Friday, March 21, 2014

The Story of Thimmappa - The Model (Village) Entrepreneur

I wish to write about another character from our village as a final tribute to our village legends. This gentleman’s name was Thimmappa. He was a close friend of my eldest brother, AVR.

Thimmappa was the eldest son of Venkappaiah of Hosalli about whom I have already written a separate article. Thimmappa was a physically handicapped person. He had problems in both of his legs. While he could do all his own routine work without any problems, he could not do any physical work normally one has to do in the village. I am not sure whether he had this handicap by birth or it was a result of polio disease.

I have often heard that if a person is handicapped in one organ, he will have his other organ/s function in a very superlative way. In the case of Thimmappa, the organ which was functioning superlatively was the best possible one - it was his brain!

As far as my memory goes, Thimmappa was already a young man in his late teens. He was a classmate of my eldest brother. It seems he was good at his studies; but in keeping with the times, his father thought that a lower secondary pass was more than sufficient. Thimmappa knew his limitations like any handicapped person. He had lost his mother in his young age and that definitely was another handicap for him. He was brought up by his adventurous father. But there was no way he could help his father in his agricultural activities. Indeed the life was tough for the Malnad farmers of those days. Only physically strong men like Venkappaiah were fit for the profession.

Once his education came to an end, Thimmappa decided that the only way he could come up in life was by entering the field of business. He knew he had the business acumen. He could decide whether a deal was profitable or not within no time. He was also capable of making it profitable by his own ingenuity. His father had the wherewithal to provide him the necessary capital. He waited for the right opportunity.

Thimmappa had another advantage - a most lovable personality. By nature he was very jovial and always would take things as they came. He was very friendly with everybody and would never talk non-sense. The main thing with him was - he never let his friends down. The best example was my own brother. Thimmappa wanted my brother to partner him in his business. He repeatedly requested my father to allow my brother to join him in his business. But my father never agreed. I am sure my bother’s life-journey could have been quite different if only he was permitted to join Thimmappa. But that never happened. Nevertheless, Thimmappa tried to help his friend in the best possible manner whenever he got an opportunity.

In our Malnad the farmers were always required to have some business acumen to survive. They had to sell their produce to private vendors, who would visit the villages with hard cash. A majority of them used to be Muslim traders, highly polished, but equally shrewd businessmen. As young boys we used to like these traders very much. They knew the art of pleasing children. They would hand over some peppermints or chocolates to us invariably on arrival at our house! This was a part of their marketing strategy. They would engage in tough bargaining with the elders. At the end of the business deal they would take out from their waist-belts the fresh, crispy and brand new currency notes! That was their trademark.

It seems Thimmappa picked up the business tactics from these professionals. I mean, only the positive ones! He started engaging himself in small business deals. Occasionally he took the produce from our villages to the Chikmagalur and other markets. I have seen him set up tent-shop near our village temple whenever there was any festival or during the visit of Yakshagana troupes. He was waiting for an opportunity to set up a regular shop; but was undecided on the place (location).

There is a place called Agalagandi on the Sringeri-Jayapura road. This place was dominated by our community people in those days. Under the Panchayath Chairmanship of a gentleman called Thimmappaiah, this village was recognized as a ‘model-village’ by the Government. The village gained sudden importance once the bridge across the river Tunga came up near Sringeri in the late fifties. The busses from Chickmagalur could now reach Sringeri by traveling a short distance via Agalagandi, without going through the round-about route via Koppa and Hariharapura. Naturally Agalagandi came to limelight and so were the business opportunities.

Thimmappa along with his younger brother Krishna Rao (the two were the sons of the deceased first wife of Venkappaiah) set up a shop in Agalagandi with the capital provided by his father. Bit by bit he built up his business in the village which was seeing progress. In those days also the tendency to make purchases against credit was very prevalent. Thimmappa knew the problems of recovery. But he did not want to displease his customers also. He came out with a novel idea. He displayed a prominent board in the shop. He would simply ask the credit seekers to read the board. It read: Credit only Tomorrow (Kada Naale)! When we heard about this innovative board, we were very much amused. We thought, “What an intelligent way of saying no?”

Thimmappa’s business picked up in due course and he constructed his own building for residence-cum-business. Now he needed a partner - not a business partner - but a life-partner. He set his eyes on a girl in our village. The girl’s family owned lot of lands; but it had turned barren as the girl’s father was incapable of managing the same. The family was in dire straits. Thimmappa’s proposal was originally not liked by the family in view of his handicap. Ultimately Thimmappa was able to convince the bride and the family.  The family had nothing to repent. The pair led a very successful married life.

As far as business was concerned, Thimmappa could have taught a lesson or two to the present day management Gurus. In those days there were very few provision stores which could be accessed by the villagers. Thimmappa wanted to meet each and every needs of a villager nearer home. For this purpose he had maintained a notebook in his shop. He would note down any item, of which the customer was in need, but was not available in the shop. He would ensure that the item was sourced from somewhere and made available at his shop next time. Thus over a period of time, he developed his shop as a supermarket and ensured that no customer went away for want of a particular item in the shop.

Thimmappa was, after all, basically an agriculturist. He did not want to give away that privilege in spite of his physical limitations. He purchased some agricultural land and developed a coffee estate. You may not believe this! But he developed the entire estate through his younger brother, who did all the physical supervision. Sitting at his shop, Thimmappa remotely controlled the estate and saw to it that it became a full pledged coffee plantation!

I remember many occasions when I and my brother (AVL) were deputed by our elder brother (AVR) to bring provisions on credit from Thimmappa’s shop. We had to walk for four miles. We were being sent there only as a last resort by our elder brother. In the normal course our brother did not want to take any obligations from his closest friend. But our financial position used to be so bad that there was no other way than to seek favour from friends. Brother would send us with a personal letter addressed to Thimmappa.

When we visited his shop for the first time, we looked at the prominent board in the shop. It read: Credit only Tomorrow (Kada Naale)! We were highly embarrassed to handover the letter to Thimmappa after reading the board. But he received us with all his humility. He ordered the boys to give us the provisions as per the list given by our brother. The message on the board was fortunately not made applicable to us! There were occasions when we carried some cash, though not commensurate with the list carried by us. Thimmappa would refuse to accept the same. He would push back the money to our packets. He carried this friendship with my brother till the very end.

While studying at the Sringeri College, I used to catch a bus to Sringeri on occasions, from Agalagandi, in front of Thimmappa’s shop. He would call me inside the shop and hand over a dozen notebooks for my usage. He would also push some cash in my pockets! He was always interested in giving support to education. Quite fittingly his daughter came up as a brilliant student and did her medical. I am told that she is having a flourishing practice along with her husband in Sagar town, near Shimoga.

Today both my brother and Thimmappa are no more. Their friendship remained unbroken till their death. Thimmappa left first and my brother followed. Thimmappa’s character serves as a great example for the present generation as to how to make virtue out of one’s handicap. He died as a successful businessman, a great husband, a great father and a true friend for all times. May his soul rest in peace!
(This story was written by me on 1st November 2008)

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