enough, there were quite a few interesting things I remembered about my shoes.
My first memory of shoes dates back to early 1960s: black school shoes from the days I went to St Mary’s School in Nepal. After my father left for India to fight for democracy, I was pulled out of St Mary’s School as it was expensive and there was no way to support me. My mother decided to put me in a government school. Unfortunately none of the government schools were ready to accommodate a daughter of a person fighting for democracy in their school. So my attachment with the school shoes came to an end right there. Soon enough we left for Calcutta (Kolkata), slippers in tow.
In Kolkata I attended different schools and some form of formal shoe was required, but not exactly the kind of school shoes that I wore in Nepal. In the meantime flip-flops remained with me for a while, just the shapes and colors changed. After some time, my father sent us all to Assam, my mawali. There we stayed for about a year. During those days all my cousin brothers and myself either wore flip-flops or walked around barefoot. I remember going to school barefoot. Then my grandfather got a pair of slippers for me.
I was very attached to my slippers. Wore them everywhere. During that time there was a well on my grandfather’s premises, a little distance from the main building. Everyone in the neighborhood came there for water. The area near the well had become muddy and precarious. So my grandfather decided to make it permanent with proper outlet for used water, so people could even wash their clothes there. So one-day when I came back from school I found out the plastering was done. As usual I was excited to see the work done. The person was still there finishing up. He saw me and cautioned me not to step on the wet cement or else there will be an imprint on the cement. Now that got me going. I was wearing my favorite pair of slippers. I looked around and when the person was not looking I stepped on the wet cement and left an imprint on the cement of my favorite slippers. Of course, I got a good yelling for defying instructions from my grandfather and my mother, but I was happy that I had immortalized my slipper. The last time I checked around five years ago the impression was still there.
My attachment with my slipper invited plenty of teasing. My cousin brothers would take away my slipper and I would just run after them begging for my slippers. I complained to my aunt and my grandfather. It was of no use. Almost like a punishment, they would say, “it’s only a slipper, let them have it.” But to me they were my favorite. Eventually, my cousins got tired of stealing my slippers, but by then my slippers had lost their glow and were old and dirty and the thong that held it to the sole had started coming off all the time. So I used safety pin to hold it. It did not hold long either so I got it sewed by a cobbler. Now the thong was well secured but the sole of the slipper wore off and the back part of my foot touched the ground when I wore it. I still had a hard time letting it go.
I was quite old and still did not have any formal education and that was becoming a matter of worry. So I left for Kolkata with my father to continue my education and a new journey with another pair of shoes started. Slippers gave way to a slightly urban form of shoes: School shoes from BATA shoe store. I also had a pair of slippers. Now I had two pairs of shoes. As I grew older, slippers got replaced with sandals for outdoor formal activities and slippers just remained within the periphery of the house.
Life in Kolkata was like living in a commune: three families living together. Apart from that, there were plenty of other people who came and went. So here comes another twist with the shoes. There were few bathroom slippers meant for everyone to use. Children being naughty would take the slippers and run away, so no one got to wear them. So to get out of this fix, the elders got few slippers for children but not enough for all. Now the problem was only the youngest of the children got to wear them. There was always a hew and cry over the slippers. At this point I had two pairs of shoes: A pair of school shoes, and the other bathroom slippers if I managed to get hold of one.
As I grew up
With age the type of shoes that I wore changed. Bathroom slippers became optional. I wore school shoes, sports shoes, and sandals depending on my options at school. Being an athlete I was allowed to wear sports shoes most of the time. With the end of school days, my shoes changed to flat sandals for college. There is a very interesting incident I remember from my MA final year.
I was living in girl’s hostel of Benares Hindu University because my whole family had returned to Nepal. One day I went to meet Kishunji kaka while he was visiting Banares. He was staying in the same house BP kaka lived, before returning to Nepal. My plan was to ask for some money as I was running out of it. So when I got there I asked him for some money. He did not respond immediately but instead invited me to the marriage party of Rishikesh Shah’s son. Now I was stuck. I did not have proper shoes to wear to a party. In the mean time Beni Bahadur kaka came in with his wife. They wanted to do some shopping. Kishunji kaka instructed me to take them shopping. I had no other option but to agree. So when we got up to leave, Kishunji kaka said: “Beni Bahadurji, give Usha hundred rupees.” That made my day. Accordingly as we left the house, Beni Bahadur Kaka gave me 100 rupees. After taking them shopping through Vishwanath Gully, I left them to go to my hostel. On the way back I bought a nice looking pair of wide heeled sandal for five rupees from the footpath shop. I was happy at being able to represent myself with some dignity despite it pinching me all the time. There are so many stories related to shoes. This goes to show that one’s experiences in life are very much attached to one’s shoes.
Finally, when I started writing I did not realize the extent of my experiences I shared with my shoes. Come to think of it, shoes are just a part of one’s life. There are so many other experiences that we choose not to think about. There are plenty of colorful experiences that will bring a smile to your face and make you feel happy. We have become so busy that we rarely think of sharing our past experiences. So make me a promise will you, to find some time to think about past experiences and share them with your family. Take it as way to relax and release your tension. You never know, you might like it.
Pokharel is an educationist and author of several children’s books