The Life Shiner!

My most used pair of shoes needed a polish very badly. The shoe-color container dried up long back. In the prolonged lockdown period, it was not possible to visit a shoe store and could not order online as well as it was not an essential item. Even after the unlock had gradually widened I didn’t think of venturing out due to the transport hassles. Instead, I started looking for a shoe-shiner shop on my customary evening walks, but found that most of those shops were yet to reopen. Even that lone shoe-polish guy sitting on the roadside with a box was missing.


On my walk that evening I changed my normal route, and started looking closely around as I walked on. Luckily, on a solitary corner of a by-lane that branched off to my left from the main road I found a shoe-shiner shop. I marched towards it feeling like a victorious commander. But as I neared my target I had to stop on my tracks. A lady, well clad in ordinary clothes, was sitting there bent over something that she seemed to be stitching.


It was an unusual sight. In my lifetime I never encountered or saw a lady shoe-shiner. Now, I hesitated even to ask her if polishing was done there, forget about getting my shoes polished by a woman. Not done, I just thought.


Seeing me standing there uncertainly the lady looked up at me and asked what was the matter. Her matter-of-fact tone assuaged my escapist mood, and so I had to answer her,

“Is shoe polishing done here?”

“Yes, sure!” she immediately offered me the pair of rubber slippers that served as an interim arrangement to wait upon.


I started taking off my shoes, albeit unwillingly and feeling somewhat ashamed of myself, handed the pair to her and stood on the slippers. And looked around rather sheepishly.


She got busy with the pair expertly and dexterously. Presently I heard her murmur something. As if prompted by my still apologetic mind I immediately asked her if anything was the matter. The lady shook her head ever so slightly, and with an imperceptible smile, perhaps, still immersed in her work. Not happy with her response, I leaned towards her and asked again, “Any problem, behenji (sister)?”


This time she did look up at me, but indicated something that I failed to understand. She got back to her work and murmuring, now, it could be called chatting.


Then it dawned on me. She had been talking on her mobile phone all the time, even before I approached her. But I failed to detect the phone or the headphones anywhere around her, even under the numerous folds of her dress starting from the head covering. Perhaps, she resorted to the discretion to all her tasks smoothly and simultaneously, not taking the risk of shooing off or distracting the potential customers. She must be taking full care of her home and all members of the family while doing the job not exactly cutout for her, I decided. And my mind raced.


Hard-working ingenious people! nothing can ever bog them down, not even the most distressing times like the lockdown and the drying-up of all sources of earning. Nothing can ever derail them from their life struggles, howsoever hard, painful and hopeless at times. Instead, they’ll carry on with full-family spirit or the community spirit, helping and complementing each other in all kinds of odd jobs, and most significantly, go on enjoying the small pleasures of life and the joy of togetherness. No job is lowly for them, any work is just work, and work is always worship for them. Not like us, the cantankerous, delicate and the ever-complaining lot! Getting panicky and wanting to escape at any inconvenience or at the slightest hint of a problem!


I in my mind saluted her indomitable spirit and the love for life, and in fact, I wanted to bow down to her in true admiration. But that would be more embarrassing for her than for me if at all, I decided again.

She finished her work and handed me the pair back. I very much wanted to pay her more than the bill, but decided against it instantly. They always have the great asset of self-respect, and know how to keep it.

I resumed my walk happily and in a very positive frame of mind, humming a good tune cheerfully.


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