Monday, July 29, 2013

Fifty Years Later

It was after a long time that I was visiting my sisters’ place. Both of my elder sisters are living in the same village called Hokkalike in the interior Malnad region of Karnataka. Though the village belongs to Koppa taluk in Chickmagalur district, it also lies close to Thirthahalli which falls in Shimoga district. The place is also situated very close to Kuppalli, a village from where the distinguished Kannada poet Kuvempu (Dr.K V Puttappa) hailed.

The Karnataka Government has built a museum here to preserve the memory of the famous poet. The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) runs a Rajahamsa luxury bus to Kuppalli as the place has become a travelers’ destination. I was traveling alone in this bus as my wife could not make the trip. This trip was indeed very special for me. As the bus moved out of the busy Majestic bus-stand my mind went back by 50 years.

Yes! Indeed fifty years it had been since I ventured out of my home in my village for the first time to stay with my sister to study for my class VI. It was in May 1959 that my eldest brother took me to my eldest sister’s house to admit me to the Middle School at a place called Basavani. The school had a very high reputation for its standards on account of a famous Head Master by name Varadachar. I was in very high spirits as I knew I could have all the comfort of life under the protection of my sister, who was very soft by nature. My brother-in-law was very well-to-do, quite unlike our family which was finding it difficult to make both ends meet. I was aware that I could lead a comfortable life without the hardships we had to face at my home.

I had to walk for three miles daily to reach my school at Basavani. That was no problem for me as it was very common to walk for long distances in those days. Eventually my second sister was also married off to a person in the same village. I had an eventful three years stay in my sisters’ place till I completed class VIII.
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It was about 6 am in the morning when the bus reached a place called Gadikal (means border-stone in Kannada as the place is on the border of Chickmagalur and Shimoga districts). My eldest sister’s house is situated about 3 kms from this place. I used to walk the distance comfortably in those days. Now buses are plying through the village. But I had narrowly missed the first bus. I thought of walking through the route for which I was accustomed so much. It used to pass through forest, paddy fields and hillocks, which were so familiar and which I used to enjoy so much. But I was told that the route was no more in use and was blocked as people preferred to travel by bus only. Eventually I hired an auto and reached my sister’s place within 15-20 minutes.

My brother-in-law is no more. My sister’s eldest son who was born while I was studying at the place is looking after the family. There are about twenty houses in the village as against about ten houses then. I found that the heads of all the families at the time of my schooling have passed away except one gentleman called Ramaiah. But he had gone totally deaf and there was absolutely no chance of me recollecting any events of those days with him. Surprisingly and fortunately all the better-halves of the family-heads were very much there except one person who was very close to me. Her name was Gopi, the wife of the younger brother of my brother-in-law. Gopi was a lovable, affectionate and dominating lady who died a year back and whom I miss so much.

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I had an intention to meet some of my classmates if they were still living in the same place. I had two of my favourite classmates staying in the nearby places who used to walk to the school with me. The first boy (then!) was Lakshminarayana and the other was Manjunath. Even though I had never visited their houses, I knew the locations. In the morning I went in search of Lakshminarayana in a place called Charanabylu. It was not difficult for me to locate the place. I took directions from the people on my way and reached his typical Malnad house in the midst of forest and arecanut gardens.

Lakshminarayana was a simple boy who was the eldest son of his reasonably rich parents. I liked him very much and enjoyed his company. But he was not good in studies. His father asked him to discontinue his studies and help him look after the lands. As a result I lost his company after one year. I never saw him again. As I knocked at the door of his house, my heart beat fast in anticipation of seeing him after almost 50 years! It could have been a like a movie visual. A 12-year young boy suddenly turning out to be a 60-year old man! I waited with bated breath. A senior lady came out with an understandable question mark on her face! I enquired about Lakshminarayana and told her that I was his classmate and had come to see him after 50 years!

It took sometime for her to understand what I was telling her. Once she understood, she asked me to sit down and have a cup of coffee. But there was disappointment in store for me as Lakshminarayana had gone to the paddy fields three miles away from the house and would return only by evening. Nevertheless she spoke to me freely in her typical Malnad-Kannada style. They have a daughter and a son both of whom were in Bangalore. While the daughter was married, the son was employed. The couple was finding it difficult to look after the lands without any support at this stage of their life. This is a typical situation in our Malnad these days. With their children moving away from the villages, the parents do not know what to do with their ancestral lands to which they are so much sentimentally attached.

I asked the lady about Manjunath, my other classmate. She knew him well as his sister had been married to her brother. His family had moved away after selling the lands. He had some business near Hosanagar. That was another disappointment for me. The lady asked me to come again to meet her husband. Actually she could not believe that a person could come in search of a classmate after 50 years!

