Our plot in the village gets very damp with dew. Even a slight drizzle can get the ground so wet that it takes a day for the water to soak into the soil. Last year’s downpour broke down our eastern wall. This year’s deluge destroyed the western one and our private flood killed many trees. We had to… Read more »

In Search of Scarlet Gumboots

by Sheela Jaywant

Our plot in the village gets very damp with dew. Even a slight drizzle can get the ground so wet that it takes a day for the water to soak into the soil. Last year’s downpour broke down our eastern wall. This year’s deluge destroyed the western one and our private flood killed many trees. We had to wade through knee­-deep water to salvage saplings, illness clean up clogged channels, physician and the fear of scorpions and snakes added to the discomfort of my toes clutching on to a mess of clayey mud, ask decaying grass, soggy leaves and dead crawlies.

For the third time in a month, I withdrew money from the ATM to buy yet another pair of ‘rainy shoes’.

My shopping is crisis­-oriented. A strap breaks or a sole wears off, and I hop on a pilot to the closest shoe­shop (until Bata opened its showroom on Chogm Road, we Sangoldkars had to venture out to far-off Mapusa or Panjim). This time, I worked my blistered feet through first a pair of hawai chappals. The classic version of these rubber slippers is a white sole with two blue straps with the size number encircled and engraved on both the sole and the strap. Until 2-­3 years ago, if the strap broke, you simply took it off the sole and carried it to a local shop to buy a replacement. One could thus stretch a single pair for many months, until the soles were a couple of millimetres thick. These days, no one keeps chappal spare parts. The ‘classic’ chappal is still available, but hidden under the coloured versions that have swamped the market – purple soles with pink and emerald stripes or dots or wavy designs across them, thick soles, thin soles, in all sorts of synthetic materials, to suit many budgets.

A lot of shops (names unknown,as the sign­boards are faded, rusty or just above one’s head!) stock cheap Thai/Chinese footwear these days. The prices range from Rs 180 – 350 for a ‘decent’ pair that will last for a season if you travel by bus, two seasons if your own a vehicle and maybe an unpredictable week if you use your feet for commuting.

There is a plethora of choices, but I don’t wear huge purple flowers on my toes, nor transparent soft-­plastic ‘ballerinas’ (India has borrowed this word to describe slip­-on shoes pointed at the toes) with holes all over them. Some look like leather. One sales­-chap told me they outlast real hide. Others are called ‘all-­weather’. I had bought one of these, my feet slipped inside them through the monsoon and sweated horribly through the sunny months. Besides, they gave me bad bites. Now, I don’t look at them even if there is nothing else available in my size. The Paragon brand, like Carona, is hidden away, I can’t fathom why!

For the men, there’s a flip­flop called ‘Gas’(apt, don’t you think?) Gas and Numero Uno are among the cheapest in men’s footwear. Velcro­studded rexine sandals seem to be popular with men, as well as chappals that look like chappals, with toes. Branded shoes (like Nike) smell through cloudy weeks. Best avoided in these rainy months, unless you have a house with sufficient drying space. Too bad we don’t have Metro or Regal handy like in Mumbai, but the former has a website (Bata has one too) one can order from. Personally, I don’t indulge in online shopping because I like to feel an item that I’m going to wear. Lunar is a good brand, one person tells me, for value-­for-­money. Can’t say, never tried.

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Having found that my feet had to live through gooey mess every time I walked outdoors, I decided to buy a pair of gumboots (in some parts of the world they are known as waders), but found them nowhere. I even asked construction site workers where they’d got their sunny yellow ones from. Language problem, I couldn’t find anything. It took me many days to discover, right next to Barday’s Inn at Calangute, a shop that sold Crocs and had gumboots – without canvas inside, in my size in bright scarlet and for over a thousand bucks. Well above my budget, but I bought them. They don’t make squeaky sounds, keep my feet dry, are easy to slip on and off.

I powder the insides before I wear them, put on socks so my toenails won’t injure the boots’ expensive material and hold on to the grilles when I’m walking to the gate so that the soles won’t glide against the moss and slime. But, I feel safer (scorpions and snakes can’t get to my feet anymore) and drier.

I wonder why more brands don’t make gumboots. I’m dashing off letters of suggestions right now. There should be a law: if you want to live in Goa through the monsoon, you must own a pair of gumboots.

Whilst these thoughts were pummelling my brain, I crossed a labourer­-woman carrying a load on her head. My eyes went to her feet. She had fixed bottle tops at one end of two thick thermocol pieces cut to fit her feet. She had tied two twisted plastic ropes at the tops to make herself a pair of slippers, of sorts. It protected her feet from the thorns and sharp stones she trod upon.

No longer will I grumble about my footwear…

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