Me and Payless, totally clueless!

Many years ago, when I was a teen-ager, I left Zambia and briefly attended high school in Madurai,2007_0816misc0005_3
India. During one class, I tried to study for an upcoming exam without the teacher seeing me. What did I do? I naively opened the textbook, set it on my shoes and looked down at it. But not for long. Someone stopped me. The teacher? No, the student next to me. He said I was disrespecting Saraswati and if I didn’t stop, he would report me to the teacher. Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music and the arts, and if I were smart, I would have prayed to her to help me pass the exam.

Books are treated with great respect in India, and shoes … well, they’re just dirty, not to be worn inside homes and temples. Shoes and books should be kept apart. If you dropped an Indian man from a second-floor balcony onto a pile of books, he will try his darndest to land on his head. If you asked him whether he has injured his head, he will say, "Oh, I’m not worried about that. I just hope I didn’t hurt the books."

It’s no wonder then that some Indian-Americans are a little perturbed about a Payless shoe ad in which a woman steps on four books, using them as a step ladder. The ad shows a close-up of the shoe atop the books. Viewers are supposed to think, "Nice shoes! I should go to Payless and get a pair." Instead, some of them are thinking, "Dirty shoes! I should go to Payless and wring their necks."

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. that is so true….
    Since laptops are now the new source of education, I have a Hindu friend who glares at me if i close my laptop with my foot…

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