Thursday, March 6, 2014

Venkappaiah, the Greatest Storyteller

It is time for me to write about one great character and personality of our village, Venkappaiah of Hosalli. If one were to conduct a popular vote for the best entertaining character in our village, Venkappaiah would have won it hands down. In my opinion he was the greatest storyteller I have ever seen. He would present each incident in his life in such a fashion that the audience would be spellbound and will be on their toes to hear more. He had a never-ending treasure of stories in his basket which he would unravel to the great delight of the audience of all age group.

Venkappaiah had a 6+ feet tall giant of a personality and put his physical strength to full use in doing hard work from morning to night. He had migrated to our village from a place called Mooralli (three villages) where he was the Patel of the village. Even after shifting base, his village people did not allow him to relinquish his post. It was quite unusual for a man from a far away village to retain his post of patel in his earlier location. But that was the kind of reputation Venkappaiah had built up.

Venkappaiah had a large landholding of both arecanut plantation and paddy fields. He had taken the land on tenancy basis. But for all practical purpose, he was more than a landlord. His house in Hosalli was like a fortress. He had two sons from his first wife. The first son Thimmappa was a classmate and close friend of my eldest brother. After the death of his first wife, Venkappaiah had remarried and had children from her. His son from the second wife Srinivasa was in my age group.

Even the second marriage of Venkappaiah was a path-breaking event. He actually did a ‘seemollanghan’ in the process. What I mean here is that he had a cross-border marriage. The girl was from South Kanara district which was under the erstwhile Madras State at that time. In those times all the marriages used to be within the community without exception. Our community people were located only in Sringeri, Koppa, Kalasa, Thirthahalli and Hosanagara areas. In fact many of the brides used to be from the same village. The adage ‘variety is the spice of life’ did not hold good at all!

But Venkappaiah had the courage to break this tradition. There was another catch. It was the name of the bride. Our community owed strict allegiance to the Sringeri Mutt. The name of Sharadamba always carried great respect and reverence. The moment Venkappaiah told that the name of the bride was Sharada, everybody was quite happy. I wish to add here that both my mother and first sister-in-law also carried the same name. Years later I was also destined to follow the footsteps of Venkappaiah and married a girl from South Kanara. But then the times were different and indeed it had been accepted that variety was the spice of life!

Our village had a perfect community-living system in those days. Most of the work connected with agriculture and preparations for the rainy season were conducted through a system of sharing the labour. Each household had to fix a day in advance for the work to be done and inform all the other households. On the allotted day each household would depute one or two persons for the occasion. All the deputed persons would join the household and work for the full day to complete the job. They would be served food cooked specially for such events. The salient feature of this system was that even the richest person in the village would participate and do physical labour along with the poorest. The arrangement was reciprocal and commitments would be kept up invariably.

One main event held by each household annually was the covering of house top (roof) with the new arecanut leaves before the onset of the monsoon. Even though the houses of rich people were having tiled roofs, there would be some constructions like cowsheds covered by arecanut leaves. The work had to start early in the morning as it took a lot of time to remove the old leaves and laying the new ones. The placement of fresh leaves was an expert job known only to a few in the village. Our Venkappaiah was one such expert.

As young boys, we used to wait for the arrival of Venkappaiah anxiously. He used to wear a specially made leather chappal suited to him. As he used to walk long distances regularly the wear and tear used to be high.  We could make out his arrival from a good distance on hearing the sound of his chappals. We would shout at the top of our voice that Venkappaiah had arrived! The news would light up the spirits of one and all. It was always a familiar sight to see him arrive with two cans and two bags. One of the cans would be full of creamy milk and the other with fresh curds. One of the bags would be full with vegetables grown in his house-garden. He would hand over the cans and the vegetable-bag to us to be sent to the kitchen for that day’s use. He would sit down with the other bag and have a cup of coffee. The bag would contain old clothes to be used while doing the physical labour. He would change his clothes and move to the roof to start his job in the company of others.

