The lawyer and the cobblers

DR BR AMBEDKAR (1891-1956) was a lawyer, who drafted the Constitution of India after the country became independent. He was also a champion of the rights of dalits (‘untouchables’ or ‘harijans’ as Mahatma Gandhi called them). The dalits were excluded from the four caste Varna system of Hinduism, and considered by many Hindus as the lowest of the low, fit only for menial tasks that members of other castes would not deign to consider doing. Ambedkar campaigned actively for the ending of social discrimination against this class of people.

Mochis (cobblers/shoe repairers), who handle leather, are often dalits. The best place to find a mochi is on the pavement beside a road. Sometimes, they sit on the ground surrounded by their tools and footwear awaiting repair. In other cases, they work from little stalls that can be locked up when they are not at work. These stalls often bear images of Ambedkar in honour of the man who did much to improve the social status of the dalits.

(Image shows Ambedkar depicted on a mochi’s closed stall.)

An Enquiring Mind

blahnik

 

People who know me well, or even not so well, would be surprised to learn that I greatly enjoyed an exhibition of designer footwear.

The designer is Manolo Blahnik (born 1942 in Santa Cruz de la Palma, Spain), whose father was Czech and mother Spanish. His rapid rise to fame in the field of footwear design began in the early 1970s. 

The exhibition called “An Enquiring Mind” is being held at the Wallace Collection in London until the 1st of September 2019 and should not be missed.

According to a leaflet about the exhibition, Blahnik has been long inspired by the  collection of diverse fine artworks (paintings, sculpture, furniture, porcelain, armour, etc.) on display in the rooms of the Wallace Collection. The shoes he designs, especially those on display at the exhibition, reflect the artistic finesse and skillfulness of the Collection’s permanent works.

The footwear in the temporary exhibition is tastefully arranged amongst the Wallace Collection’s artworks. If one dd not know that the shoes were designed and  made in the last 50 years or less, you would believe that they came from  earlier eras when most of the Collection’s artworks were created. The shoes mingle harmoniously with creations made several hundreds of years earlier. Not only that, but also they are displayed very artistically, making the temporary exhibition a joy to the viewer.

So, even if you, like me, are put off by the idea of an exhibition of shoes, please try to make it to this superb exhibition.

Thrown out of a library

When she was about two years old, our daughter dressed in a unisex romper outfit, rushed into the Men’s Bar at the Bangalore Club. An elderly gentleman conducted her back to the entrance of the bar, saying: “You can’t come in here yet, young man. You’ll have to wait until you’re twenty one.”

My wife explained that our child is a girl. The gentleman replied: “In that case, my dear, you will never be able to enter the Men’s Bar.”

The Bangalore Club was founded by British officers in 1868 at the time when Mahatma Gandhi was born in faraway Gujarat. Until after about 1945, women were not allowed into the main Club House. There was a separate annexe reserved for women. And until 1947, with the exception of servants and a very few high ranking military officers, no Indians were permitted to enter any part of the Club.

The Bangalore Club and many other similar still existing colonial era clubs in India maintain many of the old-fashioned rules that applied in elite clubs in the UK. For many years, men could only enter the Club House at the Bangalore Club wearing ‘proper’ shoes, not sports shoes or sandals. Now, sandals are allowed providing they have a back strap around the ankle.

Once, I stayed at the Kodaikanal Club deep in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Dress code seemed to be non-existent there until I stepped into the club’s small library. Within a few seconds, a member of the library staff escorted me out of the library. I was wearing sandals. I was told that one could only enter the library if formal leather shoes were being worn.

Well, if you join a club, you should respect its rules however idiotic they might seem. Vide the UK and the EU.

As time moves on, rules change. A couple of years ago , for reasons best not explored here and they were nothing to do with gender equality, women were permitted to enter and use the Men’s Bar at the Bangalore Club. Since that date, the formerly masculine sanctuary has been renamed “The Bar”.

The old gentlemen who evicted our daughter from the Men’s Bar is probably no longer alive. I wonder what he would have thought when his prediction proved to be wrong. Let’s finish by raising a glass to his memory.

Bare your feet

In India, I prefer to wear sandals because in so many places it is necessary to remove footwear, and putting on and off sandals is so much easier than doing the same for lace up shoes.

Just in case you are wondering why there is the requirement to bare one’s feet, the reason is to prevent bringing dirt from outside into the place being entered. It is also a mark of respect when entering a religious place such as a mosque, church, temple, or gurdwara.

In some homes, footwear is left by the entrance. This is also the case for some homes that I have visited in the UK. When I went to a junior school in London’s Belsize Park, The Hall School, we left the shoes we had arrived in at the entrance and then replaced them by another pair reserved for use within the school.

When we visited Gulbarga (in North Karnataka, India) recently, we visited what purported to be an Arabic restaurant, Al Makki by name. Its floor was covered with carpets, and guests had to sit on cushions that surrounded very low tables. The owner took one look at my wife and me, and took pity on us. He provided us with a normal height table and chairs. The food was delicious. We ate a mutton “handi”, which is a pilaff flavoured with dried fruit, fried onions, nuts, and mild spices. By now, if you are still reading this, you might well be thinking that I have strayed from my topic. But, you are mistaken. We were not allowed to enter Al Makki until we had removed our footwear.

To conclude, my advice to people visiting India is: wear footwear that is easy to remove and replace.