Shoe Bite and Shoe Shine

Only I and my cobbler knew where my shoe bites. My cobbler beats leather, for his livelihood. For the young and the old, the shoe takes their toll and I was no exception. The hunch back, Ram Prasad would never fail his date with the tree. He would report to his workstation with clock precision. The banyan tree would shelter him from the scorching sun and the rainy season. This tree was an important landmark in the village, labeled as “shoe maker tree”.

Ram would display his working tools on a thick dusty rug. He would hang the wooden shoe moulds around the girth of the tree. Ram had an impressive customer list, from toddlers to the young and the old. The frail looking Hari Bhai was the shoe makers oldest friend. They would for hours sit and gossip under the tree. Hari would read out news from the old newspapers. Legs from all walks of life visited the cobblers shop. Ram Prasad could look at a pair of shoes and predict when they were last beaten to care. I must have been naughty in my childhood. On a rainy day I would remove my shoes and place them like a boat in the dirty running waters of the rain.The wet leather shoe would open its mouth and it was time to take it to the cobbler.A few clubs with the ball peen hammer, and a few stitches, the shoes would be chiseled back to shape. The shoes would be polished and I would lace them back to my feet. My father trusted the authority of Ram Prasad on shoes. The cobbler could only decide when I could have a new pair. My visits to the shoe doctor increased as my shoe got older.

In 1994 I made my first visit to Dubai. For a while, my leather shoes stood the test of time and then it was time to see a cobbler. The shoe sole had given way. The shoe repairer looked at my vintage shoes with clinical eyes and spelled his fees. My eyes popped out with shock and despair. Ram Prasad would have repaired my shoes at a shoe string budget. I never repaired them thereafter; they stayed with me as my Indian pride.

My passion for shoes has grown with me. I always looked for opportunity to buy new ones. Shopping list is not complete without a pair of shoes. I have never failed in picking up a pair as souvenirs’ from different cities. My shoe library today is impressive with a collection from India, US, Europe and the Middle East. My shoes have travelled and trekked the China wall and the Swiss Alps. They toured to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the perished World Trade Center towers of New York City. My first visit to the CN tower of Toronto and the worlds tallest tower- Burj Khalifa, are some of the other noteworthy mile stones of my shoe travel. Shoes are not gender biased. My wife picked up as many as 20 pairs from the factory outlet near Niagara Falls. Some serious buying I thought. My collection today has shoes for all occasion, from sports to casual, from formal to signature brands. Shoes are making their presence felt. Occasionally I rub them with some shoe shine and keep them parked with pride. With time and use I would outgrow them and dump them for new ones.

In 2007 I travelled back to India. I wanted my shoes to take a maintenance dressing with the tools of Ram Prasad, the cobbler. Ram would twirl and twist them and give a nod of conformity of its quality.I walked my way to the “shoe maker tree” with a bag full of my imported shoes. The tree now had a small shelter shack and a waiting bench. A young boy was nibbling with pliers and cutters, repairing shoes. A black and white picture of Ram the cobbler was hung loosely hinged on the girth of the tree. A garland on the picture said it all. I looked at the heap of my shoes waiting repair. Only I could tell where they bite and maybe Ram Prasad. The legacy of repairing shoes from Ram lay buried in the backyards of my village. I would never repair shoes anymore; I would shoe them away, when their shine would wear off.