I distinctly remember that day in the year 1954, when I was studying in my first Standard. My father had requested our school teacher Srikanta Jois to come over to our house for matching the horoscope of my eldest sister with another horoscope he had just received. Mr. Jois was well versed in this art as he had studied Sanskrit and Vedas at the Sringeri Mutt Pathashala. He visited us in the afternoon. As a boy I was curious to watch this horoscope matching exercise.
Mr. Jois collected both the horoscopes from my father. He took out his spectacles from the pocket of his trademark Gandhi shirt. He went through both the documents and made some arithmetical calculations. His face which looked serious initially started brightening up slowly. Finally there was a broad smile on his face. He announced to the joy of my parents that the horoscopes matched perfectly! So that was it. It was time for my eldest sister to depart from our home.
The marriage of my eldest sister Gowramma with Mahabalaiah of Hokkalike was held shortly thereafter at the Shri GopalaKrishna Temple in Agumbe, the Cherrapunji of South India. (The town was made world famous later by Shankar Nag as Malgudi in his TV serial Malgudi Days). Quite for some days, we found it difficult to accept that our beloved elder sister was no more a part of our home. We missed her too much. But we were equally happy to have her back on some occasions. All of us would gather around her to hear her experiences at her new home. She would narrate her interesting experiences in her big joint Hindu family. While my father or eldest brother would go to her place to bring her, my brother-in-law would personally visit us to take her back after some time.
On one such occasion it became my privilege to accompany my sister on her return journey with my brother-in-law. I was totally free at that time as our teacher Srikanta Jois had been transferred and there was no replacement for him for quite a long time. But the journey on foot was not easy. We first walked all the way for six miles to reach a place called Narve. Luckily, on the way from there to Hariharapura, we were picked up by a lorry, the owner of which was known to my brother-in-law. But from there we had to walk another three miles to reach Hokkalike after crossing the River Tunga.
My brother-in-law was the eldest male member of the family. His father Puttu Rao was a worried man when his wife gave birth to three daughters successively. He was very much upset on the arrival of the third daughter. He took his wife with him to the pilgrim town of Gokarna. The couple prayed to the Gokarneswara (Mahabala) fervently asking him to bestow a son to them the next time.
Indeed the prayer to Gokarneswara yielded the desired result. The couple was pleased to name the boy as Mahabala as he was gifted to them by the Gokarneswara. The couple had three more daughters and four sons who followed Mahabala. But the first son was very much special for them as he had arrived after a long wait.
It appears my brother-in-law had completed his primary education only. (Hokkalike had a Primary School that dated back to the beginning of the 20th century). He was not exposed to English language as the subject was included only from the fifth Standard. But he was good in arithmetic, had an excellent handwriting and a superior memory. He was well organised in his daily life, very systematic and meticulous in maintaining accounts. He developed a financial expertise in his young age by sheer hard work and through his own enterprising nature. As the first son of his father, he slowly took over the management of the family affairs.
Puttu Rao had only a small holding of arecanut gardens and paddy fields. The income was sufficient for the family initially. But as the strength of the family grew, so was the need for additional income. The expenditure on the marriage of elder daughters increased the financial burden on the family.
The concept of giving higher education to the children by sending them away from home was not prevalent in those days. Finding a job other than engaging in agriculture was unfashionable. Hence there was a need for having sufficient landholdings to meet the needs of the family comfortably. The family partition among the male members of the family was a routine affair in this part of Malnad once all the male members attained majority or were duly married.
It was under these circumstances that my brother-in-law took charge of the management of the family. He had a clear cut target right from the beginning. It was to acquire sufficient landholdings for the family. The ultimate aim was simple. By the time the need for family partition arose, there should be sufficient landholding for division among the male members. It was essential to ensure that each family was financially viable upon partition. The minimum landholding expected for such viability was – two acres each of arecanut plantation and paddy field.
In order to acquire additional lands it was necessary to build a corpus out of the surpluses generated from the annual income from lands. But with all the prudence in controlling the family expenditure to increase the surplus funds, my brother-in-law could build only a small corpus. He then thought of a new venture to generate additional funds. It was through money-lending. It was a risky venture. But being a shrewd person he dared to enter the field in his own way.
-------To be continued------
A V Krishnamurthy