The First Pair Of Shoes

After playing out in the open the whole day, the children came home with bare feet covered in dust. All of them, except a little boy named Ramu, headed straight for the bathroom, where they washed and dried their feet.

Grandfather observed this and, turning to Ramu, he said, “Ramu, why don’t you go and wash your feet like the others?”

“He hates to wash his feet, grandfather!” cried the other children.

“What’s the use of washing my feet, grandfather?” said Ramu,” they will only get dirty again.”

Grandfather laughed at Ramu’s logic and said, “Ramu reminds me of the king in a story that I know.” The children heard this crowded around their grandfather and begged him to tell them his story.

Grandfather took a large pinch of snuff, made himself comfortable and began his tale thus.

Once upon a time, there lived a king who hated getting his feet dirty. After walking only a few yards, he would have his feet cleaned with a soft cloth or washed in rose water. He spent so much time doing this that he hardly had time for other affairs. This worried him a great deal.

Finally, one day he sent for his minister and said, “I want all the dust to be removed, from all the roads, in my kingdom. I will cut off your head with my sword if you cannot complete this task within a month.”

The minister turned white with fright. He hastened away and immediately summoned all the wise men in the kingdom and consulted them on how he could best carry out the king’s command. The wise men spent two whole days discussing the matter before they were able to come to any decision.

A hundred thousand sweepers were given a broom each and made to sweep the roads throughout the kingdom free of dust.

The sweepers began their task, but the clouds of dust that they raised darkened the sun and set everyone, including the king, sneezing. He sneezed so much that tears began to roll down his cheeks, and his nose became swollen and red.

The king sent for his minister and shouted, “What have you done, man? I asked you to rid the roads in my kingdom of dust, and now you have filled the air with them! I will have your head if you do not end this at once.”

Again the minister called the wise men together and sought their advice. They suggested that the roads be drenched with water and thus freed of dust.

A million hands drew water from all the wells in the kingdom, and every road was thoroughly washed. As a result, all the wells in the realm went dry, and there was no water left, even to drink.

The king realized that his minister had caused the drought. He was furious and sent for him. “Minister,” he cried, “it is my misfortune to have you for my minister! In solving one problem, you create several worse ones. I will give you one more day to rid the roads in my kingdom of dust without creating any other problems, and if you fail, your head will roll tomorrow at sunset.”

The minister was very frightened and upset. Once again, he summoned the wise men, and they suggested that all the roads in the kingdom should be covered with leather.

The minister went to the king with this suggestion, and the king was pleased and said, “Now you speak like a sensible man. Call all the cobblers in my kingdom together.”

All the cobblers from all over the kingdom came to the palace. The king had them ushered into his presence and said, “Cobblers of my kingdom, how long will it take to cover all the roads in my kingdom with leather?”

One of the oldest cobblers replied, “Your Majesty, it will not be an easy task. Many cattle will have to be slaughtered. If the cows are killed, there will be no milk for the babies, and the babies will die of starvation. If the bullocks are killed, no animals will plough the fields. If the fields are not ploughed, there will be no food for the people.”

The king frowned and glared at his minister for proposing such a proposal.

He was on the point of drawing his sword and cutting off the minister’s head when a young cobbler begged permission to say something.

“Your Majesty, instead of covering all the roads with leather, which will not only be very expensive but quite unnecessary, why don’t we cover the soles of your feet with leather? I will make you a pair of leather covers for your feet by tomorrow morning.”

The following day the cobbler arrived at the palace with the leather covers, which were the first pair of shoes to be made in the world, and put them on the king’s feet.

The king walked in them and was pleased because they fit him perfectly and kept his feet clean and free of dust.

He gave the young cobbler a very handsome reward for his cleverness and ingenuity. And he sent the minister home in disgrace.

“As for you, Ramu,” said grandfather, “if you do not like to wash your feet because they only get dirty again, why don’t you wear shoes like the king in my story did? And this applies to all of you, children. You should all wear shoes when you go out to play.”

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