Bother These Boots

It all started in third grade, during english class. We were reading a story called “Bother These Boots”. The story itself was something about a guy who got a pair of boots he really liked, wore them, and couldn’t get them off, but that’s not the point...

The teacher had Supi, the kid sitting next to me, read the story out loud. Supi was usually a snobbish kid from the academic elite, but that day I guess he just wasn’t English-ing too good. The story followed the annoying pattern of most kid tales by repeating “Bother these boots” every five seconds. And each time he came upon the phrase, Supi would say “Brother these boots” instead. Initially, I thought he was joking. But then I realized nobody in the class was laughing, and the teacher didn’t care to correct him either. So I did what any fellow snob of decent upbringing would do — I loudly said “I think you mean BOTHER”.

Supi stopped his essay mid sentence. The class turned to look at me. The teacher looked at me. Supi glared, his glasses amplifying the laser beams that then got further amplified by mine. “It’s Brother”, he growled. “Bother. It’s B-O-T-H-E-R”, I spelt it out to further prove my point. “Bother”.

“B-O-T-H-E-R”, spelt Supi. “Brother”. The class was now visibly angry at my unnecessary outburst. The teacher, still silent, gently nodded towards Supi to continue.

Years later I’d still go back to that lesson to check if it was actually brother and only I’d misread it back then. No. I checked another copy as well, and it wasn’t a misprint just on my book either.

But that lesson taught me two rather inconsequential truths. First, I sucked at being a snob. And second, I fancied boots.

For roughly 14 years of my life, my primary choice of footwear was decided by my school. But the day I graduated high-school, I got myself a pair of boots. And I’ve had boots ever since. Now I’ve never had the opportunity to wear those fancy cowboy ones — but, as a rule, I’ve had shoes that at least come up over my ankles.

Roughly two years ago, I was walking down the road when I felt a sharp pain of stepping on a pebble. Obviously I was surprised, given that I’d walked out the door with my shoes on. Unfortunately I’d run the soles down so low that all that was left of my footwear was a frayed and rather depressed piece of lace. So I walked into the closest store and bought a pair of boots that caught my eye — apparently they were made by an Italian Designer.

I wonder why “Italian Designer” means anything, actually. Of course, a whole host of amazing fashion brands and designers come from Italy. But throwing that in as a brand statement is like saying someone is a “South India Coffee Maker” and hoping that means something. I love south indian coffee. And my friend Ashwin’s mom is a south indian, and an otherwise great human being. But the liquid she greets guests with under the guise of coffee deserves to be sealed in a lead container and buried in an unmarked location in the middle of the desert.

My designer shoes worked hard for every single day of the two years that I wore them. But to even suggest that they were anything of a looker would be a bit of an overstatement…

Superficially, they were justifiably disgusting because they were permanently covered in five inches of grime and dust. But deep down, on the days that I lovingly cleaned them up, brushed, polished and shined, they were still kind of disgusting.

Since the last pair eventually gave out, I’ve been in deep contemplation. What drives me to like these things that are neither functional, nor really good looking? What makes me instantly turn and focus towards things that probably got out of fashion the day early humans decided to drape leaves around their nether regions?

To others, this might seem trivial. But to me, the answer to these questions seemed to hold the truths to life and existence itself. I decided to dive into depths of emotion where no man has ever dared before. This was my Sangreal, my calling, and I was finally ready for it.

I downloaded this really cool app called Headspace that’s supposed help you tap into your inner self — physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, zoologically, philologically and astrologically. And immerse yourself in the present. Over the first seven minutes of listening to the voice in the app rudely break my concentration by asking me to concentrate, I became one with my inner soul and discovered the meaning of everything.

I realized why I like these boots. I realized denim on denim makes sense. I realized why the playlist on my phone is what it is, and why I still never listen to it anyway. I realized everything… I just have bad taste!

This time around though, I decided that if I was going to get an ugly pair of footwear that’s universally despised and lives for a shorter time frame than an average soap opera, I might as well cheap out on the price…

I’d just paid way more than I should have for my old pair which lasted me just under 2 years. Two years is long enough, you might say. You could breed multiple generations of fish, or get half way into becoming an engineer in that time…

Early one evening many years ago, a friend dropped by my house. He’d just got a few fish for his aquarium but hadn’t cleaned his tanks yet — so would I kindly hold on to the pisces overnight? Sure, I said, and took in what I could count as five colorful fishes of unknown parentage, two gold fish, and at least a hundred guppies, organized into about ten bottles.

Of course, he didn’t pick them up the next morning. Or that evening. Or the next morning. I went down to the store and got some fish food for my new buddies. Over the subsequent week, the colorful fishes died — one a day. First, I was overcome by guilt. By the fifth, I shook the bottle once to see if it cared to make any movement before I flushed it down the drain.

