I grew up in a family where footwear inside the house was sacrilege. Family members would place their shoes on the rack near the entrance, wash their hands and then go inside.
Even guests were not spared, the only difference being that if they didn't like to walk barefoot, they had the option of wearing wooden slippers or 'kharaoon', which were kept separately in the shoe rack.
After the death of my parents, I religiously followed this practice and gave footwear the place it deserved. My professional education and job in multinational companies didn't change my thinking.
But the other day when I was travelling from Delhi to Ahmedabad to attend the wedding of a friend's son, I learnt for the first time that the status of footwear had undergone a sea change.
It so happened that I had the lower berth, while a youth working in an IT (information technology) company was allotted the upper berth. After dinner, as he climbed up to his berth, he took his shoes along. I couldn't help asking, "Hey, do you plan to sleep with your shoes on?" "Yes uncle, why what's wrong?" he said, adding: "This pair cost me Rs 3,500. I can't risk keeping them away."
I was speechless. On reaching Ahmedabad, I narrated the incident to my friend, Bhagwan Das, a jeweller. He had a hearty laugh and then to assuage my hurt said, "You don't seem to have changed with time." Seeing everyone in his house in fancy and swanky footwear, I could understand why my friend had chosen to defend the new culture.
On the wedding day when it was time for the departure of the baraat, we realised that the groom's shoes were missing. A group of exuberant girls swathe in silk and glitter approached the groom, giggling and teasing him. One of them said with a mischievous smile, "Jiju, we pity you but we can help you get your shoes back if you give us a gold necklace each. I stood shell-shocked but my friend was enjoying the moment. His beaming face showed that he had come prepared for such a demand from the bride's sisters and friends."
One of the bride's friends intervened, "I think you're too young for necklaces. Gold rings will be better." There were noisy protests. The girls insisted on necklaces. I could not restrain myself and whispered to my friend, "Don't you think it would be better to forget the shoes?"
One of the groom's friends overheard my remark and said, "Uncle, you're looking at the shoes, while we're interested in the people behind the mischief." Fearing that I may be seen as a party pooper, I distanced myself from the proceedings. Eventually, I saw that the two elder sisters of the bride got gold necklaces, while their friends settled for earrings.
Returning home on the train from Ahmedabad, I was convinced that life has changed, and shoes have come a long way too.
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