The concept of joint Hindu Family (HUF) is dead and gone. Goodbye to the good old days. Nowadays the families are just unable to live under a single roof. None of us are prepared to make sacrifices or compromises and respect the elders in the family – the true elements of success of the HUF. So much so that even the wife and husband are finding it difficult to live together! Thanks to the new age generation and liberalization - the concept of live-in relationship is gaining strength. The advantage is - you can wind it up anytime! No wonder – the Splitsvilla programme on MTV has become highly popular!
The above thinking was from my experiences of living in the city all these days. But how wrong I was! A visit to an interior village in Malnad about four months back, changed my perception totally and how! You may be surprised, but I am proud to say that the village is none other than the village where I was born!
I had an occasion to visit my village for distributing invitations for my second son’s marriage. My wife could not accompany me and I requested my two elder sisters to join me. The two are living in another village not far from my village. They were also interested and excited as they had no occasion to visit several houses in my village for quite a long time. It turned out to be a memorable visit indeed!
The first house to be visited by us was called Bhuvanakote. The house belonged to a gentleman called Venkappaiah who is no more. Venkappaiah was a big Zamindar and belonged to the biggest HUF of our village called Belavinakodige. His family had branched out from the main family and shifted to Bhuvanakote during my childhood days. But it continued to be a nuclear family with another two families in its hold. Venkappaiah, a soft-spoken man, managed the outside affairs, while his wife Lakshmamma (from Hebbige family), a venerable and affectionate lady, managed the home affairs. The family had a tradition – to keep a low-profile. None of its members would speak loudly or raise their voice under any circumstances!
We were expecting lot of changes in the family set up and tradition, consequent to the departure of Venkappaiah and Lakshmamma. But Oh! No! Absolutely nothing had changed. The only change was - the baton had passed on to Keshava (the eldest son) and his wife Lalitha from Venkappaiah and Lakshmamma respectively. It continues to be a nuclear family of three brothers at present with the fourth brother employed in Mysore. Keshava’s seven sisters are married and well settled. But they keep in regular touch with the family. Keshava’s two sons are also employed in Bangalore.
The family was busy in the early morning chores. Our visit turned out to be a surprise. But we were received with special warmth and affection in the traditional Malnad way. While Keshava spoke to me amidst his daily routine, his wife Lalitha spoke to my sisters. The familiarity with which Lalitha treated us indeed surprised me. I was perhaps visiting the family after a gap of over 20 years. But she spoke to me with such a familiarity that I really felt I had never left my village and continued to live there all these days! In my opinion Lakshmamma could not have chosen a better person to succeed her and continue the family traditions!
Our next destination was Belavinakodige from where this family had branched out. But we had a problem on hand. While the male members of the family were well known to us, we had not seen any of the ladies in the family as they were all young and the older ladies had passed away. Fortunately for us, Lalitha agreed to accompany us to introduce the ladies to us. She took her co-sister’s young son with her for company. On the way, Lalitha gave us good news. Yallappaiah, the eldest son of the family was back in the family along with his wife. He is almost in his eighties now and has no issues. This was one family reunion that gave us plenty of happiness. A re-merger of a branch of the family after a gap of over 40 years! Perhaps quite unbelievable; but still very much true! Let me recollect and record here whatever I know about this prestigious family:
The house of Belavinakodige is located at the bottom of a hillock and at the top of a valley of arecanut gardens stretching up to another landmark house in our village called Puradamane. My own Adekhandi house (since sold out and is only a memory for us now) is located midway between these two houses. Our village has a tradition of carrying different names for each household. The importance of Belavinakodige house is indicated by the fact that the same name is given to our entire village. There was a time when the entire arecanut valley was divided among three families of our village, with the major portion belonging to the Belavinakodige family. All others including our family were only tenants of the Belavinakodige family. This family also had agricultural lands in other parts of our village.
As per tradition, the head of this family invariably carried the name of Yallappaiah. For generations, the family carried the practice of naming the eldest son in the family with the said name and the origin of this name remains a mystery. Of course the name is no more in use in the fashionable world of today. My maternal great grandmother was the sister of Yallappaiah (grandfather of the current family head). He had three sons by the name of Ganeshaiah, Thimmappaiah and Venkappaiah (already referred above).
My mother used to tell us a story about Yallappaiah. It seems for some reasons Yallappaiah had to live alone in the large Belavinakodige house for quite some time. The family had a treasure of gold and diamond jewels that were in the excusive possession of Yallappaiah. It was even said that in addition to the other jewels, there was a large silver vessel, which was filled with gold rings to the brim. Yallappaiah knew the exact number of rings in the said vessel. He would make a physical verification often.
In those days robbery was said to be common and super rich families were the general target. Fearing the possibility of robbery of the family wealth, an arrangement had been made by the relatives to keep a group of State Reserve Police as security at the Belavinakodige house. The Royal Government of Mysore had obliged, keeping in view of the clout enjoyed by the family in the Malnad region of those days. The arrangement was expected to continue as long as Yallappaiah lived alone in the house. But on account of some mysterious reasons, the security was suddenly withdrawn after some time.
It seems a group of dacoits had already marked the house and was just waiting for the opportunity. They attacked the house on the very next day after the departure of the State Reserve Police. But Yallappaiah somehow got wind of the attack and bolted himself in the legendary and landmark house. The doors were made of hard wood and the gang really had a task on hand to break them down. Having failed in the task, the gang started digging up the base of the door fittings to remove the structure in its entirety. It had arrived with all the necessary equipments. The sound of digging up of the basement was so loud that it could be heard in the entire village. But none in the village dared to come to the rescue of Yallappaiah at the cost of their lives. The entire structure (door system) collapsed after some time.
The leader of the gang was perhaps known to Yallappaiah. Naturally he did not want to disclose his identity. The gang therefore planned to throw sand on the eyes of Yallappaiah before tying him up. The idea was not to harm him in any way and to hide the identity of the leader. But the leader of the gang developed some cold feet at the last moment. He felt that throwing the sand in the eyes of the elderly Yallappaiah was a cruelty!
But that did not prevent the gang from proceeding with its normal duties! The gang managed to overpower Yallappaiah and tied a cloth covering his both eyes. They tied up his hands also so that he could not remove the cloth. The gang leader appeared in front of him only thereafter. He snatched away the treasury keys from the waist belt of Yallappaiah. The entire family wealth in the form of gold, diamond and silver was looted without any mercy. The gang leader had noticed that Yallappaiah was wearing a waist belt made of pure gold (called Nevala in Kannada). It was too tempting to avoid stealing the same! It was snatched away mercilessly by cutting it off from the body! The gang ran away with the booty leaving behind Yallappaiah blindfolded and both the hands tied up firmly.
------- (To be continued)-------
A V Krishnamurthy
9th January 2011
9th January 2011