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A Matter of Honour

January 3, 2015

The story of the Shoe Man

My story from teens has won me some lifelong male admirers. It comes as surprise because I never was a great looker, never dressed to impress anyone and hardly had a couple of faithful followers among boys in adolescent age. Those couple of boys obviously liked me because, they were bookworms and kind of shy! Double the surprise because its after I crossed into my ’30s I got male attention.

There is this man in his 50s who moves in my circle. Known him most of my life. Super successful in his profession, having a happy marriage and family (atleast on the surface). He is someone whose path i barely cross not more than twice or thrice an year. Someone who i have always held in highest esteem.

In our religious functions or festivals, there is this custom of leaving our footwear outside. This is so in temples and even in wedding muhurats or poojas or other ceremonies like grihapravesh (house=warming etc). In one such a celebration over 12-13 years back (on my return from Malaysia) I took part in, when I returned to the patio of the event hall looking for my chappals, I found the pair missing. From behind came a raspy voice, ‘it’s here.’ I turned to see the man standing close behind me. He came forward, retrieved his shoes and underneath was my pair of chappals. I murmured ‘thank you’ and exchanged the usual pleasantries with him before leaving for home. For months I never thought of the man or the incident.

Some 6-8 months later was another event. My sandals went missing in the verandah for a second time. This is not unusual – happens. Because there are dozens and dozens of pairs scattered along always in our functions because of this unwritten footwear rule. Finding your sandals in the unruly heap takes time.

Yet again to my surprise the man materialized out of the periphery of my vision, claiming his shoes. For the second time in less than an year I found his shoes were carefully arranged over my sandals. My heart skipped a beat. There was this faintest smile in the man’s face – which was the giveaway.That day, I was at loss of words rooted to the spot.. Sleep failed me in the night – I was in total, complete shock.

Never spoken with him a single word ever since. During every social occasion we have met from then on,  the shoe man goes to the trouble of waiting for me to leave my sandals. When and how he does the shoe magic is something i have not figured out until now. One thought that chills my spine is, how he manages to look down at my footwear or watches for it so diligently. (I am not even basically a footwear or nail polish person. I don’t have the foot fetish like some women do! For the first time in my life I began wondering whether I had to watch out what I was buying and whether I should start going for pedicure lolz!) (It was then it hit me, my sandals were no hip, they were so masculine! No dainty straps or wrap-arounds! Rather ugly blocks very unladylike! In fact over leggings or jeans mostly I am into wearing shoes lolz). The man made me think of something I never thought about or cared for. (Had my first & only fish spa in Dubai with little fish nibbling over my feet. Like I kept wondering what the man would think if he were to see me with my legs dangling into warm water!)

So even before I leave for these meeting on common grounds, I get nervous anticipating the shoe show these days and playing it out in my mind already. I am getting obsessed with this kind of thinking now. And in spite of myself i feel a physical anxiety at the mere thought – when I realize this is how the man succeeds in his mission. And this is what he wants from me.Whenever I learn of the guest list where his name figures, I feel this tinge of sensation – something that courses through my body for not more than a minute and I know the man is very smart. Its more than 10 years, there is no let up. Not a single word between us – I was first deeply disturbed. Because the man was someone I highly revered, respected. I do not know what makes him do this. My guess is, there are men here who like my sad story from an young age. When I got married I remember people always used to go silent when I entered any venue. All gossip-mongers would rest their tongue for a while before wagging again behind my back. Its no ordinary thing an orphan girl could make so much meaning out of her life. Some whispered so I could hear, how I plucked an innocent guy (my husband) from a good family. Some were certain I had tricked my husband into marriage even though until the day of bride-seeing, I was not even aware of his existence (ours was an arranged union). But all this is limited to ladies, I must say. With men, every single perception changed. They did not happen to see me the way women did. I became an object of curiosity to many. In some way I found my life had come to excite them.

So it must be, I touched a chord in the senior man. It was also a humbling experience for me initially. An idol like figure who you hold in such a lofty  position thinking something totally different about you is something that stops you in your track. I did not know whether i should be happy or proud of the distinction or blame the man for the way he tried to make his way into my mind. The truth is, since I had for years nurtured immense respect for the man, i could not see him in any other light. I was wary of the shoe-sandal thing – i wanted to convey this to the man but was afraid of hurting him at the same time. I wanted to tell him I did not see him the way he saw me but I failed to muster enough courage and I lacked imagination to let him know of my mind. My silence must have encouraged the man I guess. Or it is possible he never bothered about what I thought. He merely wanted me to have a slice of his mind, and I got the point.

