Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Story of Thippa (the Cowherd)

The death of Chowda created a void in the life of the villagers. Of course his successor was already in place in the shape of Thippa, his son. But the comparison was between chalk and cheese! For Thippa, the succession was not as a matter of right but as a matter of fate! Left to himself he would have loved to continue as a vagabond without any attachments. But he had the burden of a big family left behind by Chowda. While he cared little for the legacy of Chowda, he had no other alternative than to continue his profession for the survival of his family.

Thippa continued the profession from where his father had left it literally! What I mean here is that he followed the routine of gathering the animals in the morning meticulously, but evaded the responsibility in the evening! For the villagers the return of animals in the evening was more important. But slowly they had to reconcile to the reality in the form of Thippa! For all said and done, this job of cowherd was not only hereditary; it was also the monopoly of Chowda family!

There were several other responsibilities which only the Chowda family could undertake. While the removal and burial of dead animals was as a matter of routine (which of course nobody else could undertake), the death of humans called for his onerous services! He had to gather the firewood near the river bed for conducting the funeral of the deceased. His role was more important than even the Purohit’s, as without the firewood burning the body, the soul could not reach the heavens! In fact no amount of ‘Manthra Patanam’ would help unless the body was burnt with the help of firewood bed arranged by Thippa! It was simply his monopoly! It was even said that people on their deathbed would try to ensure the presence of Thippa in the village before breathing their last! While the Purohit would take care of sending the soul to the heavens, Thippa would assume the ownership for destruction of the body thereby facilitating the emancipation of the soul!

Thippa’s community had one great advantage. The marriage of widows was not barred in their community. Kundhi (wife of Chowda) took advantage of it and married a man called Subba. While Kundhi could rehabilitate herself by this marriage, for Thippa and other children it amounted to losing both father and mother by death and otherwise!  Since Thippa was unmarried, the responsibility of house keeping fell on the young shoulders of his sister Kadru.

I have already mentioned that Thippa was a good boy and had no bad habits even though he was not interested in his occupation. He had a good personality and always wanted to dress well even though he was also the enemy of a concept called ‘washing of clothes’! As per him this concept was quite unnecessary! He used to overcome this weakness by booking the dress used by boys of his age well in advance! Following the legacy of his father, he would replace one dress by the other.

Thippa suddenly developed a fascination for cinema. In those days there were no permanent theatres in any Malnad towns other than Thirthahalli which was far away from our place. There used to be camps of touring talkies at Jayapura, Koppa and Sringeri only in winter and summer seasons as these places were not accessible in rainy season. Also the tent covering tarpaulin could not withstand the heavy rains of Malnad. Initially Thippa used to visit only Jayapura talkies. But here they exhibited mostly Tamil films to cater to the coffee and tea-estate workers. So he shifted his destination to Sringeri. We used to wonder as to how he could manage to pay for the tickets. The mystery was solved by Thippa himself for us. Thippa had discovered that the tarpaulin enclosure for the tent had a few big holes in it to facilitate him to view the cinema standing outside! In other words, the hole in tarpaulin was in fact a major loophole in the touring talkies set up! Thippa was fully benefited by this loophole!

By the time this loophole was detected and plugged, Thippa had made inroads in to the hearts of the talkies-owner. His personality and friendly behavior attracted the owner. Thippa would supply him several forest produce including the flute made of bamboo. Slowly Thippa was allowed to stand inside the tent to watch the shows. Thippa could sing film songs and imitate the big actors by his dialogue delivery. He would bring us film song books which were sold in the theatres in those days. We would by-heart all songs and sing the same as cradle songs while cradling our young brothers.

As the number of Kannada films produced was very less, the tents were forced to exhibit Tamil films even in Sringeri. Slowly Thippa developed a fascination for them. He told us that unlike the sober Kannada films, the Tamil films were very powerful in dialogue, adventure and heroics! As per him the names of Kannada films themselves indicated how sober they were. He cited the examples of ‘Jaganmohini’,’Bhaktha Markandeya’, ‘Santa Sakhu Bai’, ‘School Master’ and ‘Vidhi Vilasa’ as proof. As against this, the Tamil films had names like ‘Veera Pandya Katta Bomman’, ‘Neela Malai Thirudan’, ‘Vanji Kottai Valiban’, ‘Kappa Lottiya Tamilan, etc. For us, young boys, in those days nothing was more attractive than reading, hearing and seeing the adventurous stories. We were quite convinced by Thippa’s views considering the awe inspiring names of Tamil films!

I, for one, immediately asked Thippa to teach me singing a Tamil song. He taught me a song which ran as:
“Ponaal Pogattum Poda!
Inda Bhuvi Lilayai Vandavar Yarada!
Ponaal Pogattum Poda!”
I started singing this loudly as a lullaby while cradling my young brother. To my surprise, my brother, instead of getting lulled into a deep sleep, appeared disturbed and in fact started crying! My elder sister came running and asked me to stop singing immediately for God’s sake! She had two questions for me:
 1. What was supposed to be the meaning of the song?
 2. Why was I shouting it when I was supposed to be singing?

I told her that I sincerely thought I was only singing it. As for its meaning, I told her that I had absolutely no clue! She told me that she had nothing against Tamil as such, but the cradle songs should not be harsh. They are supposed to be sober and melodious to the tender ears of the child.

I had to revert to Thippa as I did not want to give up Tamil singing so easily! On hearing my plight, he taught me another song which ran as:
“Ninnai Kande Nanada
Yennai Kande Ninada
Ullasam Pongu Inba Deepavali
(Kanneerum Kadahsulyam Deepavali)
Uringu Mugildum Honranga Kalandum
Uravadum Neramada”

“Kanna Thil Yenne Vennu Kadenagathada
Kanna Thil Vilayada Kalaye Nivada”
..So on and so forth
This song indeed worked for me as my young brother would go to deep sleep on hearing this from me. It was another matter that I had absolutely no clue about what it meant!

Thippa tried his hand in hunting of wild animals. There used to be several hunting parties for wild animals in our village those days. Thippa used to join these parties for hunting. But as luck would have it he could not proceed beyond hunting down Kurka and Barka! (The terminology used for petty animals).

Thippa married a girl called Devi and enjoyed his family life. Considering his disinterest in his hereditary occupation and his fascination for other ventures, we used to frequently ask him where he was headed ultimately. He was very firm in his goal setting. He used to say that all he wanted to was to end up as a gatekeeper in a cinema theatre! That way he could fulfill his desire to see all kinds of cinemas free!

At a particular stage in his life Thippa abdicated his hereditary occupation in favour of his younger brother Mariya. He simply left our village without disclosing his destination. However, we came to know later that he had indeed achieved his greatest ambition in life! He had been appointed as a gatekeeper in a permanent cinema theatre in a town in the district of Hassan! While none of his boyhood friends including me could achieve our ambitions in life, it was only Thippa who could achieve it! I neither know nor have ever tried to find out what happened to him in later years. Thippa’s personality remains for ever as a beloved childhood friend of mine. I wish him all the best wherever he is today.
A V Krishnamurthy
27th December 2007

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