While walking down one of Shillong’s winding roads, a show window of a shoe shop grabbed our attention. For in its window were boots with heels that looked about 2 feet high. Handmade, they looked slightly dusty and old, but were clearly works of art. “Who on earth could wear such tall boots?” I wondered aloud. “Try them on, madam,” said a voice behind me, “these boots have a platform of 43 cm with 51 cm heels, and hold the Guinness record for being the world’s tallest, commercially available boots!” That was when I noticed the certificate from Guinness displayed proudly on the wall inside. The boots must be crowd magnets, I commented as I found myself entering the shop almost in spite of myself. They were, replied James Syiemiong, their creator. “Not only do many clients come to me to see these boots, even the people of Shillong respect me for what I’ve achieved,” he said.
A closer look at the two boots showed that they’d been made with considerable skill. One was made of leather while the other, quite stylishly, was made of denim, complete with rivets and all. Although Syiemiong had made the boots in 2004 with an eye on the Guinness record, he said these boots were meant for walking. “Miss Shillong has worn them,” he said, “and they’re for sale!” He’d priced them at £725: “It’s exactly what the British-made boots that held the previous record cost,” he said, “and my boots have heels that are four inches higher!”
Why had he made these boots? I asked. “I just wanted to show the world the talent that the Northeast has,” Syiemiong said. “Also, they were a good way to differentiate myself from Shillong’s other shoemakers.” However, the shoemaker, who is currently working on a shoe for the disabled, has not received the support he expected from the state government. “I sent the government two proposals after I created the Guinness record. The first was to establish a footwear institute in Shillong,” he said. “The second was to set up a tannery in the state, given that as a beef-eating culture, we’ve no dearth of raw hide available. As of now, we send our raw hide to tanneries in Kolkata or Bangladesh, and buy back leather at high rates.” A tannery, he believed, would give a huge fillip to the Northeast’s shoe-making industry.
Sadly, the state government hasn’t even responded to his proposals, he said. “When my shop burnt down last year, no individual or institution helped me revive my business,” he said ruefully. This lack of support has meant that few of this creative shoemaker’s dreams have fructified. “I want to go to Italy to acquire further shoemaking skills, but the lack of funds has hindered me,” he said. Although Syiemiong is proud of his achievements, he rues: “Nobody has given me any recognition except Guinness World Records!”
Bizarre but true, Syiemiong holds another Guinness record, also created in 2004, for cracking (knuckling) 26 different bone joints of his body in just 56.1 seconds. Ouch. “I feel so happy that at least someone has recognised my talents. Few make it once into the Guinness Book of World Records - but I, a humble man from Shillong, have made it twice!” he said. It’s quite an achievement, though even the world’s best knuckle cracking probably won’t translate to business opportunities.