Buying shoes is no longer like what it used to be. It is like going to one of the more gaudy five star hotels.
The other day, I went to Colaba Cuaseway to buy a pair of shoes. I was told that Linking Road has a better selection of shops and shoes than Colaba, but I have always been a Colaba man (at the most, Bata of Crawford Market) and in that way I am quite loyal.
I knew exactly what I wanted: black shoes, wide and round in the front, heels of normal height, four pairs of lace-holes, Indian double soles, two insoles and one pair of extra laces free, and a guarantee with the bill that they would last five years.
It was difficult to select the shop, they sounded either like cinemas (Metro) or boutiques (Citywalk). I was looking for the good old Dexter or Flex or Star. In school, we all had to wear Flex shoes, they may not have been good-looking, but they were very lasting.
Finally, I walked into one glass-and-chrome palace, feeling a little self-conscious. The glass doors swung open automatically, an electronic device that must have sent up the price of each shoe that the shop sells by Rs. 20. Eventually, as the economists say, the consumer is paying for everthing.
Inside, I realised that the shop was only half the size I had thought, the other half being reflections in mirrors. The shoes were also lined up against mirrors and lights, looking like they were in double rows. There was a whole section devoted to gents slippers, opentoed, with little blue-and-white plastic bows. I looked away.
There was a good selection of gents shoes. There were shoes with square toes and pointed toes, and tapering heels that rose several inches from the floor. Also, most of the shoes were of one colour and the laces of another colour. Some of the shoes had buckles instead of laces, some of the shoes had buckles and laces, some had zippers. There were also a lot of white shoes, more than Jeetendra could wear in several lifetimes.
There were other changes also. The assistant in the shop were all dressed, instead of the usual pyjama and shirt, like the models in the motor-cycle advertisements that come on TV before in and in-between the cricket relays. And instead of the old chairs, where you sat and tried out the shoes and rejected and tried another and rejected, there were lounge chairs, leather upholstered, which should have further sent up the price of each chair that the shop sold by another Rs. 20.
The only old practice that continued, and I was happy to observe, was that the assistants still shouted the types and sizes of shoes they required to an assistant in the mezzanine and the assistant threw them from the top through a hole in the false ceiling.
And, my shoes, yes I came out with a pair of brown shoes with black laces in a plastic bag (they do not give shoes in boxes any more). And I do not think I am ever going to wear them, I only bought them because I was too embarrassed to come out empty-handed. What would the assistants on the motorcycles have said!