When I was a kid growing up in the Mumbai suburb of Ghatkopar, our Dad always used only one cobbler for all our family’s footwear needs. This cobbler, Mr. Karande, worked at a small shop ahead of Shivaji Park in Dadar. Both my parents, and three of us kids’ footwear needs throughout school were serviced by Mr. Karande over a span of 30-35 years. He hailed from the same native place as my father – Kolhapur – which as you may know is famous for the Kolhapuri chappal.
Sewing school leather boots for us children involved two trips – one where he mapped out our feet sizes and shapes onto pieces of paper, and the other to try out the new boots. There were plenty of ready-made shoes available near home as were many other cobblers, but my Dad wouldn’t have any of them. It was a painstaking 3-4hr journey to visit Mr. Karande each time, but it had its rewards. The footwear almost never needed any repairs, it was so tough and durable. It was highly comfortable, because it was individually personalized. Mr. Karande even knew our individual usage patterns, such as which parts of the bottom were more likely to be overused, and designed the footwear accordingly, strengthening or thickening different parts.
It was a relationship that transcended footwear. When Mr. Karande’s son decided to venture into the transport business and wanted financing for his first vehicle, my Dad, the banker, arranged a loan for him. Whenever either my parents or Mr. Karande made a pilgrimage, the prasaad would be shared at our next meeting. A few years back, I came to know from my parents that Mr. Karande was no more. On one such pilgrimage, he knelt in front of the deity and never got up. It was the end of an era.
A couple of months back, the joint between the toes of my footwear broke. For two months, I did nothing about it, continuing to suffer the inconvenience. Once, while attending a music festival, we had to walk quite a bit and I almost sprained my leg as a result of the broken footwear. I was too lazy to go out and buy a replacement, and I didn’t know if there was a cobbler near where we live.
Today, I asked around and located a cobbler on the main street, within 5 minutes walking distance from our home. For the past six years, we haven’t ever noticed him. I walked up to him and asked him if he could repair my broken footwear. He didn’t even look up, didn’t bother to reply, just took it and started repairing it. As my Dad’s son, I have been trained to first negotiate a price and then proceed with the contract and I felt a slight remorse at not doing so. Then again, as my Dad’s son, I wondered how much he will swindle me for this small job. (One of the reasons for having one and only one vendor for each of his needs was that Dad believed others would charge much more for the same). I decided that Rs. 10 would be the right price for this kind of job.
As I watched him work his magic, I was mesmerized by his skill. He weaved his magic with intricate care and a lot of skill. When it was over, he just returned the footwear, said Rs. 5, continuing to not look up at me even once. I took Rs. 10 from my wallet, handed it to him and told him to keep it. It was then that he looked up at my face. He was too stunned to say anything. But for that one brief moment, I was no longer just a pair of legs with footwear – in the eyes of the cobbler, I became a human being.
Today, I relived an infinitesimally small part of my Dad’s relationship with his cobbler. But it made my day.