‘THE’ PINCH

Appa used to always quote, “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches”. We understood and appreciated its figurative meaning. As children, it did not have much literal meaning. In those days it was more like we were pinching footwear, especially chappals. When in a hurry, we quickly wore anyone’s footwear that fitted and ran. More often, we ran barefoot and hardly felt the rough gravel when we played or ran errands in the neighbourhood.
For formal occasions like school, we wore leather shoes (or rubber, in the rains) which also we easily exchanged with siblings, cousins. But soon we grew too big for our shoes and then it was a problem getting the right fit – especially the leathers prescribed by the school. Fortunately, there were no strict rules and we managed to finish the final years of school in cheap canvas with hot and smelly socks which we stuffed into our bags on the way home.
School over and childhood as well. Some more years went by in the scramble for college and jobs. Some joys and much disillusion as we settled into the realities of adulthood. Many were or had to be reconciled to, but one hunt for me has never ever ceased – the hunt for the perfect footwear.
If the size fitted (which rarely did) the design was inappropriate or the colour too odd or it was totally weather-unfriendly. What had beauty did not have utility or durability. When everything else fitted, the shoes really pinched the wallet! Sometimes I did find the perfect fit. I would try a few steps in the shop itself. And a couple of days at home or at work. By day 3, there would be blisters, bites and then it went into cold storage, along with many of its ilk, and I was back to my old footwear – relative comfort!
There were shopkeepers who told, rather sold, me that the shoes would widen a bit with wear. I didn’t need much convincing – one of my sisters once made this profound observation – “Have you noticed, how after a time, there is a resemblance between the shape of footwear and the wearer’s face?”
Oft have I stood outside wedding halls and temples, admiring such handsome footwear and envying the fortunate people who are able to wear them. Oft have I contemplated exchanging mine for one of these and would have executed the plan, had it not been for the ‘pinch’ of conscience or of late, the fear of CCTVs. A person’s footwear attracts my attention more than their sari or dress. And I continue the search for this elusive pair of shoes or sandals.
One seller, after many trials, finally told me that my feet were irregular size. What is new, I thought, I have known this since my teens. “No madam”, he says, “your left foot is bigger than the right.” Much like Stephen Leacock’s photographer, who after much camera and lighting adjustment, declared that everything was wrong about his face. Should I now go for plastic surgery, I considered. But a friend had the perfect solution. “Footwear, like readymade clothes, are designed to approximation. What you need are custom-made shoes.” She takes me to this shoemaker who measures feet and then makes the shoes. His shop was more like a clinic than a shoe shop with lot of posters about caring for feet, proper posture etc. A very smart technician made me stand on various footstools, scales, made a sketch of my feet, measured my height, length of my legs. I was very impressed. The diagnosis – my left leg (not foot) was longer than the right. I needed corrective orthopaedic designer shoes. Needless to say, the cost threw me off balance.
I remembered my mother telling me when I was young that I walked with a slight tilt towards the right, like my father. Finally I got it. I was born into a family with foot problems. My younger sister is dead against the modern smooth flooring in homes, malls, schools. They put too much pressure on the feet. She wears some special shoes to manage the pain. A brother of mine, wears only one particular brand of oversize chappals, rare to get, and which the shopkeeper reserves for him. My grandmother, great aunts in their pristine white saris, spent all their lives barefoot. When they could be persuaded in their old age to give up superstitions and protect their feet, they could only wear cheap, loose, ill-fitting ‘Burma’ chappals. The fault is indeed in my stars.
Late Appa comes to my rescue with yet another pet quote : “I cried for shoes, until I saw a man with no feet.”
(Dedicated to my father on his death anniversary)

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