Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Make hay while the shoe shines - Part 2

1 Indian rupee = 0.0181 US dollars

Every time a train pulls into the station, they look up expectantly at the rapid outpour of people onto the platform, never asking for more than a few patrons for them to lend their services. I’m not too sure of how much it would cost to get your shoes shined in another country, but I can say with certainty that you will not get the same dedication that you get here. For just 7 rupees (Google tells me that amounts to about 0.12 cents. Yes, you read that right), these men will shine your shoes. I know of some stations where you could get the job done for even less. There aren’t many places in the world where you can get such an efficient service for such a small amount. There are even fewer places where shoe shiners actually manage to scrape a living by doing what they do.

Luckily for them, however, the inevitable scuffle to get onto and off a crowded train, and the much stepping on toes that happens in between, gives the shoe shiners of Bombay a raison d’ĂȘtre.  There’s nothing worse than having to dismount from an extremely uncomfortable train ride (more on these later) than to look down and see your shoes bearing the imprint of 50 different designer shoe knock-offs, courtesy of your co-passengers. That’s when these guys come to your rescue. In less than a minute, they tend to your footwear, ensuring that your shoes are not only in spanking condition, but that you also reach your destination without delay.

The monsoon season (which is going on now, incidentally), however must be very bleak for business as not many people fancy the idea of wearing formal shoes in the pouring rain.

Reflecting upon all this in my mind, I realized that I had been looking straight at the guy for the last few minutes, until his box-tapping broke me out of my reverie. He looked up at me expectantly, hoping that I would place my foot on his little box. I looked at my own footwear, and cursed myself for having worn flip-flops fearing the wrath of the rain gods. Just as was about to show him a look of sympathy, my train finally pulled into the station, and I hurried to the edge of the platform to make it through the people who were about to alight. As I boarded, I made a mental promise to wear my black shoes next time.  As the train left the station, I turned to get a glimpse of him one last time and smiled to myself. He was already busy with another customer. :)