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My Anna Holds on to his Bata Sandals, Even as He Loses his Memory

Perhaps the reason my dad holds on to his sandals is because they remind him of a better time, writes Sangeeta.

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Can an old, tattered pair of Bata chappals be the gateway to my dad’s happiness? (Photo: The Quint)

Anna has a pair of Bata sandals that he guards as if they are two bars of solid gold. I don’t know how old they really are. All I remember is that Anna wore these sandals even before Amma died. That was over four years ago. Even then the sandals looked worn out. Now, they are just simply falling apart.

In the beginning of summer this year, I decided that Anna needed a new pair of sandals. More because I was embarrassed to see his feet ensconced in tattered sandals, than anything else.

So on one of our weekend expeditions, we took him to his favourite shoe store. Bata, of course! Here is how the conversation went.

Trying to Get Anna to Buy New Shoes

Me: Anna, we are here to look for new sandals for you. Do you see anything you like?

Anna (looking down at his feet, safely resting on the pedals of his wheelchair, covered by tattered leather Bata sandals): I already have sandals.

Anna in his wheelchair, wearing his favourite sandals. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
Anna in his wheelchair, wearing his favourite sandals. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)

Me: Anna, they are old. You need a new pair.

Anna: I hardly walk. These sandals are fine for the amount of walking I do.

Me (being as encouraging as I can): Anna, just look around. Maybe there is something here you will like.

Anna does not move his eyes even a nanometer. So then, I start picking up sandals and pushing them into his hands or just dropping them in his lap.

Me (being sneaky, leveraging Anna’s leather technology background, to get him interested): Anna, is this good leather?

Anna succumbs to the lure of leather and starts to examine the sandals in his hand. And of course, I am told about the quality of the leather, whether the cow/calf was healthy or not, the dyeing process, how the leather was treated, etc. Comments that I have heard a hundred times before. Comments that are comfortable to hear, because, I have heard them a hundred times before.

Slowly and surely, over the next 30 minutes, we find a pair of sandals he finds comfortable. Before he can see the price, and ignoring all requests to know the price, I buy the sandals for him. If I thought that was a victory, I was mistaken.

Me: Anna, would you like to wear your new sandals? We can leave the old sandals here for the store to throw.

Anna: No! Let’s take them back. I can still use these sandals.

Me: Anna, these sandals are old. You now have a new pair. Lets throw the old pair away.

Anna: I can still wear the sandals. (Then comes the whammy) – Just because they are old, does not mean you throw them away!

Little did I know then that it was the beginning of what I now call “The Sandal Skirmishes”. Skirmish 1 was won by Anna.

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The Sandal Skirmishes Between Anna and Me

The much-contested pair of sandals. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
The much-contested pair of sandals. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)

Over the next few months I have tried to get rid of the old sandals and have lost each skirmish.

Skirmish 2:

Me: Anna, let’s throw away your old sandals. They are so tattered, you will get blisters if you wear them.

Anna: You get blisters from new sandals and not old ones, Sangeeta.

Skirmish 3:

Me: Anna, the new sandals are comfortable, right? Lets give away your old sandals to someone poor who can use them.

Anna: You said they are too old and tattered for me to wear. How can you give them away for a poor man to wear?

Skirmish 4:

Me: Anna, don’t you agree your new sandals look nice? Is it time to throw or give away your old sandals?

Anna: Let’s wait a little. Till then, can you find my other pair of glasses? When you do, I’ll think about throwing away the old sandals.

With each skirmish he wins, his grin becomes wider.

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Are His Sandals the Beacons of Memory?

My dad continues to show his loyalty to his old pair of Bata’s. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)
My dad continues to show his loyalty to his old pair of Bata’s. (Photo Courtesy: Sangeeta Murthi Sahgal)

He has not worn the old sandals since the day he got his new sandals. The old sandals are kept safely under his bed. He asks to see them every now and then. For a man who often forgets the day of the week, or date, or what he had for breakfast/lunch, or whether it is morning or evening, or which city he is in, he sure remembers his leather Bata sandals!

Perhaps, he and the sandals are linked by memories of years gone by.

Perhaps, it reminds him of a time when life was sickness free.

Perhaps it reminds him of visiting relatives, or walking in markets, or going to weddings /munjis (thread ceremonies)/house-warming poojas with my mother.

Perhaps it is a reminder of days when there was never enough money to buy all the new things we wanted.

Whatever it is, this pair of frayed, battered and tattered Bata sandals, which were the pride and joy of my father’s feet, are still loved and cherished, even though they are no longer worn.

The Sandal Skirmishes have been won, fairly and squarely, by Anna!

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(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)

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