Silence amongst the railway station is a hard thing to find. You would find me sitting in one of the alcoves of the station. My second home for the rest of my life. My constant banging of the shoe brush on my wooden shoe box seems rather unheard most of the times. Just like my thoughts and emotions. Each new customer has a different feel, a different material that he is made of, usually cheap and worn out and never will I get to feast my eyes on a pair of expensive leather shoes. These customers don’t have any faces for me. To me the shoes they adorn on their feet are my universe.
Waking up at 4 am in the morning, my wife is awake giving me a fresh pair of clothes that she washes by the train tracks in my little shoddy hut that I call home. My son fast asleep, with not a care in the world. Every morning I wished I was him again. My wife, oh she is beautiful. I see her in 3 different sari’s every week, and how beautiful she looks, to me, she is my Aishwariya Rai. Her warm and bruised hands from all the cleaning she does for the laundry she works at still make the best rotis in the world. Just like my mother made them. I regret I cannot give myself and my family the life they deserve but not once has she complained about it. “suniye! (Listen!)” she calls me and would straighten my hair out. Oh god how much I loved this woman! “ aapka din shubh ho, baghwan aapar aapni krupa kare (have a nice day, god bless you)”. This keeps me going. With my lunch and dinner packed in a little parcel, I leave for my commute to my workplace now.
As I set up my shop at one of the pillars in an almost visible corner of the platform, I and my other shoe shining mates gather round the platform eatery shop for our morning breakfast. Chai (tea) and sweet biscuits, I always complained to the tea maker that he made my tea sweet, he would tell me , “ arre kya bol rahe ho tum! Din accha jaayega , kuch meetha se shuru karogey toh! (What are you saying! Start your day with something sweet, the day will go much smoothly)”. The rush usually begins at around 7:30 am, I get to see different kinds of personalities everywhere I look. A man with no shoes rummaging through the garbage, women with their pretty sandals and bright coloured nail paint off to work to impress the men in their office, old ladies with their rings around their toes unhappily married, kids running about in their squeaky shoes, those men with so called designer leather shoes off to con another men of their money. Somewhere I have learned to decipher a person’s character by their shoes. My customer would usually just put his feet on the top of my wooden box and I would get to work. You see there is an art to shoe polishing, applying the correct amount of polish and applying the correct amount of pressure while polishing them clean. It’s almost like painting, except the shoes are my canvas. Brushing swiftly and with the correct momentum I get my desired effect. Then comes making it clear of every little unneeded shade left, my old rag of cloth helps me make every inch of my canvas even and perfect. Viola! My artwork is ready. For a mere Rs.20 i.e. Rs.10 per shoe, I am happy man at the end of each assignment given to me.
The black stains on my hands never go, I think of them every time I dig into my meal or when I waiting for my next assignment. What made me go down this path? Why did I not receive a good life like the rest? Why did I have to rebel my father when he wanted me to study and become a big man? But there is in fact no point regretting now. This is what I have done for myself and now my family. These black stains never go and probably never will either. Everyone has stains in their lives. Mine are just visible in front of me teaching me that I have to become better every day, not everyone has that much transparency from life. But I don’t want to see them anymore, they just hurt me. Make me realize what a worthless human being I am. A Cobbler. Nobody would even bat an eye if I wasn’t there one day, who would come to my aid if I was ever to be in trouble? My shoe shinning mates are way too selfish, like the world. BUT, I must stay positive and continue for my family. My son needs me now. He is fast growing and will soon go to school, I have to able to make his dreams come true if not mine. My wife needs a new sari and a full pantry. I need to give them the life they deserve, even if it means I have to sacrifice my own world for that. “O Bhaisaab, yeh tut gaya hai isko thik toh karvado! (O Mister, this is broken, mend it will you?)”. Story of my life, I can mend my own life on my own.
My imagination of what and how an ordinary cobbler’s life must be.
P.S. Look around you.