When I last mentioned the mists and mountains of Chakrata, I didn't tell the story I most wanted to tell.
Some fifty years ago, no one wore shoes, around here.
Partly, this could be because footwear of a certain kind has got cheaper (also less sturdy; besides, most people can only buy cheap plastic slippers, which are just NOT right for climbing hills or farming in).
The other reason is that now, everyone MUST have their own shoes. Even if they didn't want, or couldn't afford, shoes... they don't have an option.
Fifty years ago, they did have an option.
Fifty years ago, each village (let's say hamlet, as opposed to revenue village or panchayat) owned only one pair of shoes. It was, more or less, communal property. Just as land or cattle is sometimes shared by the whole tribe, one good leather pair of shoes was acquired.
Mind you, this was not necessarily a joint venture. Very likely, one person, who was slightly better off than the rest, would buy a pair of shoes. Nevertheless, the whole village would have access to it.
Nobody actually wore this pair. It used to be saved up for special occassions.
So, let's say you have this beautiful girl in the next hamlet and want to marry her. You'd borrow this pair of shoes and set out to meet her family.
Often, there would be only one good coat and one new umbrella, also shared by the hamlet.
On the way to the beloved's home, you would not wear these shoes. You would carry them in your hands - over misty cliffs, through streams and rain-dripping forests, you would be very careful with them.
Just outside the hamlet, you would put on the shoes and enter your beloved's home with due pomp and footwear-show. The would-be in-laws would be duly impressed. You'd be able to cut a dashing figure... a match would be possible.
On your way back, you'd take off the shoes, dust them, wipe them carefully and carry them back home. Ready, for the next person who needs to make an impression, or perhaps, for your own wedding.
Today, the system has vanished.
Every family might own a pair of cheap slippers. Few wear them. They'd need very sturdy, very expensive shoes, up here. And there's nobody to borrow from, on special occassions.
I don't know if this is significant, in any way. I don't know what it means for the economy. I don't even know if it's important to wear shoes in the hills. But I know that it makes me sad - this story. It makes me sad, that it is just a nostalgic story now.
And judging from the faces of the people who told me this story, I'd say it makes them sad too.