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Published in the 1-15 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

When heart meets the sole

Ahmed Ali Ismael’s hobby got him into the Guinness Book of World Records. He has a fascinating collection of about 3358 shoes in the show-window of Shoe-Bazar at Mumbai. Ismael Merchant has collected these items over three decades. The shoes are made of glass, ceramic, wood apart from conventional leather, etc.

Ahmad Ali Ismael with his collection

Ahmad Ali Ismael with his collection

Some of the details of his choice are—Dick Whitington boots, cowboy boots with spurs, the Old Woman’s Shoe House, slippers, clods, chakdis or padukas, ballerina shoes, shoals, Dutch sabots, Roman sandals, Victorian and Elizabethan royals, cigarette lighter shoes, ashtray shoes, high-boot vases, shoe-shaped ladies brooches and gents tie-pins, booty banks for money saving, old boots with a mouse running through a hole in the shoe-toe, chased by a cat who in turn is being chased by a dog, and even little table-lamp shoes.

Ismael Merchant, also known as Kumar Merchant developed this hobby while he was associated with ancestral shoe business. He started his hobby by purchasing mud toy of shoe at Jaipur in 1970. Since the time his family members relatives, friends, customers and strangers acquainted with his hobby present him shoes which look peculiar.

His hobby attracted him to move even at places like Chor Bazaar and narrow by-lanes of Italy, Paris, Germany and London. He says he haunted handicraft shops, befriended raddiwallas, rifled through the ferrywallas’ fares and shared his interest with shopkeepers.

He admits non of his little treasures are extravagant affairs. He says it is not like art collection where every piece is priced in thousands. The plastic erasers and sharpners he has picked up cost him as little as Rs 2 to 5 and even the silver pendant he chanced upon at the Oberoi Shopping Arcade, his tiniest item the size of a finger nail, came for only Rs. 15. The perfume bottles and vases, he says, are in the same range and even the porcelain statues and cut-glass items he has bought off the bargain counters for anything between Rs 600 to Rs 900 and they are the most expensive by far.

Merchant, now 63, wishes to set up a ‘Footwearium’ of these pieces for public in his life time. Though municipal authorities are not interested in setting up such a museum he hopes shoe companies will be interested in materializing his dream. Further, he has an offer for anyone interested in joining him in his purely public-interest project.


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