I know she has arrived when I hear the soft dragging of her feet up the stairs sounding like the stealthy movement by a tiger’s paws on a freshly trimmed grass field. As she stretches her hand with fingers resembling creases left on a crushed white paper to open the door of our house, she looks at me, and half smiles. ‘Kamon acho mashi’ (How are you?) I ask her and she brings her index finger behind her ear and sighs with a tired breath, ‘hmm, oi chole jache’ (Seems all okay). A helpless smile on my lips greets her back.
She is about to enter the kitchen when she suddenly remembers something she has probably missed as part of her ritual routine. Ma had asked her not to enter the kitchen with her outside slippers on. Kitchen, she said was a space of cleanliness or perhaps worship; to walk into this holy quarter with dirty shoes and sandals on was blasphemous. Walking around the kitchen and scouting for herbs and spices on the shelves barefoot did not please our 70-year-old cook, who, for ages had been rustling up dishes with her slippers on. Moreover, her short height made it difficult for her to reach the towering cupboards/drawers of modular kitchen setups sans the aiding footwear.
After rounds of debates between my ageing mother and the stoic septuagenarian, both parties came to a mature resolution. Ma gave her money to buy another pair reserved to be worn only within the premises of our home, which, she would slip into before going into the kitchen.
Women you see have solutions to all problems, however insurmountable they seem.
The pair that she decided to buy was an audacious choice for her age. Neon green in colour, the pair had straps done up in asymmetric floral patterns and was a size that could easily be mistaken for a kids’. The texture of her feet, however, could not match a child’s supple skin.
The haggard look of her regular chappals was a reminder of the several miles she walked every day. The fragility of the worn-out pair struggled enough to support her feet that complained of a tan during summer afternoons.
Both the pairs had immeasurable resilience; her feet and her slippers. They could not think of embarking on a journey without the other pair.
I would often look closely at this historic separation every evening when Mashi (our cook) would slowly desert her companion and delicately let the neon-green handsome pair take over to adorn her feet. The discarded pair would turn ‘green’ with envy and stare at the walls till the time her feet romanced the new purchase.
Cinderella was granted a wish once upon a time. There too, shoes played a crucial role. She runs back to her carriage once the clock strikes 12. In the rush however, one of her glass slippers comes off. She returns to the dungeon but her fate had something else written for her. Her Prince Charming comes searching for his dream girl. He carries the glass slipper along that had ditched Cinderella’s foot that fateful night. And it’s a perfect fit! Like all fairy-tales, Cinderella unites with her Prince to live a happily-ever-after in the clouds.
Fairy-tales are fantasy. Reality speaks frank truth.
Our cook, though, now owned two pairs of slippers but neither of them promised her a Cinderella like future.
The tattered pair waits with patience for its mistress to finish cooking, unfasten the substitute floral sandals and go back to the familiar comfort of its warmth. Unlike Cinderella, once she wears her old black-brown (not glass) slippers, she is not transported to the clouds of fortune but smokes of destined hard labour beckon her. Her makeshift pair of fancy chappals ornaments her feet for a while but fails to ensure a ‘floral’ life Cinderella was lucky to realise.
Life is not a fairytale they say. Or may be our cook is yet to find the right pair of slippers…