As I was coming back to my sister’s house I was thinking whether I would be able to go back to meet my classmate on the next day. Actually I could not visualise an elderly lady as the wife of my classmate whom I could recollect only as a boy of 11-12 years age! But the picture would have been complete only after seeing him physically in his present day personality. Owing to other commitments, I could not get back to him again. As a result my dear classmate remains in my memory as an ever young boy of 11-12 years age!
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The next day I decided to visit Basavani to see my old school and find out whether any of my classmates were still there. Actually I wanted to walk the three-mile distance so that I could recollect the incidents associated with each of the places on the way. But I had to travel by bus for want of time. I got down at the entry point of the small town and started walking. Actually Basavani was a model village even in those days thanks to the enlightened local leaders. It had electricity, piped water supply, a post office, a rice mill, bus facility and a Govt. hospital.

I passed in front of a bungalow, which was so famous in those days. It belonged to an aristocratic family headed by a gentleman called Subba Bhat. The bungalow had a vast beautiful garden in front inviting the attention of the people traveling on the road. Subba Bhat owned a big chunk of agricultural land and the only rice mill in the locality. He sure was a big shot and the family had an enviable position in the town. His first son Chidambar was studying in class VIII when I joined the school.

I found the bungalow in a dilapidated condition and the garden in a state of mess. The old-world charm had simply disappeared. It appeared to be telling a story, which was not to my liking. I quickly moved past towards my memorable old school. I started imagining the presence of my beloved teachers there including the famous Varadachar! I also remembered the huge tank in front of the school, which supplied water to the town. My heart started beating fast as I approached the location. Yes! They were there - both the school building and the tank in front. While the tank was in an excellent condition (much better than those days), the school building carried the name board of a coffee shop!

There was a small house adjacent to the school building. I saw a gentleman doing some manual work in front of the house using a spade. He was a lame man and I suddenly recollected that Subba Bhat had a son called Gopal who had a problem with one of his legs. He was junior to me in school. I went and stood near him:
Me: Are you Gopal, the son of Subba Bhat?
Gentleman: Sure. But who are you and how do you know me?
Me: My name is Krishnamurthy. I was studying in the middle school here 50 years back!
Gopal: Oh! My God! You could recognize me after 50 years!
Me: What happened to your original famous house? Who is living there? Where is Chidambar, your eldest brother? Who owns the rice mill now?
Gopal: Chidambar is in Bangalore. We had a family partition and my brother Murali stays in our old bungalow. We sold the rice mill.
Me: Chidambar was my senior. Where is the middle school now? I am finding a coffee shop there! I had two of my classmates here – Sridhramurthy and Satyanarayana. I know Sridharamurthy is in Bangalore. What about Satyanarayana?
Gopal: The middle school has moved to a new building not far from here. Satyanarayana is very much here. He is the local postmaster. Today being a Sunday, you can meet him at his home.

I was very sentimentally attached to the school playground on the backside of the building at some distance. Gopal told me that it had been converted to a private land, but was still vacant. I thanked Gopal and quickly went in search of the playground. I could locate it. But it was completely fenced. I simply slipped inside the fenced area and could visualise my erstwhile playground in its original form! I sat there for sometime with my eyes closed to get back to the days when I used to play with my schoolmates there. Oh! I saw all of them coming back one by one! There was that sturdy Shankarappa followed by the tall and well-built Vasachari (the Kabaddi champion) and behind him was the slippery customer Thimmappa! Within no time there were the two teams and the game began in its earnest! I was fully into the game, when I suddenly woke up to find a dog barking loudly from a nearby house.
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I quickly got up and moved towards the Someshwara temple on the banks of River Tunga in the town. I knew Satyanarayana lived somewhere nearby the temple. I was right. A gentleman guided me to his house through a narrow road surrounded by trees. In front of the house I saw some men busy with some manual work. I asked them where was Satyanarayana. One of them got up and moved towards me. I could recognize him; he was the Satyanarayana I had last seen so many years back! I told him my name. He could recollect and recognized me immediately. He shouted my name in excitement! We shook hands and moved into the house as the excitement started abating.

Satyanarayana was heading a joint family. He was leading a contented life. His wife could not believe that one of her husband’s classmates was visiting him after nearly 50 years. Two of their sons were also at home at that time and expressed lot of warmth towards their father’s age-old friend and classmate. Both of us recollected our school days and the happy memories for more than an hour. It was then time for me to get back to the town to catch the bus for my sister’s place.

I reached the bus-stop and sat there recollecting my days in the town once again. A Rip Van Winkle syndrome started engulfing me.  The events of the three years I spent in the small town started flooding back in my memory…… Suddenly I heard something moving at the back of the bus-stop. I went there and saw a dilapidated well. I peeped inside. I saw a huge snake coming up from inside the well! As I moved back, it jumped out. Suddenly it raised its hood in full and looked at me. Did it recognize me? I do not know. But it appeared to be bidding farewell to me as it folded its hood and moved away fast! Suddenly I heard the sound of the horn of the bus. As I sat in the bus and moved away from the town my memories started fading away!
A V Krishnamurthy
26th October 2009

1 comment:

psvasan said...

As we grow old, the desire to revisit the past also grows. We cannot physically revert to our youth, but we can relish the memories - mostly sweet, some sour and some bitter.