Totally Bata’d

With this one, while I am going off on a tangent from all my earlier yarns, the very roots of this story do go all the way back to my formative years.  Not subjective though, because I am fairly certain any Indian anywhere close to my age would have walked down the same road as me.

Probably from the very first time that I stepped out of my house properly attired and walking on my own two feet, I was likely wearing a pair of Bata baby shoes.  As I am sure were all of us growing up in those years.  When one talks of footgear, as with everything else available to an Indian, while we are now somewhat spoilt for choice, way back then it was only Bata.  A brand which in the present times would be prefixed with the term ‘iconic’

Nope!  I do not have any shares in Bata.  So should you be wondering at the reason for this ‘flag waving brand recall’, read on…..

Speaking from personal experience, this brand for me was a part of my growing up.Clipboard011  From the time I started becoming aware of the world around me, as a little kid way back in 1958 (I think) Bata was almost a part of our daily life and culture because in India we simply had no shoes we’d ever look at other than what was available in that store.  Amongst all the other nondescript shops which lined the Mall Road (our main street) in Simla, the Bata store stood out like a landmark.  Time having moved on and store fronts having changed and evolved, that store with its signage is still hanging in there.  It was from that very store that:

  • As a tyke I believe we were shod in some tiny colourful ‘booties’ printed with floral design.
  • Which, in a couple of years and all the way through the junior school, were replaced with the ‘naughty boy’ leather shoes.
  • On the games field in school, every single kid was turned out in in a pair of very basic Bata canvas shoes.
  • Come the monsoons and we’d step out of our dormitory in knee high Bata gum boots and have the simple pleasure of stepping off the path to instead walk in the steep drains on either side of the path leading up to the main school, having the time of our life with the flow of rain water coursing its way around the boots.
  • If I remember correctly, it was probably sometime in the mid 1960’s that Bata created something of a revolution by introducing a new improved brand of games shoes which they branded as the ‘Tennis shoes’.  I call it a revolution because as soon as one kid in the school got a pair every other kid wanted one.  And this regardless of the fact that the new breed was so much more expensive than the ordinary canvas shoes.
  • Bata was so prominent in our lives that back in the day there was a Hindi slogan, more like a ditty, one regularly heard on the street that “Sab theek hai – Ab to Bata ke dukan mein bhi atta milega”  (life is changing and becoming better because even in the Bata store one can buy atta {flour})
  • Clipboard01Stepping out into the real world in 1975 when I started working as a Tea planter, the only footwear which could handle the beating they received day in and day out, were the “Bata Hunters”.  Khaki canvas ankle length boots with thick rubber soles which would see us through a good six months before calling it a day.  After which it was back to the Bata store for a replacement pair.

It was probably in the mid 80s that other shoe brands came in to invade that monopoly.  Regardless of which even today anywhere one goes in India, one will always find at least a couple of Bata stores.  Till as recently as the mid 1990s, when I started travelling regularly to Sri Lanka where I would notice Bata stores in every small town, my belief was that Bata was an Indian brand till I had some misinformed person ‘correct’ me with the (mis)information that no, the brand was Canadian.

And then fast forward to 2018 when that (mis)information finally got corrected with wellClipboard01 grounded (literally) evidence.  It was when I made my first visit to the Czech Republic to meet and interact with a client who has, over the years become a close friend.  Oxalis, the Tea company I was to visit is located in Slusovice, an industrial town in the south of the Czech Republic close to the Austrian border.  Not finding any Airbnb listing in Slusovice I booked an apartment in the neighbouring town of Zlín.  Having arrived in my digs late in the evening, next morning on stepping out of the apartment I was somewhat surprised to see that I had spent the night in a house which appeared to be a clone of all the other houses I could see from my vantage point up on a hill.IMG20190814195522

Walking through a small park on my way down towards the town centre, a lone statue having caught my eye I walked across to get a better view.  What a thrill reading the name carved on the pedestal – Tomas Bata!  It was almost as though I had bumped into an ancestor of mine.  I mean here I was, standing next to a statue of a person who was a part of my life from the time when I was still peeing in my shorts.

That surprise ‘meeting’ led to me visiting Building # 21 which, back when my friend Tomas was hard at work to keep me and countless others well shod, was the Bata HQ.  A 16 storied building which, at the time of its construction was the second tallest building in Europe.

Clipboard03 (002)The beauty of that building is the elevator!  A huge capsule which is one side of the oblong building and which actually served as the office of Tomas.  Makes one wonder, here was this gentleman who was seeing us through our early days with a simple thing like shoes, but one with a vision who had planned so far ahead with that brilliant idea of an office in an elevator!

Depending on the department which this visionary wanted to be involved in on any particular day, the elevator would be moved up to that floor, the door being kept open through the day for anyone of the particular department to walk in to interact with the boss.

An elevator which STILL works and which I went up in for a joy ride.   What a guy!!!Clipboard02 (002)