All it took was a pair of hurled shoes. When Muntazar Al Zaidi pitched his shoes at George Bush, he couldn’t have had the foggiest that his form of protest would gain an iconic status in the world’s largest electoral process.
Why did the paduka become a bazooka in India? Shoes, after all, show up in Indian allegories in a markedly different manner. The Tirupati Balaji, for one, is said to appear every year to four people with a request for new shoes, which are then made and worshiped.
Then why hurl them? Surely it’s not because we are a cricket-crazy nation with a particular gift for fast bowling. Nor is it because our disappointment with politicians has recently crossed over from collective cynicism to individual irritability — that happened in our parents’ generation, long before cable TV.
It’s perhaps because the act — at once funny and disgusting — is sure to get you on TV. And definitely because we are disenchanted with candlelight marches, relayed fasts and postered slogans. We want to shout ‘Give them the boot’ rather than say ‘Show them the sole’.
Mind that we have a somewhat ‘Indianised’ the form of protest, too. Whereas Al Zaidi’s size 10s were meant to thwack the US President fair and fast, none of the three missiles sent in the general direction of our politicians had the speed or the aim to hurt. If that isn’t symbolic, what is?
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Well ducked, Dubya
All of you who have been appreciating the gall Muntazar Al Zaidi showed at that press conference, spare a thought for the excellent presence of mind and nimbleness of movement George W. showed. Not only did he retain his Texan humour to confirm that the shoes were “size 10”, he remarked about it later as “an interesting incident”. By the end of his term, Dubya had surely become inured to extreme forms of protest.
For me, two things stand out in the Chidambaram shoe incident. First, the fact that Jarnail Singh just gently lobbed his sneakers, and didn’t really hurl them to hurt the home minister. Second, that the Trevor Chappellesque delivery was enough to infuse a whole new momentum to the very old case for punishing the perpetrators of violence during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Talk about the power of suggestion.
One from his own
Pawas Agarwal fully understood the irony of the shoe-as-a-missile from the Indian perspective. His wasn’t a sneaker or a leather chappal, but a wooden slipper, Indian ishtyle. He was also the only one to have said anything intelligible at the end of it all: “What’s the point being the ‘Iron Man’ if he [Advani] can’t do anything?” That too from someone who claims to have been a part of the saffron brigade for three long decades. Touché.
Not for the cameras
The reason we have this protest aimed at Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and not at another Indian politico, is to underline the fact that the Indian cases were clearly meant for the TV cameras. Rather than at a press conference or an electoral dais, this shoe was thrown (along with a hat) when he was in a car on his way to a rally. No camera was there to capture the moment. But the disgust was clear.