The humble, down-to-earth shoe is again in the news these days. Again ? You ask me ! Yes, the last time it was highlighted in the media was when someone then unknown had thrown a shoe at someone well known. The date was 16.12.2008.The then most famous international scene was about a TV journalist, who had flung his size 10 shoes at George Bush. Muntadhar Al Zaidi, a broadcast journalist, working as a correspondent with Al Baghdadia TV, a Cairo based news channel, who had dared to do this defiant act, had become an international hero overnight. He had received a bravery award from a charity group and more awards had followed. A man in Saudi Arabia had then offered 10 million dollars for the shoes thrown at Bush! You Tube had been besieged with millions of hits to view that shoe hurling shot video and it had secured a place of pride in the list of top 14 videos of 2008 in those days! The only apt quote that had flashed before my eyes then, was “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.”
Now Mayawati Memsahib is in the news these days. I am sure that you must have all seen the repeatedly telecast “breaking-news’’ TV grabs of a DSP sahib on the payroll of the UP Chief Minister, stooping down to wipe her shoes with his handkerchief ! It has been a subject matter of debate and editorials in several newspapers too. So, as is usual, yours truly also decided to take a look at the history, geography, mythology, fiction and politics of this interesting subject.
Shoes, in all shapes, sizes, varieties, seem to have been a very important part of my growing up from childhood to old-age, it appears. The Cinderella story of glass slippers uniting her with her prince charming, was heard, read and enacted on stage umpteen times during my school days. I remember having read it to my children at bed time, later in my life too. Even till this day, I love that fairy who had transformed Cinderella into a ravishing beauty and hate her stereotype of a step mother who made her slog. The story ended with “and they lived happy ever after.”
If I recall my Ramayana lessons taught by my father and grandmother, Lord Rama’s brother Bharata, had carried Rama’s wooden shoes called Padukas. (A very interesting name for a typical Indian footwear. I remember, my maternal grandfather had a pair of padukas-we called it ’khadaon’ in Punjabi. They then came with a wooden base and thick canvas uppers. They made a lovely music when he walked- thukk, thukk ! )
By the way, a little research, tells me that this Paduka is the name of India’s oldest, most quintessential footwear. It is little more than a sole with a post and knob, which is engaged between the big and second toe. It exists in a variety of forms and materials throughout India. They might be made in the shape of actual feet, or of fish, for example, and are made of wood, ivory and even silver. They are sometimes elaborately decorated. The more elaborate shoes were a part of a bride’s trousseau in the past decades. They are also be given as religious offerings or be themselves the object of veneration. Although simple wooden padukas were worn by common people, padukas of fine teak, ebony and sandalwood, inlaid with ivory or wire, were a mark of the wearer’s high status. Today paduka as footwear is generally worn by mendicants and saints of Hindu and Jain religions. Readers can correct me if I am wrong.
I understand that Paduka also means foot prints of Hindu gods such as Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, and other religious icons who are worshipped in this symbolic form in houses and also in temples built for this purpose.(Examples-Gaya temple dedicated to Vishnupada or Lord Vishnu’s feet. Buddha’s foot prints are also worshipped under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya.)
Its significance in Hindu mythology is linked to the epic Ramayana. In the Hindu epic Ramayana, King Dasratha, who had a curse on him, sent his son Rama for 14 years of exile, at the behest of his wife Kaikeyi (step mother of Rama) as she wanted her son Bharata to be crowned as the king. Rama, his consort Sita and brother Lakshmana went into a forest to spend their period of exile. However, Bharata did not want to have the kingdom. He, therefore, met Rama who was living in the forest and beseeched him to return to Ayodhya. When Rama told Bharata that he will return only after completing his fourteen years in the forest, Bharata requested for Rama’s paduka to serve as his proxy, to be crowned in Ayodhya Raj Singhasan (King’s throne) of Kosala, and to serve as an object of veneration for Rama’s followers. Bharata carried Rama’s golden sandals (padukas) with great reverence by placing them on his head as a mark of his obedience to his elder brother. Bharata ruled Kosala as Rama’s proxy in the name of “Ram’s Padukas”. Very interesting, no? Just think if that DSP would keep Maya’s sandals on a pedestal and worship them after his retirement.
Now, coming back to the “breaking news” story, touched briefly at the beginning of this piece, it so happens that, the DSP who has been now seen as a sort of a bhakta of Mayawati Behn, is named- Padam Singh. Padam -if my Hindi and my wife’s Sanskrit, are correct, means lotus. Was he by any chance trying to touch the “lotus”(?) feet of his deity Maya Memsahib ?
