The story of a humble cobbler and a pair of rude shoes

Once upon a time there was a cobbler… Oops!! This story just can not have a beginning like this. Though I concede that we live in an ever changing world but there are times when you suddenly find yourself in the midst of a plot. The situation becomes worse when you realize that you are one amongst many causing troubles to the protagonist.  But it seems that it is best to just tell this story with no presumptions.

It was yesterday when I was walking down the road to my office, I noticed that the lower sole of my Reebok shoes was coming out.  I fairly liked the design of these shoes- the look of being sporty and contemporary- with lower sole extending a little ahead in the front of the shoes- and happily paid Reebok a sum of more than Rs. 2000 some 15 months back. And now here I am with my shoes sounding “chap chap” with each forward step.

I decided to get my shoes repaired by a cobbler instead of throwing these in some dustbin so early in their life. Near my office under a tree sits a cobbler with his anvil and other tools,  wearing a white kurta- dhoti and a turban on his head. He seemed pretty archaic from his looks and fits no where in the concept of “ever changing times”.  Probably that might be the reason why I dared to start the story initially with a phrase like  “Once upon a time” but anyways the climax has yet to be told, so I better stay focused :).

The cobbler welcomed me as the first customer of the day. Both of us obviously did not know what we were getting into. I explained him the case with my Reebok shoes with few extra instructions from my side. He picked up my shoes and first tried to apply adhesive between the lower sole and the rubber cushioning but it didn’t work. He tried this again with a little more adhesive but the sole would not even come closer to the rubber cushioning. I could see his labor as he tried hard to press the two surfaces against each other while sitting in an awkward posture as for the Reebok shoes, they could not sit on his anvil. After a little while he decided to stitch the sole as an extra measure to keep it firmly supported on the rubber cushioning. He started with good faith in his idea only to discover a little later that the nature of the material used was too different and at the ends where he had to fasten a knot, he could not get his fingers inside the shoes close enough to do so. Somehow at last, he fastened the knot but I could clearly see that there was no finish.

There is of course a happy end to this story (often questionable though) too. I paid him what he asked for as his fees, Rs 20 (1 % of the original cost of the shoes) and left the place.

I was wondering whose story actually had a happy ending – a Cobbler’s one who is accustomed to be a part of a cyclic- self sustaining system or a Reebok’s one – companies which follow a highly linear process of production with no share for anyone in the system? In my mind, I carefully skipped the question of who is responsible as it risks involving myself as a consumer too.

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A mind full of ideas and a crowd full of support…

Not so long ago when it used to be a nightmare for Sridhar, a documentary filmmaker from Ahmedabad, to arrange funds for his projects. He had to personally visit and write to a number of institutions and individuals asking them for their support. In few fortunate instances when he had some financial support in the beginning, it was still difficult to sustain the same during all the stages – from ideation to completion- of a project. But now with this web initiative called ‘ReelChanges’, things are getting a lot better for him. He can inform a larger audience about his project details, ask for funds in parts during the production and once completed can even market his documentary films to a potential broadcaster. On the other hand, an audience i.e. a site user gets to learn about a topic he might be unaware of and can probably help a struggling filmmaker like Sridhar get his project completed by making a monetary contribution. With some filmmakers who have multiple projects in their online portfolios, the users will be able to help them out in the one they find the best. However visiting a site that hosts a quality bunch of documentaries on issues- ranging from arts, music, education, indigenous cultures to youth, politics, and environment- also qualifies as a sole motivation for many.

At a different site by the name ‘CNCnews’, citizens are busy posting questions to the government- demanding answers and reactions on issues of public interest. However as we can easily predict; most lawmakers and executives would like to cut corners in answering questions posted ‘online’. To curb this possibility, a group of journalists then follow these executives in the political corridors with the same questions. It is often the case with this web site that a single question gets endorsed by a number of citizens, making it ‘a must to answer’ for the concerned lawmaker. The cycle completes with journalists posting back these answers on the site for users to review.

These examples are currently few but one just needs to look around and notice the huge success of campaigns like the “Hard Rain” and “Jago re”. The former is a charity program to support globally a series of public exhibitions about climate change, poverty, the wasteful use of resources, population expansion, habitat destruction and species loss. However in both these campaigns, internet is being used to inform and gather local participation and support.

So who all should be counted in this new class of trend setters? Are these only the filmmakers, journalists or activists? Probably not! These are the common people- like you and me- enthusiasts from different fields- who have realized the true potential of this medium- not just merely as a tool to inform but more as a tool to attract and encourage public participation. They are establishing a parallel image of the internet- proactive and collaborative; other than a daily morphine dose of social networks, news, stock trading, pictures, video and porn. And it’s not the first time that they are trying to use technology ‘unconventionally’ to their advantage. Owning a website or a personal blog can’t be the only solution, especially in the times when the success of an entire idea depends on whether you make it to the first few results of a search engine or not. The future now lies in creating shared platforms- often non-profit – for people with different interests but possibly with similar ends to meet. It’s increasingly about lessening communication gaps amongst individuals while discovering opportunities to appreciate and support mutual efforts.