Saturday, August 06, 2005

Cobbler Cobbler, again

I always learn something new, whenever my sandals break.

This morning, when I visited the cobbler's corner (the corner-cobbler's...?), I took along my laptop-bag.

(It's an old second-hand laptop, help together at the joints with cellotape. The bag is in worse condition. When the zips completely failed me, I took the bag to the bag-repairman and he refused to fix it. The local tailor also refused. I turned to the cobbler as a last resort.)

The cobbler is a greying man who had, probably, never encountered a laptop bag before this. At first, he refused to touch it. When I just stood there, looking helpless, he finally took it from me and began examining the damaged zip.

He used something like pliers. He used a tiny hammer. Then, he picked up something that looked like a hard glob of greenish-grey wax. He rubbed it all over the zip. And guess what? The bag's usable again!

For his services, I asked the cobbler how much he wanted. He shrugged. He laughed. For mending my sandals, he demanded three rupees. But this?

He didn't think it was anything worth being paid for - rubbing a little wax, tweaking a zip with a pair of pliers... when I offered him ten rupees, his eyes grew round with surprise. He took it very sheepishly, with a bowed head, as if he had no right to it.

And I was reminded of other services - of the fancy coffee shops where it is inconceivable to leave a tip of less than a hundred rupees. Of the durbans (is is okay to call them that?) in fancy hotels who expect to be paid, just for holding a door open, and saying 'Welcome to the Radisson'.
Of doctors who will not even look at you, without extracting five hundred rupees, even if it is only to tell you that you cannot be cured

On the other hand, I look at the way the cobbler deals with his customers - if I bring black shoes, he uses black thread. Brown for red. He makes his stitches discreet, so that the patch-up job is not so obvious. And once he's done with it, the sandal is stronger than ever was - it lasts several months. He is polite. He works fast. His work is neat. And I pay him three rupees. If I pay more, he looks sheepishly guilty...

Then, I think of that precious thing - lihaaz.

I think of the years I spent in Bombay, especially at Mid-day. There was a pattern, and any city reporter will back me up on this - if I'm doing a story about the rich, I can pretty much forget about lihaaz...

In posh, or even upper-middle class colonies, no stranger is ever welcome (except, when one of them wants you to cover their 'charity' dos, their son's winning the first prize in a silly drawing competition, or help them fight their annual cooperative-society wars). You are never invited inside.

You are never offered a glass of water. You are never given any answers. Often, you are verbally abused. The only time I was almost beaten up during a story was by the relatives of some members of a family, who died under very suspicious circumstances (later, relatives were arrested for the murders).

If you do manage to coax/ threaten/ beg your way into a building, you are asked to stand outside, and speak through the outer security door.

Amongst the poor, even in desperate circumstances - a daughter is raped, a child commits suicide, a house has been demolished - you are invited to sit where they sit, eat what they eat, seen off when you say goodbye and spoken to politely. Nobody will let you leave without a cup of tea. Even when you cannot help them. Even if you are asking questions you have no right to ask.

I don't know why it is so. I don't know how it became this way. How did lihaaz become a prerogative of the less-than-privileged?


R. said...

The cobbler down the road seems familiar. I suspect most of us have met such a cobbler in our lives sometime.

Odd thought I agree but I believe its true.

R. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tanuj said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
anumita said...

Right said Annie! Often thought of the lihaaj bit myself.

banthehyphen said...

Brilliantly written, it's wonderful to find real writing on blogs, rather than the usual 'look, I bought a hamster!' kind of blog that litters the minefield of online literature.

Suhail said...

Not to forget, they also repair umbrellas. Oh, and the shoe-shine guys on rly stations. A boon to Bombay commuter always in a hurry. The lihaaj bit reminds me, of schooldays when we were supposed to visit door2door and collect money for blind person's association or some such thing which was an annual ritual. We always made it a point, not to visit those high-rise buildings..which have 'lifts' or watchmen, coz very few people there entertained us.

OT:since we are on jooti/sandal..a 'sadak-chaap' sher is due :

ek shaam kisii bazm meiN joote jo kho gaye,
ham ne kahaa bataiyye ghar kaise jaayeNge
kehne lage ke sher sunaate raho yuuN hii
ginate nahiN baneNge abhi itane aayeNge

(That was frm Sagar Khaiyyami, so no sandals in this direction please. I have one more, if you can hold on to yr jooti :p)

Suhail said...

oops! lihaaz, not lihaaj..

Tagad_Tale said...

For those who are Urdu challenged, can you translate lihaaz.

Anonymous said...

lihaaz (leHaaz ?) is very much like showing respect, as opposed to say, Tameez which would stand for manners, but sometimes I have seen these used interchangeably.

Quizman said...

tagad - here's Platts' on the word:

A liḥāz̤ (inf. n. of ; iii of `to look through half-shut eyes'), s.m. Attentive observation, attention, notice, look, glance, view; regard, consideration, respect, sense, deference; importance, weight; shame; respect, reference, relation, advertence: -- liḥāz̤ uṭhā-denā, To abandon shame, to become shameless: -- liḥāz̤ karnā (-ko, or -kā), To behold, look at, regard, notice, observe, consider, have regard to; to mind, heed, attend to; to pay respect to, to defer to; to be partial to, to favour; to refer to, to advert to: -- liḥāz̤ na karnā, To pay no attention (to), to disregard, to turn away (from); -- to lose all sense of shame, to be shameless or immodest: -- liḥāz̤wālā, adj. (f. -ī), Having a sense of shame; modest:-<-> ba-liḥāz̤, adv. In consideration (of, -ke), considering; in respect (of), with regard (to), with reference or advertence (to): -- be-liḥāz̤, adj. Inattentive, heedless; shameless; -- be-liḥāz̤ī, s.f. Heedlessness; shamelessness.