Different views and justifications (?) have been aired in the media. Blah ! Here, read one such report:
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati is in the eye of a storm for asking her personal security officer (PSO) to clean her sandals.The officer, Padam Singh, was caught on camera stooping to a new depth of sycophancy during Mayawati’s visit to Auraiya on Sunday. As the CM’s helicopter landed in a field in the Achhaldha area, she alighted to find her sandals covered with dust and asked the PSO to clean it. Singh, a police officer of deputy superintendent rank, a gazetted post, readily ran towards her to follow her command. He took out his white handkerchief from the left pocket of his coat, bent and started wiping the sandals. A bystander captured his action on his mobile phone camera. He may not have imagined it would blow up into such a big controversy and could even be harmful for the political health of Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party ( BSP).As the footage found its way to the media, the Opposition slammed Mayawati’s ” feudal” ways. UP Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi even demanded the suspension of Singh, saying his behaviour was against the service rules of a police officer.” Asking someone to clean her sandals or shoes simply means insulting them. The CM thought it was below her dignity to visit the slum of Naunikpur, an Ambedkar village, with a layer of dust on her sandals. So, her officer polished it before she went there to meet the Dalit people. It is shameful and obnoxious,” Joshi said. State BJP chief S. P. Shahi said: ” Mayawati should learn to respect other human beings. But Singh’s behaviour is against the service rules. Officers are supposed to behave in a dignified manner.” The Samajwadi Party’s Shivpal Singh Yadav said: “Most of the officers who are Mayawati’s favourites clean her shoes and serve her food and water. It is no secret that they are treated like her servants whom she insults and still they lick her feet. There are senior IAS and IPS officers who act as her house sweepers. This is her way of preventing untouchability.” Singh has reportedly been part of Mayawati’s security detail for the past 15 years. He was supposed to retire in 2010, but was given a one year extension. He had also served in the security of Kanshi Ram. Sources said Singh’s act was shocking but hardly surprising since it was through such ‘ service’ that he had become a trusted lieutenant of Mayawati. S. R. Darapuri, a retired inspector general of police, said: “He is very powerful. He can easily convince the CM to transfer any IAS or IPS officer… But such acts are unbecoming of an officer and humiliating for the bureaucracy and the police in general. It shows that the officers want to stick to their posts even at the cost of their self- esteem.” The BSP tried to dismiss the controversy as a non- issue. Though Mayawati kept silent and Singh couldn’t be contacted, BSP legislator Nawab Sayed Kazim Ali came out in their defence. Ali denied the CM had asked Singh to clean her sandal, but at the same time justified his action.” It is wrong that she asked her PSO to wipe her footwear. It appears that his handkerchief fell on the ground and he is picking it up,” he said.In an apparent face- saving attempt, UP’s cabinet secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh said at a press conference in the evening that Singh cleaned the CM’s sandals because of security reasons. “The officer cleaned mud from her sandals, otherwise she could have slipped. It was the need of the hour,” he said.
“Jitney moonh utni baatein “, as they say in Hindi ! Decide for yourself. I am reminded of something I read somewhere earlier on this matter. The story goes that an English aristocrat was shocked to see Abraham Lincoln polishing his shoes. “In England, no gentleman polishes his own shoes,” the aristocrat remarked. “Whose shoes does he polish then?”, the 16th President of the USA had quipped. Here in apna desh, perhaps shoes are considered as an extension of the feet. Ergo, cleaning Mayawati’s shoes could be considered equivalent to touching the Chief Minister’s feet, something which was in tune with the prevailing ethos or as per our culture! I am sure that the members of the US Secret Service are expected not to clean the shoes of American presidents but merely to stand in the line of fire! See the cultural difference? I am sure you do.
Pardon me if I am going on into a flash back or flash forward, like in the Hindi films of yesteryears. The whole thing is that ki. I am now reminded of several idioms and phrases on the subject of shoes. I feel the Maya Memsahib incident can give new twists and meanings to them. Think it over please. Sample some of them at random: 1as comfortable as an old shoe. 2. drop the other shoe. 3. fill someone’s shoes. 4. For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the man was lost. 5. have the shoe on the other foot. 6. If the shoe fits, wear it. 7. shoe is on the other foot. 8. step into someone’s shoes. 9. wouldn’t want to be in someone’s shoes.10. the boot is on the other foot.
I now draw your kind attention to some of my favourite shoe quotes. I am sure you will read new meanings into them too if you keep the Maya story in mind. OK? Here I go again:
1. I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet.
2. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.
3. If you want to forget all your other troubles, wear too tight shoes.
4. Always put yourself in others’ shoes. If you feel it hurts you, it will probably hurt the other person, too.
5. The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.
6. Faith and Reason are the shoes on your feet. You can travel further with the two, than on one.
7. Funny that a pair of really nice shoes make us feel good in our heads – at the extreme opposite end of our bodies.
You see how Maya’s shoe episode went to my head ?
Ah, yes, I hope, like me, you do remember that raid on Jaylalitha’s house around a decade ago, where among other things,750 pairs of shoes were reportedly found. It certainly makes me wonder how many pairs does Maya have ! (She wore garlands made of crores of currency notes, once, so imagine…) Before I say good bye and rush to count the pairs of shoes my wife has (thankfully I don’t have to polish/clean them!) in her cupboard, let me add that since this forum consists mainly of ladies, I hope they would love to comment on the Shoes-naama of mine.
If they wish to throw some shoes at me, kindly note: my wife’s shoe size is : 8 ! Aim well ! Keep smiling!!