I was getting late. I had to catch a bus at 8-30 which would take me to Hamirpur and then I would further walk 2.5 Kms to reach the college where I taught. And where were my sandals? I have always been very careless when it comes to managing my things and often spend time searching for them, but searching for my sandals was too much. I was particularly biased towards these pair of sandals as they were the black leather sturdy ones and I needed this pair only. I had to walk for about 1-5 kms through the meandering path studded with big slippery stones and only this pair had proved to be most effective for this daily running.
But where were they? I was really worried to think about them. Had somebody taken them? I came down to my Father-in-law’s room and found him sitting quietly bending over something. Now it would have been too much to ask him for the whereabouts of my sandals and more so as everyday he would be so critical of their condition.
I am not only very careless with my things but am careless about the condition they are in. And my sandals were in deplorable condition. I would run like a village goat over the dust ridden path everyday, in my hurry to catch the bus and would follow the same routine back home too. My sandals as well as my feet would be full of dust. In the evening, we had a custom to wash our feet in hot water and that would get my feet neat and clean but no such luck for my poor sandals. They would be covered in dust and the next day, once again, they would be put to same rigorous exercise.
Coming near to my father-in-law, I found that he was polishing something and a closer look made me shocked. There, in his hands, were my sandals, mocking at me, proudly shining with a new Cherry Blossom look. Forgetting about getting late, missing the bus or the college, I ran to him and cried loudly embracing my father-in-law.
That was the moment that the respect that one has for elders transformed to reverence.
And to think that how afraid I was of my father-in-law when I got engaged to my husband, looks like a fabricated dream. KS would tell me about how strict his father was a disciplinarian to the core. Working as a Deputy Superintendent Police had added further to the aura of authority that almost all fathers-in-law seem to carry in our culture. The sound of his voice, so clear and loud, made it authoritative. The stories and anecdotes how the village people would not pass through our courtyard when he would be sitting out during his yearly vacation, further made me afraid of him. But the real meeting was something that no one expected. I became his most favoured daughter-in-law, rather more of a daughter. I remember how he would share all his dreams, plans and even fears etc. with me. He would sit beside the earthen hearth (chullah) and keep the fire aglow while I cooked the food; something that he had never done. So much so that when KS had to share or ask something with his own father, I would be the mediator! My mother-in-law sometimes grumbled over the change that she had observed in his behaviour but he sincerely believed that daughters-in-law when come to another home need love more than anyone else.
Being an Army Personnel, shining footwear was one of his weaknesses and this was the reason he would tell me everyday to polish them. But as I was overtly occupied with many jobs and was also careless about the condition of my sandals, he took them away that day to polish them.
Though we were very close to each other and I respected him from the core of my heart for being the person he was but polishing one’s daughter-in-law’s shoes, is something unheard of in Indian culture!
I cried a lot as I was reminded of my own father who would polish our shoes every Sunday and we would line up our shoes in front of him. But a father-in-law doing this for me was something that made him closer to me from any other being. Tears rolled down my eyes and I kept on crying, “Why did you do it?” and the answer that came pat back, was “are you not my own daughter?”
It was the day that our relationship grew so strong and remained so till his demise. I don’t know why this episode came to my mind today. He taught me a great lesson that instead of demanding respect from others, try to earn it.