The Cobbler

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.

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  • Beau­ti­ful!

  • I was no longer just a pair of legs with footwear — in the eyes of the cob­bler, I became a human being.”

    Too good.  Thanks for shar­ing.

  • Love­ly! 

  • I often see the chang­ing rela­tion­ship with the peo­ple who help us make our life bet­ter. We have, indeed, become quite busy to notice them as humans. There is an IRL chat due for this post! 🙂

    • Yes! 🙂

      I have you to thank for this post. You have inspired me to blog, and you have taught me the art of turn­ing sim­ple every­day inci­dences into blog posts.

  • Loved it!