Then the gold fish died. Rather unceremoniously too. By the second month, I was just looking at the guppies, waiting for them to die so I could rid the bodies and stink. But that never happened. One guppy became two. Two became four. And soon I had seven billion guppies in every direction I turned.

One night I woke up to use the bathroom and flicked on the light. The guppy inside screamed at my rudeness and reminded me to leave the seat down as I left. It took me two years to rid myself of those horrid, smelly, super replicating life forms with no sense of personal space from my room.

But two years is still too low a time frame for any garment designed for guys, right? After all, your jeans have food stains from 10 years ago, and you still haven’t washed it, have you?

So there I was, in a hunt for shoes again. Or, more specifically, a fine pair of boots. And then I stumbled upon this beauty roughly two weeks ago…

Here’s where you can get this contraption. Not judging you mate, whatever floats your boat..

The pictures looked great. And, at less than Rs.500, what’s the worst that could happen? Plus, you can’t go wrong with boots, so I went ahead and ordered them.

The package came in about a week later, and I knew my worst fears were coming to life even before I opened it — because the box said “Lee Cooper”. Here was a pair of boots so cheap that the manufacturers had to go dumpster diving to salvage someone else’s box and pass on those savings to me…

When you order a pair of boots, you expect certain things. Like style and comfort and height and ankle support… You are Clint Eastwood in the Wild West. You imagine the fine cigar and gun holster that would go so sweet with your footwear, even when you walk the streets in your faded jeans and tee shirt…

Of course, you’d lower your expectations on this a bit more. Because, after all, it’s literally cheaper than a bagel and two good cups of coffee. What you want is just a decent pair of boots to cover your feet. Instead what you get is 500 rupees worth of regret and shame.

First, let’s go with the aesthetics of this horror of a footwear. It hasn’t got any. It’s designed like the ugly shoes your mom would get you in school as a punishment, because you filled the good one with sand everyday last year and threw it into the well. On a scale of design and aesthetics ranging from “Indica” to “BMW” this boot would be a rubber tire burning in your street end garbage bin.

Then, there’s material. There’s leather. There’s fabric. There’s cotton. There’s faux leather. Instead, they built this boot with melted scrap plastic, using a discarded mold someone found lying around. It’s got the shape and form factor of a weak water balloon. From the moment you wear it, to the moment you take it off, there’s this unmistakable feeling of having your feet firmly planted into the esophagus of an angry camel.

The manufacturers must have realized their folly once the first batch of this nightmare shot out of their production lines. Because they decided to then hastily stick a useless strap with a piece of a broken coat hanger dangling on the sides. This feature, I realized, has no apparent purpose. Clearly it serves no functional purpose. And, in terms of aesthetic purposes — it’s like putting a dollop of bird dropping on top of your favorite ice cream. Although the metaphor doesn’t really hold in this case, because then the ice cream would have to be a huge pile of bird dropping as well.

Other than this, if I have any hopes or desires for longevity, I clearly am not in a sane state of mind. Perhaps, you might think, that’s not too bad. Perhaps you’re thinking a good six months of hard work should make my investment worth its while…. Let me break this down for you — that piece of discarded plastic that this shoe is made of? They had an assistant run down to the local post office, grab some of that paste they use to stick stamps on envelopes, and use that to fix the shoe to the sole.

And then there’s the other design breakthrough by the genius designers — the eyelets (the holes through which you pass the lace). In my younger days I once went shopping in a not-so-upscale mall with a friend not quite known for his extravagance. I showed him a pair of shorts that I assumed were reasonably priced, but that only angered him. He dragged me to another end of the city, up a train station, down a sewer, through a narrow alleyway, and into a shop that was more three poles with a rag cloth thrown over it. He picked up a pair of shorts that looked a lot like the one I’d picked and authoritatively asked the shopkeep for the price — a number that was such a minuscule fraction that I considered redoing my entire wardrobe here. I tried on the shorts. The little metal ring that’s supposed to keep the elastic ends tied together ended up creating a nice 2 inch gash across my legs and thigh. I went back to decent stores with respectable elastic bands.

I’ve never thought of that particular pair of shorts much in the years since. Until when I laid my eyes on these awesome boots. I am now certain the designer bargain hunted the crappy shorts seller, collected the evil metal ring of death that cuts innocent thighs, and decided to punch them as eyelets.

Overall, my new pair of boots are perfect when you need a reason to vent your anger and frustration and hate. If you can imagine a material comfort to throw in your guilt and confessions and shame, these are it.

But a pair of boots that just serve their function? I’m going to have to go Italian Designer shopping again…

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