"We need to buy new shoes for Maira. The old ones have become too tight," declared Nitasha, my daughter-in-law.
Nitasha's declarations are always backed up with deep research, and must be contested only at one's own peril. Moreover, how could she ever be wrong about her daughter, Maira? So, though I had an impulse to point out that it were not the shoes that had shrunk but it were the feet that had grown; I looked the other way.
Encouraged, Nitasha added, "This time we shall buy her shoes from the Outlet Mall. They offer good choices, and sell at factory rates. We can get a nice pair at 80 Dirhams. Here they sell nothing below 120-130."
Buying things cheap is my passion. I buy cheap soaps, cheap food grains, cheap vegetables, cheap poultry, cheap data, cheap shaving blades, cheap everything. I once purchased a VI-JOHN shaving cream only because at Rs.44 it was a full Rupee cheaper than Gillette. It is entirely a different matter that I felt like a professional barber every time I lathered my face with the cream.
Outlet Mall is only 30 kilometres away from our home. What are 30 kilometres when you are in the pursuit of a good bargain? A 45-minute drive in the afternoon, followed by a ten minute investment on parking, and we were inside the Mall. We – Maira, in a pram; Nitasha, behind the pram; my wife Rani a step behind Nitasha; my son Anupam two steps behind Rani; and I, several steps behind, like a showstopper on a ramp.
We searched one store, then another, and then a third one. The '80-Dirham' shoes appeared to have performed a vanishing trick. Instead, like unscrupulous politicians and insecure bosses, shoes upwards of 135 Dirhams were occupying all prominent positions.
Nitasha selected a shoe for Maira. Maira rejected it with a firm 'no'.
Maira looked at one shoe, but Nitasha rejected it like dirt.
Like true ladies, Maira continued disapproving the choice of Nitasha; and Nitasha persisted in finding fault with everything Maira pointed at. The exchange continued for the better of an hour. Finally, both compromised on a particular pair.
"What do you say, Anupam?" Nitasha looked over her shoulder for a third opinion.
Only, Anupam wasn't to be seen around. It had suddenly struck him that he, too, needed a fresh pair of shoes.
I went looking for him in the Trainer Section.
Trainer shoes! Do shoes train? Can shoes train? Ever? Shouldn't the correct expression be 'Shoes for Training'? I decided to sound the Store Manager about it, time permitting.
But first, I had to locate Anupam, who appeared to have disappeared.
I came out of the Trainer Section. There he was, trying a shoe in another section. He explained that he was looking for running shoes, which are different and should never be confused with trainer shoes.
'Running' shoes? But, shoes don't run. If they are really capable of running, why do they remain rooted to their post on the rack, waiting to be picked up? Have shoes evolved enough to judge when to train, when to run, and when to sit idle like an employee with a secure job – I wondered. But then, there wasn't much time to lose. Maira's longest attention span doesn't extend beyond a few milliseconds, and here we had already lost several precious minutes.
Anupam approved of the pair selected for Maira, In a reciprocating gesture, Nitasha approved the shoes he had selected for himself.
"And these are inexpensive, only 350 Dirhams. Such shoes can't be found below 500 Dirhams elsewhere!" he muttered, getting his credit card swiped at the billing counter.
500 Dirhams! That is, about Rs.9,500. That is, nearly eight times my monthly employee provident fund pension – I did a quick mental calculation.
Two days later, my daughter Smriti and I took Rani to the Sahara Centre to buy birthday presents for her. It had to be some dresses and some shoes, all of which needed to be tried personally for the perfect fit.
Rani didn't like anything that was on display. If I recommended anything, her dislike became more pronounced. 'Manly', 'too 'oldish'', 'too youngish', 'bad colour scheme', or simply 'this thing' were the prominent reasons forcing her to reject pair after pair.
"I want something simple and sober," she cried.
If she was determined about rejecting everything, the salesman was equally determined about making the sale. After all, we were the only customers in the shop. He sat next to her with a shoehorn resembling, but larger than, my fibula. Magically, the vehemently rejected pairs acquired adorable properties. Fifteen minutes later, Rani left with a pair, burning a 375 Dirhams wide hole in Smriti's wallet.
The very next day we visited the Century Mall for buying general provisions and knickknacks.
As we were taking a look, Rani observed, "Hey! They, too, sell footwear!"
Yes! There were a number of simple and sober and not so simple and not so sober footwear displayed on the racks. Promptly, she started trying the pairs one after another. Finding my breathing down her neck too much of an obstruction, she diverted my attention, "Why don't you select a pair for yourself?"
The right shoe of my three year old pair is not right any longer. It opened an eye near the little toe last month, without causing a difference to the number of my lenses. My 18-month old grey sneakers bought in a 'sale' have black leather patches stitched thoughtfully at the crown of the toe caps by the neighbourhood cobbler. And my six-month old Rs.200 pair purchased with a six-month life assurance has proved true to the promise - a Radcliffe line has appeared in the middle on the sole of the right one.
I started looking for a cheap pair. Nitasha watched for a while, and finally suggested, "Wouldn't you search in the men's section? These are ladies' shoes."
I gravitated towards the men's section. What a joy it was to try different shoes without a salesman trying to help, coach, and sermonise me; as if I was going to wear shoes for the first time in my life!
I selected a 30 Dirham shoe.
"Why don't you try this one, instead?" Rani offered a different one. She had already selected a sandal for herself.
"Yes, yes, this one looks better," supported Nitasha. She had also selected a similar sandal for herself.
I tried it. I tried again the pair selected originally.
"No, I will go with these only. These are more comfortable." I put the shoes in the shopping cart.
With fading memory, I look forward for support from my new pair of shoes. It has 'Memory Foam' printed on the insole.