I know I am sticking my neck out on this one, I could even be in a minority of one. I firmly believe that one of the most pleasurable tasks among the routine jobs a man does is polishing one’s shoes. I used to do it more frequently- daily even, during an earlier phase in my life- but it is now limited to a once-a-week affair, on Sundays. I take out my shoes from the footwear cabinet, arrange the paraphernalia like the can of the wax shoe polish- always Kiwi- and the shoe brush. And a wet piece of cloth in case the shoe soles are muddied. And then I sit down comfortably to restore my pair of shoes to its pristine status.
There is a certain technique to removing the lids of the wax shoe polish cans. Depending on the brand, you press the lid at the appropriate place; always the six-o’-clock position with Kiwi. For its rival brand, Cherry Blossom, it used to be the five-of-the-hour position. (I noticed recently that they have advanced this to 3-o’-clock.) There used to be a brand (Billy?) which had a butterfly-knob on the sides of the tin-can which the user twisted to dislodge the lid.)
You dab the brush onto the cake of wax and gently apply the polish on the shoe. You do it slowly, with deliberate long strokes. You take care not to miss the sole-edges, a blemished sole takes away from the charm of well-polished shoes. You do the operation on shoe left (or shoe right, depending on your habit) and leave it for some airing while you attend to the shoe right. You can sense each of the pair, as they await the next step, looking at you in gratitude now that the shoe uppers were soaking in the nourishing wax. They look black, but dulled, as if somnolent after a lavish meal. Which they have had moments ago, the application of wax has nourished the innards of the uppers. You take a while to admire your effort before you start the next step.
Vigorous brushing. Vigorous, vigorous brushing.
You pant as you stroke your shoes with light-and rapid- strokes. A dull black gives way to a polished, shiny surface. You burnish it some more. You use a length of cotton to buff the leather. The shoe encased in your bare foot as your hand movements go left-right, left-right, left-right. Aah, there it is, the finished product. You hold it close to your eyes. You can almost see your reflection on the shoe surface. This is IT!
I have spent a few years of my life selling shoe polish. I used to be a sales manager with a company selling the Kiwi brand of shoe polish (among other equally interesting products, more about the others, later!). I was based in Delhi managing the business in the north of India. Our brand had a miniscule market share, while our competitor, Cherry Blossom, had the lion’s share. We were fiercely proud of the superiority of our brand. I will not go into the technical details, but suffice it to say that the wax content in our polish was way higher than Cherry and hence our polish went deeper into the leather and was more “nutritious” for the shoe-leather. Some customers were not convinced as they expected the shine to emerge on the shoes the moment the polish was applied. (In the case of our brand, one had to wait a while for the wax to get absorbed on the shoe upper and then the buffing would produce the shine.) To these doubtful customers, I would even offer to polish their shoes for them to see the difference. The customers were embarrassed and would decline the offer. I would hope they were convinced by my passion and remained with my brand!
The superior wax-content had its own side-effects. The wax “cake” in the can would shrink sooner than its normal- and commonly expected- life due to the vagaries of climate. And that was a bad thing for the product. The customers would complain that the can would rattle. Like as they would say in the North: “Dabbi khadakti hai”. (the can rattles). They would all want to return their stock of these rattlers back to our company. We had no answer for this. Except in the territory of one of our star representatives. This guy was a cat! A CAT in upper case. Whenever he heard this complaint he would appear oh-so-despondent and would tell shop-keeper with a doleful face, “Sir-jee!! Ab kya bataoon! Our company is small as far as business concerned, but it is sooo large-hearted, otherwise. Our shoe polish was alright, but the vendor who supplied the can goofed up. He gave us cans larger than required. Sir-jee, you know our great company, right? We could not refuse the consignment and we packed our wax cakes into these over-sized cans. That precisely is the source of all the problems. Sorry, Sir-jee!”. The Sir-jee of course, was taken in by the story; perhaps his eyes were as misted as our star sales-reps’ and the situation was salvaged for our company.
Shoes are one of those rare things you wear close to your body for some 10-12 hours at a stretch. You don them in the mornings and it is only in the late evenings that you remove them. Shoes share the aches and pressures of life. They are with you when you trudge those extra miles. They are there with you when you walk into a difficult situation at work. When you sit on your chair, feet up on your desk, contemplating the day gone-by, shoes are what you see and you converse with. “Sole”-mates, are they not?
Shoes give that proper ending touch to your persona. Besides of course hiding all the warts they cover; the frayed sock, the overgrown toe-nail, the dry and scaly skin. They highlight your personality, in a manner of speaking.
In short, your shoes “underscore” you. And they make your presence felt!
I have tried to inculcate the spirit of polishing shoes into my children, but they fail to be enthused. They are dependent on the maid-servant to do the job. This she does, with unfailing regularity. She even offered a few times to polish mine and I always refused. She once muttered to my wife that seniors like me do not polish their own shoes. If she had mentioned this to me, I would have quoted this story, perhaps apocryphal, about the great American president, Abraham Lincoln. A staff member of the White House was alarmed when he saw Lincoln polishing his shoes, “Presidents do not polish their own shoes.” Lincoln retorted, “Then whose shoes do they polish?” That, I suppose, would have been the end of the matter and Mr. President would have been left in peace to keep polishing his shoes.