It was a day of sunshine amidst seasonal downpour in Mumbai, a few decades ago. I had a friend from Chidambaram whom I was taking around on a tour. Never had I missed taking any visitor from down south to my favourite temple at Matunga.
The day was a public holiday and the temple was packed. My initial thought was to stand at the entrance and be satisfied with a cursory distant pranam. But my friend did not like the idea of a virtual prayer facing the direction in which the idol was housed behind a mass of Matungites, who steadfastly refused to give even a thin slit through which one can get a momentary glimpse of the Almighty. So we decided to get a closer darshan.
Now we had to leave our footwear outside the temple—no mean feat as there was no arrangement for safekeeping. A large number of unattended inexpensive footwear, especially Hawai chappals, were strewn around the entrance. Though I would have preferred a safe deposit vault for my precious pair, we had no option but to leave our ambassador shoes in the elite company of hundreds of worn-out, monsoon-specific chappals of diverse descriptions. My friend, who had great, unshakeable faith in divinity, trusted the Omnipresent to take care of his property and did not hesitate to leave his shoes unattended.
I being a man of years of experience and intellect that others rarely acknowledge, advised him not to keep his shoes together, side by side, but to leave each one in a different location. He refused to heed my wisdom and left his pair of shoes, which had a prominent shine, together among the rest. I, however, left my shoes at locations separated by about 10 feet, hidden behind some flower pots. Then the both of us cleaved our way through the mass of humanity to reach the divine presence.
After a peaceful darshan and prayer, both of us returned to where we had left our shoes. I first made sure my friend found his shoes and then looked for my pair. To my utter dismay, shock and surprise, both the shoes had vanished without a trace. Obviously, an experienced shoe-lifter wanted to teach a lesson to anyone who tried to outwit him, and had his way.
The thief must have been watching me discreetly from somewhere in the vicinity with glee. I rushed to a nearby Bata shop to buy a new pair of Hawai chappals for this emergency. That was the day I decided not to own expensive shoes and rigidly followed the decision until, very recently, my doctor advised me to go for good, expensive shoes to protect my bursitis-affected ankle.