A few months back there was an event in which i met him again. One careful thing the man does is, NOT ever turning to my side or initiating any conversation. The shoe business is the only way he communicates with me. We all had to climb up a stage leaving our footwear behind. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the man pull off his shoes and place it carefully over my sandals. For a fraction of a second our eyes met that’s all when he raised his head to look at me. Not an expression in his face. Rather it was i who was blushing for no reason.

After over 12-13 years of playing games, in the stage i was surprised to see the man casually make his way to my end. It was a group photo of 40-50 people. Only I knew what the man was getting upto. He so sweetly made his way to my behind – just close enough. In all these years for the first time i felt his breath in my neck. So close yet maintaining the graceful distance – and merging with the group. When the photos came, I found we looked like a pair – like husband and wife standing close. Its done in such a subtle way – a marvel really. None could have got it – it was so discrete. Something tells me the man is daily looking at the pic now uploaded online.

If it does make the man happy, I am happy for him. He is still someone I revere a lot. But I don’t reciprocate his feelings. In a single sweeping statement, the man gave me his piece of mind over a decade back – so intelligently, so cleverly,  so refined and so nicely. It was never pushy, it never got beyond the shoes.

Both of us are married with children. First time the shoe incident happened I was in my 30s and he in his 40s. This is typically the Madras style adultery perhaps – even if one-sided. It is at times good to know someone, such an important and great person likes you, and he likes you in a very …. different way? I am human after all – this is good to my ego. I have come to relish his attention. But never do I encourage him any manner.

I have never given away the man’s secret – not even to my best friends. I value so much his privacy, his honour, his status. I may not be able to make him happy in this janam – but i am happy atleast i am able to give this much pleasure to a man of his standing. I respect the fact the man hasn’t dared anything beyond the shoe-sandal thing either. Its a great relief. I respect  him the most when he avoids me studiously in public setting – not choosing to talk to me or even looking me in the eye.

In the same photo-event, I saw him making his way to my son so casually. My boy hardly attends social gatherings. I think they spoke about his college, future ambition. I was careful not to quiz my son later. Before bidding goodbye the man squeezed my son’s shoulders and tousled his hair. In that one moment I saw all the love he has held for me over these years. I blinked for a second touched by the kindest gesture. A very tiny tear drop was starting to form like film in my eye. I saw the man leave with one long look to my side, very rare for him – nothing more. And then he was gone. He normally is extremely careful NOT to glance at me or have anything to do with me. I have not seen him in months since.

2 of us are lone role players in this shoe-sandal drama that is on stage for over a decade. We value so much each other’s privacy. The man has the satisfaction of letting me know what is in his mind – without letting the world know about it. For my part, I have kept the word. Our secret i thought would go to the grave with me – until I chose to share this here in my blog today. What is love, what is honour, what is respect – the man has taught me a quiet lesson. Sometimes I sincerely wish I could love him back. All I have to do is, put my sandals over his shoes for once. He would ask for nothing more.

So why did not ever I share the story with my girls. My legal friend and Kerala friend are my bosom buddies. And I have alteast half a dozen school friends scattered in the city – we are a great gang, we swap even bedroom stories. Been so since 1992-93-94 when one by one we started getting married. I share such a wavelength with my girls. Yet in all these years I never wanted to confide in anyone about the man’s shoes. More than me, I thought of him, his honour.

I can imagine my friends’ reaction just in case.They would dismiss it calling it ridiculous, make a mockery of the man and poke fun at me. But over years, I have come to look at the shoes-sandal as something so powerfully emotional. I don’t think it is cheap. My friends are sweet – but they aren’t in my spot. They will never see what I see – something so profound and deep. I cannot let my girls malign or demean something someone holds so dear to his heart. At the end of the day, I know I have someone who cares for me genuinely and loves me the most intimate way only a man can. I have this lifelong secret friend who will keep watch over me, tab over me, wherever he is, wherever i am. I have learned to count it as a gift. Sometimes I think because I was denied so much of love in a young age, God decided to send it all to me in bucketloads  at a later date.

I will not be able to talk to the shoe man ever – I cannot. Like a pearl lying deep in the shell in an ocean, this love or affection or whatever of the man will remain buried deep in my heart forever and ever. And to think I don’t even have the man’s number in my phone…. Our worlds are so close yet so apart…

Trust is a precious thing to keep. Someone’s privacy – especially a woman’s privacy and dignity – is a matter of respect and honour. I don’t want anyone extra to know about me than necessary – i have a loving family to think of. I am here online only for fun. And to share a bit of my mind with some like-minded.



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