Shoe Shine Boy
Rakesh, a shoe repairer and shiner at roughly fifteen years of age, is from the Punjab region of India. He has been traveling place to place making a living for himself and his family for 6 years now. Not an expert at first, he used a black polish brush on a German man’s white shoe. Needless to say this customer was not pleased as his white shoes were ruined. Rakesh since then has perfected the art of shoe revitalization and is confident that he can “make like new, any shoe”.
This young boy’s family is currently living in Manali. There, both his mother and father sell glass products such as bowls, vases, cooking tools etc. There main market is tourism and is there for suffering as the global economy endures a recession. Rakesh is pleased to have three siblings, one brother and two sisters of which one is married with three children of her own. His other sister is very ill, he expressed while pointing to his head, but remains hopeful that one day he will make enough money to repair her head.
“I school one month…no learn anything” he declared. Rakesh attended school for no more the one month; there he felt his time wasted because he was not making money to support his family. Abruptly after leaving his less important education the child became a begger, but his mother was very unhappy and demanded that he work for his money. Learning English was vital for his capacity to earn a living, without a teacher this task proved challenging. He only new some words like hungry and food, but more interaction with tourists supplied a larger vocabulary and was soon speaking fairly fluent. Rakesh can speak English but can not read or write it. He told me a man from Canada attempted to teach him once, but became frustrated with his progress and gave up. The young man, although illiterate, is capable and desires to learn one day.
The little shoe shiner lives in roughly a 4’x 5’ room with two other individuals that seemed to be family but I think are just friends. Within the room there are blankets and other tattered fabrics covering a dirt floor, out of respect one must remove their shoes upon entry. All along the path to the small room are curious obstacles: crying children in corners, steps made of stone that seem more like a broken ship ladder, duffle bags filled and pilled five high, a hallway with a deteriorating floor waiting to collapse to the level below, and large buckets filled with feces waiting to be disposed of off site. The two story building contains no electricity or plumbing, all lighting at night is from candles and all water is brought in from an outside source. For this the three pay 2000 rupees for one month which currently is about 40 U. S. dollars.
Rakesh aspires to be a trekking and or tour guide. He says that “no one want shoe fix” there is more opportunity for guides. At some point he guided a British lady and her group and was compensated with 5000 rupees. This is obviously more lucrative than fixing and polishing shoes at 100 rupees a pair, so in this part of the world being a guide is like being a doctor.
Written by Ralph Loielo