While revisiting my own blog after many months of inactivity, just to post the 8th year anniversary post, my eyes landed on my hiking boots featured on my landing page video.
This video was a short GoPro clip from one of my past travels and I was wearing my favorite boots ever. It has been with me during my mountaineering training, gone on a couple of Himalayan treks, protected me during the Nepal motorbike trip, and joined me to visit a few other countries. I kind of felt at home wearing these waterproof leather Quechua boots. This is the story of my beloved boots!
It was no wonder when I had to go on a 20+ days - one-of-a-kind pilgrim's journey through Tibet to visit Mt. Kailash, I chose these boots for the trip. Well, to be honest, it was my only hiking boots.
The journey started from Delhi and went through different parts of the lower Himalayas and finally entered Chinese Occupied Tibet through 18,000ft plus Dolma pass to get a glimpse of the Mt. Kailash.
This pilgrimage involved about 3 weeks of walking through various terrains of varying altitudes.
Certain areas were filled with snow, some other parts were full of mud and slush and the roads were not that pretty. But my boots protected me well from all such 'dirty' tricks played by the treacherous paths.
By the end of the third week, my boots had transformed into a mud cake. Well, not the kind you love. Though I wore it proudly just like a warrior wears his battle scars to tell a story.
The fact is, I never cared about dirty hiking boots. I always thought they are supposed to look dirty and expressed their purpose by being muddy.
But apparently, someone didn't share my views!
I was back in Delhi after the journey and sitting on a concrete bench at Connaught Place - dearly called as CP by the locals - sipping a thick milkshake at Keventers, enjoying the comforts of a city after my multi-week walk in the lap and through the head of various mountains.
That is when out of nowhere a shoeshine boy comes, along with his fellow mates and offers me to bring my boots back to their original glory!
He thinks my shoes are dirty and it needs to be cleaned. That quickly reminded me that, a big Indian city like Delhi comes not just with comforts, but also with sales pitches at every other corner which are mostly unsolicited ones.
If you haven't met the shoeshiners of CP, take it from me - they are the most persistent salespeople on this planet! Well, it might be slightly exaggerated, but only slightly! They are like Muhammed Ali in a ring, they would never give up!
I was tired from all the travelling. This guy was annoying and wouldn't give up.
The most important thing in his life at that moment was to clean my dirty boots.
In a moment of weakness, in an attempt to escape from saying 'no' multiple times, I thought to myself, "Heck, let him do whatever", and I gave him my boots to be cleaned while I continued to sip my milkshake.
He then touched my boots for the first time and that was when everything went downhill!
This guy just sold me a service that I wasn't even looking for, by being annoyingly persistent. It was like you ended up buying a product that you never wanted, from a spam email that made its way to your primary folder or a cookie-tracked social media ad that keeps following you wherever you go.
Almost every traveller who visits India would agree to the fact that Indian street vendors are way too pushy and never gives up. And the line between an annoying yet decent sales pitch and a full-blown scam blurs somewhere on the way.
First time international visitors are often warned by friends and even by their government and get nightmares thinking about going out in the streets on their first day in India.
But J. Krishnamurti once said this.
“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”― Jiddu Krishnamurti
Just like Jiddu Krishnamurti said, if you take a step backward and look at the situation that I was in, without any judgment what you would see is probably a hard-working industrious boy who tried to sell his services to earn his living [Side note: My evaluation of this scenario as a good one probably contradicts Mr.Jiddu. Well, I didn't claim to have the highest form of intelligence]
He probably is one of the best salesmen, especially provided the fact that he sold me something already which I was not planning on buying. (Or maybe I'm just not assertive enough to get rid of him)
For a very long time I truly believed that these sorts of scams and pushy street vendors were more of an Indian phenomenon! I didn't know better. I didn't travel much. I didn't experience other parts of the world.
But when I did, I soon realised all those places with a supply-demand inequality people did things differently. Whenever someone feels the feeling of lack as a group, they all try to fight for their survival.
To get an idea, let's go back to Delhi again and go to CP and get inside an underground market called Palika Bazaar. As soon as you take the stairs down to this underground maze, you will be welcomed into a world of series of shops next to each other just like matchboxes are stacked side by side in a big circle. And you will find many shops selling the same things as their very next shop sharing a common wall. Some of them would be selling shoes and belts, some the fake branded latest fashion, and some selling exact replicas of branded watches, electronics, CDs and so on.
So you can feel the rush a shop owner feels as soon as a prospect comes about 200 meters from his shop (Yes, almost all shop owners are male in this place)
He wants this prospect to come to his shop and not his neighbours. So he needs to get the attention of this potential customer before his neighbour can. And mind you, there are literally hundreds of shops and when you walk, you will find shops on both sides. And everyone wants your attention, especially if you're a tourist! So the moment you step inside, and in the sight of the first shop owner, pandemonium begins for you.
