Musings on the Hawaii Chappal

August 1, 2012

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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