All it took was one hurled shoe. 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 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 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?