Excuse me sir, excuse me ma'am, siiiiirr, maaa'aaam, hellloooo, bhaaiiii, behennn..nice belt, nice shoes.. cheap and the best... whatever gets your attention, you will hear them all. And it never ends until you get out of the complex. But when you get out of the complex, a similar situation is outside too. You may come across a shoeshine like I did who is on a lookout for expensive-looking shoes.
So you gradually understand that the hard pitch, the persistent selling, it wasn't really a scam, it was just part of a survival mechanism.
When you travel through many Asian countries where human resource aka population is higher in supply and resources lesser, you would find many forms of these survival mechanisms. Does that only apply in the real world?
If you have ever been on a freelancer hiring website, you will see the digital counterparts of the shoeshine boys, especially in the areas with a lower barrier to entry.
Do you want a content writer for your website? Try posting your job and you will have hundreds of freelancers sending you proposals each one undercutting the price of the previous one and throwing in more and more add on benefits. 'The Developed country' freelancers almost hate the 'developing country' freelancers as they struggle to keep up with the pricing battle.
Due to the cost of living, freelancers from first-world countries can't really compete with equally competent third-world country freelancers. When you need at least 12 pounds if you're in the UK and 35 dollars if you're in Australia to get a basic haircut (if you're a man) while you can get the same in India for under 2 dollars, how can you write 2000 words for $10 or build a website for less than $100?! Your possible reaction when you see such scenario would be to hate talents from a whole region as you're unable to compete in pricing.
Then the natural question to explore would be to see if things are any different in the developed countries.
It sure is, for most parts at least, as long as the supply-demand equation remains more or less equal for most parts. Does that mean, if the equation changes, things would be different?
Here is my first-hand experience from the city of Paris, the city of fashion and sophistication.
People were waiting for the train to the Palace of Versailles. There are trains going every half an hour or so.
Everything was normal, everyone was behaving properly until the announcement came.
Due to some accident on the track or due to some other reason, the train was cancelled and the next train was coming after another half an hour or so.
One train was cancelled but the number of people to get onto the next train was accumulating. Now there were people for two trains waiting and there was only one train coming.
People started to show restlessness.
Even though I only know how to say thank you, bye and a few other words in French, I could understand that people were worried about getting a seat on the next train. It is at least 40 minutes journey and no one wants to stand the whole way.
As soon as the next announcement came telling that the next train is approaching, the entropy of the crowd increased. Most of them started to scram to get into the train. It almost felt like waiting for a Mumbai local train!
Well, the story didn't really end there.
As soon as the train reached Versailles-Château-Rive-Gauche station, people started to get out of the train and started either to run or walk like an Olympian speed walker towards the palace. Apparently, the queue to get into the palace can be longer than the train that we got there and no one wants to be at the longer end of that line.
These incidents got me thinking. Even this small change of plan - a train being cancelled and a long line- could cause this havoc at train stations in France, what you see on a daily basis in India is quite normal. It's just part of a certain survival mechanism. Isn't it?
A bunch of shoe shine boys actively finding opportunities to sell their normally unwanted service in crowded places can also be part of survival..right?
So the best salesman as part of his survival instinct sold me a service that I didn't really want. What happened next?
I was still sipping my milkshake while he carefully selected a colour from his arsenal that best matched the original colour of my boots. He really wanted to give my shoes a brand new look. That was where it all went wrong the first time.
He chose the wrong colour! And he polished my whole boots with that colour! Now it looked different and not the colour I bought, not the colour I loved and not the colour I wanted!
The second hit came later; when he finished polishing my boots into the wrong colour.
He demanded at least 6 times higher than a nominal charge!
When I protested his reason for the higher charge was very interesting. 'The leather of my boots were of super high quality.'
Yes, the same leather he repainted into a different colour, the same leather that protected me from snow, water, weather and more was now coming to bite me.
I never grasped his logic, but I understood that I got exploited. The lines between a hardworking man with a decent persistent pitch now blurred into a scam!!
But the real blow came later.
I really loved the original colour of my boots. I had a hope that the colour he applied would wear off if I washed it properly or try to rub it off.
You know what? I tried and tried later that evening and on a few other occasions, but surprisingly the colour never came off! I thought eventually that would come off but still no luck.
After that incident, I didn't get many chances to go on a hike. Then pandemic and lockdown happened. My boots were stored in a bag in some dark corner for a while.
When I got a chance to travel again and wear the boots again, it was too late.
The sole of the boots had become brittle and pieces of it were breaking down. During the semi-lockdown, I couldn't get anyone to repair the broken sole. So it kind of decayed into death by inactivity.
But interestingly - the soul of the boots - the leather remained intact - with that dark brown colour applied by the 'best salesman' in Delhi, just like he did a few years ago! It is still shining in that unwanted colour with a new yet misfitted sole by a street shoe cobler on a shoe rack among other discarded, less used footwears.