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How to buy jootis

Kishore Singh | August 03, 2005

It's fancy footwear for most, so while they'll spend a great deal of time and energy trying out shoes, or sandals, or perhaps chappals, jootis are bought on a whim -- and just as easily discarded.

That's because they either come apart very fast, or pinch, or prove too uncomfortable to wear. Yet, for millions in Rajasthan and Gujarat and Haryana, and for some in Punjab (who are discarding them as they become increasingly posh), jootis constitute daily wear.

What is it they know that you and I don't?

Well, for starters, they don't buy their jootis from tacky souvenir shops on Janpath (in New Delhi). You can bet your last rupee that the Janpath jooti is primed to fall apart the moment you've managed to get it home.

South Extension in Delhi might be marginally better in terms of quality, but the leather is bound to be tough, the coarse stitching will hurt wherever it meets your toes and heels, and nails (sacrilege in a decent pair) will bite. This is particularly true for the flashy Patiala jootis.

Fabindia? That last resort for ethnic wear? Remember, jootis are meant to be snug and, as footsizes vary considerably, snug-fit Fabindia jootis tend to open and reveal awkward maws because the uppers are cut rather too close to the stitching.

Is it, therefore, impossible, to buy a decent pair? In the cities and off the streets -- yes. Unless you're willing to pay an arm and a leg for the kind fashion designers like JJ Valaya stock in their stores.

At any rate, these are the kind that are embellished with zari and pearls, meant to be part of trousseau wear, and not the kind of stuff you can carry off at a casual party without making an embarrassing statement.

So, if you find yourself in a touristy kind of place, avoid the regular, embroidered stuff that most tourists ooh and aah over. Ask to be led to the place where the locals go searching for their footwear. You won't find fancy jootis here, more their crude versions -- the kind farmers wear. Don't be put off, for this is the real thing.

The leather might be tough and unyielding, but carry off a couple of pairs -- rain and shine won't be able to do damage to them. A hardy pair is likely to last you for life, and will soften and fit even more snugly around your feet the more you wear it.

But if you're looking for the slightly more decorative jooti, in soft leather, embossed, embellished or embroidered, there are only two places you should bother with in this country.

The first is Ahmedabad, but the choices are rather more limited. Ahmedabad jootis fit well, but often don't have supports for the heel, so they're more carpet slippers than jootis. And their colours tend to fade over time.

The second is Jodhpur, where you must go even if especially to buy jootis. Made of the softest camel leather, they can be plain or wildly embroidered, can be rolled up into a tiny packet (indicating suppleness; but don't, please, store them like that), have pointed or broad fronted toes, and come in the widest variety you're likely to see. You can have a pair specially ordered to size (24 hours), but can pick pairs off shelves just as easily.

There's an entire lane of jooti makers where you can bargain madly; or you could opt to visit the Janata shoe store close to the railway station where the bargaining is less enthusiastic, but you're assured great variety and comfort for the feet.

If the jooti still pinches once you've got a pair home, just touch with a little oil (or cream or moisturiser) on the inside and leave overnight. It'll fit like a second skin the next morning.
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