Quizman said...

Btw, nice post Annie.

samar said...

ji jute hon ya jindagi... jo silate hain ....jodate hain....unme ye lihaaz hona lazimi hai...
silana, jodana, jane kyun mujhe banaras ke pas ek gaon ki ek sham yad aa rahi hai jab pehli bar jari ka kam hote dekha tha.... banarasi sadi pe.. tutate,bikharate dhage phir jud jate se aur in sab ke bich lagatar hath pair dono se kam karata bunkar(ke insaan?)baten karata bhi... sunata bhi...
awatar singh'PASH' ne kaha tha
"pyar karana aur lad sakana
jine me iman le aana meri dost
jine ka ye hi ek salika hota hai
jina unhe kabhi nahi ayega
jindagi ne jinhe baniye bana diya hai"
abhi jod sakate hain shayad ke jina unhe bhi nahi ayega jindagi ki tez raftar me jolihaaz ke hizze aur mayane dono kho baithe hain.

Anonymous said...

wonderful post, as usual! my own experience has been while visiting villages or really poor homes on fieldwork - and I find myself being offered food and a hot - or cold - drink. I have visited homes in rural Tamilnadu where they have offered me Horlicks (yuck but Horlicks is very precious to them - reserved for the special guest or the old / ill in the family) - in sheer contrast, as you say, in the rich homes, one is lucky to get a glass of water.

about your cobbler have you noticed people haggle with them for the three rupees? I noticed people bargaining with rickshaw pullers in Jalandhar over five rupees... another angle to lizaah? or lack of?

Annie Zaidi said...

For all the wah-wahs, thank you.

Samar: koshish karenge, baniye na ban jaayein kabhi. ye apna ghar-sa hai; aate rehna :)

Tarun, thanks for removing that comment... I was at a loss for words, about what caused that outburst, and how I could possibly deal with it.

Neela said...


I think yours and Charu's fortunate experiences with the poor might stem from your role rather than any degree of virtue.

As a journalist and quali researcher, you give people something (a voice) without asking anything from them. For the middle class, what you offer is not worthwhile and the pain of intrusion outweighs the gain - hence the lack of lihaaz.

If your role was to extract work from people, I daresay you would have much more mixed experiences. I draw upon my own experience as sales manager. Some of my salesmen were ambitious, hardworking, honest and respectful. Others were thoroughly dishonest, incompetent and disrespectful. As I said, its not because I got a worse bunch than you, but simply because in my role, I was demanding something out of them, which led them to treat me much less nicely! If I were to extrapolate from this experience I would sharply contradict your generalization that the poor have more lihaaz.

Which leads me to my favourite underrated observation: poverty and virtue are orthogonal!


Tanuj said...


you are welcome.

i find it perplexing that so many desi bloggers should keep reinforcing the idea that the poor are always so virtuous, cheerful, well-behaved, wronged, and therefore all their offences must be pardoned; the rich/middle class always so apathetic, dishonest, bratty, etc.

i have interacted closely with many people, both rich and poor, and i find that the proportion of 'good' people (per my definition, of course) is about the same across. while i agree that we should be working hard to reduce disparity, i am very uncomfortable with this brand of black and white stereotyping because, in my opinion, it is not accurate.

there are shades of grey in all classes of people. there are some 'bad' poor people and some 'good' rich people, who never get written about. and i am not sure why. would you happen to know why?

as for why i removed my comment, i am not sure the world is ready for another 'kaafir' post :)


Anang said...

I don't think this post is specifically about all poor or all rich people. I thought it was more of an observation on the "vatavaran" and behavior you could find in certain people.
Ironic that people would haggle with an ordinary cobblers but they'll leave a 100 dollar tip cause they don't want to look cheap.
Here's a certain kind of lihaaz. I've seen my share of uncouth indian businessmen in america, but they would never dare to ask their secreataries for a glass of water.
Then again, you have to wonder why people like to live in these gated communities, and there are more than enough of them in america too. I hear they're making more of them for returning rich NRI's in Gurgaon.
My own home is surrounded by McMansions.

Dilip D'Souza said...


You say this: i find it perplexing that so many desi bloggers should keep reinforcing the idea that the poor are always so virtuous, cheerful, well-behaved, wronged ... the rich/middle class always so apathetic, dishonest, bratty.

Good point. May I supplement it by pointing to other ideas others reinforce: for example, see Raj Thackeray quotes here.

Tanuj said...


am i missing something here, or are you actually telling me that because thackeray has a narrow, stereotypical point of view, so must desi bloggers? to compensate, perhaps?

anyway, let me ask the question again: why do some desi bloggers stereotype so blatantly? why must the middle class ALWAYS be depicted as a bunch of philistines? why must the poor ALWAYS be virtuous? surely, this black and white view is not a reflection of reality.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Tanuj, I can't escape you! (Which may be a good thing, all things considered).

No, I am not saying that at all. I actually do agree with your point: the romantic view of slumdwellers is not just foolish, it doesn't serve much purpose, least of all for slumdwellers.

In the same way, the romantic view of the middle-class is also foolish.

The right view to take is yours: that there are good and bad people everywhere.

But also, there are desi bloggers and desi bloggers. Some are more realistic than romantic.

Tanuj said...

d, am in complete agreement. and am reassured.


jon said...

I am looking everywhere for journey shoes and journey shoes, while doing so I somehow stumbled onto your journey shoes blog. I am happy to say I learned something and will look into this further...

Thanks for the great posts...


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