Once on the roof, Venkappaiah would go full throttle on his job of covering the roof. Simultaneously he would start unfolding another event in his colourful and exciting past life. Suddenly all other conversations would come to an abrupt end. Everybody would keep their ears fully cleared to hear another incident from the never-ending treasure of Venkappaiah. Venkappaiah would work for the full day till sunset in the evening. In between he would have a lunch break; but he would continue with storytelling in view of the popular demand. As children we used to sit glued to our seats or move with Venkappaiah to hear every word of his narration.

It is a pity that none of the stories of Venkappaiah were recorded by anybody and they are permanently lost to the world. As they were real-life incidents narrated in great style by Venkappaiah, there is no chance of reconstructing them in any way. He had faced tough times, great challenges and had come out every time by his sheer courage and enterprising nature. He could see them in a light hearted way as recollections from his past. There used to be tragedies, comic situations, challenges, pathos, joyous moments and what not. Only a master like him would have the guts to face them and come out successful every time. I also feel guilty that I do not recollect a single story as narrated by him. In our anxiety to hear the next incident, we simply forgot the earlier ones! But that doesn’t prevent me from writing about him. I will use this occasion to record his greatness to the future generations to come. Nobody can stop me! So let me continue!

As already mentioned by me above, we had to reciprocate and attend the similar work at Venkappaiah’s house in Hosalli. My father used to return the favour always personally. But there was one occasion on which he could not; as an alternative he deputed my elder brother and me on his behalf. We were in the age group of 16-18 at that time and had picked up sufficient expertise in doing different manual jobs. We thought it was a good opportunity to show our mettle to an expert like Venkappaiah. We told Venkappaiah that father was not well and he thought it fit to depute two of us to compensate one Venkappaiah! He was not exactly pleased; but assigned specific job to us and asked us to proceed. He was a taskmaster when it came to work. But it would be an understatement if I say that we had it tough! We had presumed AVL+AVK=V (Venkappaiah); but it was actually like AVL+AVK=V/10. What I mean here is - output of two of us together was hardly equivalent to a tenth of Venkappaiah. The only justice we did was probably to the food served to us as lunch in the noon! We toiled hard till late in the evening and felt greatly relieved when the final task was accomplished!

In our villages it was customary to recite Sanskrit slokas during lunch time on occasions like marriages, Navarathri festival, etc. There used to be some sort of competition in reciting these slokas. The practice was popularly known as reciting ‘granthas’. The granthas would invariably end with “Hara Namah Parvathi Pathaye!” or “Jai Seetha Kantha Smaran”. The audience would respond loudly shouting,”Hara Hara Mahadeva” or “Jai Jai Ram”. It was an opportunity for people of all age group to exhibit their talents. Our Venkappaiah used to recite one peculiar sloka (?), which nobody could decipher! In fact nobody ever knew in which language it was! I am reproducing it below from my memory:

Gadi Tingi Nagavaan,
Gadi Tingi Nagavaan
Sarvangi Batthise,
Sarvangi Batthise
Girje Kote Sahukar,
Bahu Dina Samsar
Gadi Tingi Nagavaan!
Gadi Tingi Nagavaan!

In my opinion this was the mother of all granthas! Simply because of the way it was rendered by the great Venkappaiah and the secrecy behind its origin. Venkappaiah neither explained its meaning nor its origin. But people continued to enjoy it and Venkappaiah remained an enigma to our villagers.

I do not remember exactly when this great man’s story telling sessions came to an end. As I moved out of our village with my professional career, I could not keep a track. Today his sons have constructed new houses in Hosalli and the fortress like old house stands dismantled. With it the memories of Venkappaiah have also disappeared. But for many of us he would remain an evergreen hero, the master storyteller, the one and the only Venkappaiah of Hosalli. May his soul rest in peace!
A V Krishnamurthy
(This story was written by me in 2008)


n.srinivasan N SRINIVASAN said...


ashwini said...

Reading about remarkable people like Venkappaiah is always so entertaining...though I had read this before,I enjoyed reading the same again..