Musings on the Hawaii Chappal

The other day, during an utterly mindless and aimless browsing of the internet, I came across a four- year old news story. Bata announcing the sale of its brand “Hawaii” to a Brazilian company. Bata may be a Multinational (it is Canadian) but to Indians of my age group at least, Bata is (was?) very much Indian. Thanks to their excellent distribution network across smaller towns and those  very “modern” (for that era) Bata showrooms. These were the stores where black leather shoes were purchased at the beginning of the school academic year. They were expensive of course, all of Rs 35 (Rs 34.95 actually in true Bata pricing tradition; a “sub-nearest-rupee” pricing was long called Bata pricing) in the early seventies of last century. But what the hell, their shoes were widely reputed to be sturdy and resilient- up to a point at least-to the sturdy kicks we gave to the roadside gravel as we walked home in the evening from school. Parents knew their money was well-spent on a pair of Bata shoes. Money could be saved elsewhere like bargaining for the lowest rate for socks, vests etc. at the local hosiery store.

Anyway, coming back to the Hawaii which is the theme of this piece, the news of Bata selling off this “family heirloom” as it were was a bit of a shock to me. Hawaii chappals, those rubber slippers called “flip-flops” elsewhere in the English-speaking world were a part of growing-up those days. Kids in a middle class family ran around bare feet. With growing family affluence you were bought a pair of Hawaii chappals. Just like the relative affluence of a family moving to a toothbrush (from a neem twig). Or from the cooking pot to a pressure cooker. The surahi to refrigerator change was further up the socio-economic scale. If you do not understand what I mean you may not want to continue reading further.

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For those who still continue to read, and who may not have seen a Hawaii pair, let me describe them  to you. This footwear was nearly always white in colour with blue straps. I do not remember wearing anything but the blue and white combo. The white would get eroded over months of use and the underlying blue layering was exposed. That was still ok till even the blue wore off and all what you could see was the soil underneath. That was the time to replace the chappals. Occasionally the blue strap would give way. This was easily corrected depending on the location of damage. An errant strap-end which came out of the base could be refitted through some diligent coaxing with a blunt pencil or if broken at the joint where the two branches of the strap met (at the toe-hold) could be stitched up by the neighbourhood cobbler. It was utterly cool to show up with repaired chappals. And just in case the broken straps were beyond repair, you could have them replaced by new straps. The foot-wear seller would use an intricately-shaped tool which he would lubricate with some waxy substance to get the three ends of the new strap into each slipper. You could sometimes be in a situation where you were wearing a pair of chappals with the white base frayed and with spanking new blue straps.

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Hawaii chappals were the most comfortable footwear in the world. Ask me, I wore them for all my five years of my engineering classes. Except for the workshops where we were sternly warned to wear laced shoes, lest we hurt our toes.

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I have been travelling on work for the last 25 years. Initially, as a rookie, I stayed in lodges and cheap hotels and it was necessary to carry my Hawaii chappals while travelling. Always neatly wrapped in a sheet of the previous day’s newspaper and tucked inside a corner of my suitcase. When packing my bags home from hotels which did not provide the morning newspaper I would have to find some other means of wrapping them up neatly!

Over time, the hotels became fancier and they offered “carpet slippers” in a variety of designs and materials. But I continued- and I still do- carry my own chappals where I travel. It just makes you feel at home, does it not? You are no more in a different city,  you have carried the distinctively comfortable footwear along with you- your regular chappals.

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I still wear rubber slippers, but alas not Hawaii anymore. The wannabe Hawaiis come in a myriad of colours and materials. But what the hell, they are still reasonably comfortable!

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The pic above is stolen from the internet, I do not possess the blue and white Hawaiis anymore. Alas!

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17 Responses to Musings on the Hawaii Chappal

  1. Seema says:

    Should I go to Bata in Vignan Nagar and get a pic??? :))))

  2. santoshojha says:

    You must when you do find Hawaii branded chappals.

  3. Sachin Sable says:

    Sir, tooo good..
    I have a picture of mine in an unironed Police Dress with Cap when i was 4;my mother had taken me to the famous Metro Photo Studio in my home town to take the Pic…The USP of the pic is that I am wearing Haawai Chappal ….it is still my prized possesion….

  4. santoshojha says:

    What a cute little story! You must post this pic on FB!

  5. ok, for the other people may/may not use these hawaii chappal, I must share another use of these chappals. beside the use santhosh bhaiya describe above, mere babu ji hawaaii ko mujhe ‘chapaliyaane’ ka kaam bhi kiya karte the :)

    • santoshojha says:

      Very useful application of chappals. Hearing this word “chapaliyana” after ages. Another useful application was swatting cockroaches and other domestic pests! :-)

  6. Sandeep Singh says:

    Ojha, I wore these chappals through my five years at IT. That was part of the official dress code which included jeans, kurta and a cloth book bag. Those were such unassuming days?! – Sandy

  7. Rajan Nigam says:

    Mesmerizing. I do recollect once Bata started a scheme of giving Snake & Ladder game free with Hawai Chappal and it was a big hit.

  8. Pankaj says:

    Scintillating stuff. And funny. Did you know that Bata has stopped selling the Hawai in metros? Instead of that they are now selling much pricier stuff.

  9. shirley says:

    Santosh……if my mother could read english, she would agree with everything you have said about the “hawaii” chappal. It was so difficult for me to get rid of the last pair she wore as she insisted that i get new straps and not new chappals. However, her devotion to Bata still stays as she has now graduated to “Sunshine”range of Bata.

  10. Murali says:

    Good article…

  11. Ravishankar says:

    Santhosh bhaiya, i have been reading your blogs with great interest. Thanks a ton for the memories. On Bata shoes, i remember there was a model named ‘naught boy’, which was very popular with school kids. And they were priced exactly the way you mentioned.

    Bhaiya, i can make out that you spent your growing up years in JSR. Which school did you go? Even i am staying Bangalore(Vignan Nagar) these days. Maybe we can catchup for some chit-chat if your are closeby.

    • santoshojha says:

      Indeed I am from Jamshedpur. I was born there and completed my 10th from Loyola, Jamshedpur. My parents still live in the city.

      I was in Bangalore till last year. I am now based in Hong Kong. So unfortunately I am not not able to meet you. Incidentally I stayed very close to Vignannagar!

  12. Ritesh says:

    Ah! The Hawaii chappal!What resonated the most with me was the eroding of the white part of the chappal. Reading those lines took me back in time. Buying new chappals till they were completely worn out was out of question, unless of course the bonus from Telco for Durga Puja was substantial. :-)

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