Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Story of Shyamaiah (The Bearded Man)

Often while reading the stories of Phantom, Batman and Mandrake I used to wonder whether I had a much better hero in my childhood days. Yes! It was true. This hero was for real and not the product of somebody’s wild imagination!

I first saw this great man in a real emergency situation. As usual in any Malnad village, our house was an isolated one. One day a Sadhu arrived at our house seeking alms. In those days it was a regular feature to receive such Sadhus at home. They will do some nice talk, bless us, collect some rice and arecanut and say goodbye.

But this Sadhu was looking very weird and menacing! Both my father and eldest brother were not at home at that time. We children were very much scared and apprehensive of some strange thing to happen! Knowing the helplessness of us, this Sadhu suddenly threatened our mother and asked her to handover all her jewellary! All of us started crying for help but there was nobody to respond.

All of a sudden, as if from nowhere, this great man arrived on the scene! He was having a long flowing beard and powerful shoulders! He carried a big stick with him which came in very handy in this situation! The Sadhu was beaten to pulp within no time! I would say that I never saw a more enduring and satisfying spectacle in my whole life!

All of us wanted to know more about this great man from our mother. We were told that this man was called Gaddada Shyamaiah on account of his highly distinguishing long and flowing beard! He would always move with his big stick in hand. Often it would serve as a weapon as in the present instance! He was a savior of many good people who were in distress and needed genuine help.

It seems Shyamaiah hailed from a rich family. Nobody really knew where he belonged to and who his parents were. He was a vagabond and traveler. He would arrive at any of our village houses suddenly; stay with us for a maximum of two days and proceed to an unknown destination! It seemed that he himself was not certain where his next sojourn was!

Shyamaiah was known more for his wonder medicines which could cure all sorts of mysterious diseases. You may not believe this; but his medicines would not only result in curing the sickness concerned but also would have some wonderful positive side effects! This was quite contrary to the present day medicines which always have some negative side effects. Believe it or not, many people from our village wanted to have some sickness or the other! The idea was to get ‘Shyamaiah-treatment’ and enjoy the resultant beneficial side-effects! More of it later.

Let me come to a real-life case straight away! There was a rich landlord in our village by name Keshavaiah. This Keshavaiah had the misfortune of losing his first three wives in a row on account of various diseases. He had a fourth wife who appeared to be stable! He had five children from her. But he was not prepared to take any risks! He decided to have a standby! He simply stole the wife of a poor man and kept her at his house as a reserve! He was sure that nobody would offer him his fifth wife if such a situation arose! The poor guy (husband of this kidnapped lady) could only visit the house once in a way to have a darshan (glimpse) of his own wife! Keshavaiah was kind enough to grant him that facility as a special case!

Here I should tell you something strange about our village society in those times. All the villagers were sportive enough to accept this kidnapping act of Keshavaiah as normal. They had absolutely no objections! Later, when I grew up, I asked one Chandraiah whether they were right in their act of this generosity. He simply told me that such acts only gave some kick to the otherwise dull and drab village life! He asked me a counter question. “Do you know the one single act in Ramayana but for which the whole story would have come a cropper?” I said I had no clue. He told me it was Ravana’s kidnapping of Sita. He explained to me that if Ravana had refused to play the ball (thinking that kidnapping another man’s wife was a sin) there would have been no Ramayana in the first place! Likewise, Keshavaiah’s one single act had generated so much gossip and rumour which could last for a generation and served as an unlisted agenda for discussion in the village meetings! I would say that I was simply flabbergasted!

Let me come back to my original story. I reiterate that the hero of my story is Shyamaiah and not Keshavaiah! One fine morning Keshavaiah found that he was not able to pass urine. One full day passed but his incapacity continued. The doctor at Koppa town was consulted but his medicines and treatment had absolutely no effect. Keshavaiah was undergoing miserable suffering. This situation continued for three days. His enemies started telling that so far he was only showing his miserliness in saving money; but now he had started saving urine also and was not prepared to shed even a drop of it!

Again the great Shyamaiah arrived on the scene as if from nowhere! Keshavaiah was doubly blessed! Shyamaiah had a medicine for all and sundry sicknesses; but was a specialist when it came to mysterious diseases! What is more, he would not charge even a single pie! As a result, Keshavaiah’s enemies were made to eat a humble pie!

Shyamaiah opened his medical Kit which he invariably carried during his never-ending travel programme. Usually within no time he would be able to prepare a mixture for the occasion from out of the ingredients he carried. But in this case he was missing something. He said he had to visit Basavana Betta (A small hillock in our village covered with dense forest) to collect some shrubs and roots. He had to go there alone as he was not supposed to reveal the identity of his ingredients! (The general belief was that the medicine will lose its power the moment the ingredients were revealed!)

After returning from the Basavana Betta, Shyamaiah was able to prepare the final medicine within no time. He made Keshavaiah drink one full cup of the mixture he had prepared. The whole village had assembled at the Keshavaiah-house to witness the effect of the miracle medicine from the, by now, legendary Shyamaiah. They were not made to wait for long. Lo! The miracle medicine yielded result within hardly an hour! Keshavaiah told his wife that he wanted to visit the toilet!

It is very hard on me to explain the excitement and celebrations that started the moment Keshavaiah’s request for visiting the toilet came. As per Chandraiah, Keshavaiah had to spend one full day in the toilet to release the accumulated urine! He even told me that Keshavaiah’s requirements of food for the day (coffee, snacks, etc.) were served to him in the toilet itself! He had the unfinished agenda even till late night! However, in this excitement nobody noticed that the hero of the occasion, Shyamaiah, had disappeared from the scene! He had left the place for his next unknown destination!

I have already told you about the lady in the waiting list of Keshavaiah. As the fourth wife showed no signs of departure and was fully stable, Keshavaiah unofficially declared the lady in the waiting as number - two. People used to say that Keshavaiah was able to maintain two wives even in his old age only because of the beneficial side-effects of Shyamaiah’s medicine! In other words, Shyamaiah was the original inventor of ‘Viagra’, even though the Pfizer Company may never admit this claim purely on account of royalty issue!

The last time I saw Shyamaiah was on another very critical and worrisome occasion in our family. My two younger brothers were caught with some strange fever. All types of treatment from our family doctor at Koppa yielded no effect. The fever continued for days with no visible improvement. While everybody started praying God, I somehow thought it more fruitful to pray for the arrival of the great Shyamaiah! There was no way we could contact him as his whereabouts were generally unknown.

You may never believe this! But believe me; I heard the sounds of footsteps of the great Shyamaiah even before I had completed the prayer for him! He had really arrived on the scene! Needless to say that it was a matter of only a few days before my brothers fully recovered from the strange sickness.

Today nobody in our village knows where and when exactly this great man’s journey ended. But his legend continues to spread by the word of mouth. I feel a sense of fulfillment in placing on record by putting in black and white his legendary medical powers. May his soul rest in peace! 

A V Krishnamurthy
27th May 2007

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