Monday, March 28, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 3

The Primary School of our village was located at a prestigious house called Puradamane.  This legendary house belonged to a great philanthropist called Shingappaiah who was a big Zamindar.  The school was located on the front side of this huge fortress like square-shaped bungalow.  This school had a great legacy. During the regime of two great teachers called Ramanna and Thimmappa, it had reached its pinnacle in its high education standards. The school had become so famous that the boys from distant villages used to stay with their relatives in our village to attend classes here.

The most prestigious name in this list of students was that of Dr.Talavane Srinivas. He was a classmate of our eldest brother AVR. He, along with his elder brother Manjappaiah, studied in this school. The two of them were staying in their aunt’s house called Naduvinamane, which was our neighbouring house. Dr. Srinivas went on to secure his doctorate from the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) New Delhi way back in the early sixties. He was the first person from our Hebbar community to achieve this distinction. Perhaps he was also the first person from our entire Malnad region.

My first teacher was Sri Srikanta Jois. I remember having attended the classes during his posting in our village school. But I don’t remember him having taught anything to me. Strangely, he was known more as a Purohit than as a teacher. He had married the granddaughter of a rich Landlord in our village. He used to stay with the said family. His elder brother was a well known Sanskrit scholar in Sringeri. Jois was an expert in matching horoscopes. I distinctly remember that he was responsible for matching the horoscopes of my eldest sister and my brother-in-law. It was a highly successful marriage and in fact theirs was one of the ideal pairs I have ever seen in my life! My mother gave full credit to Jois for this. I should say that more credit was given to Jois for his expertise in matching the horoscope than to the post-marriage adjustments made by my sister and brother-in–law!

As far as teaching was concerned, Jois gave it the last priority! He would attend the classes only if there was no religious function in any of our village houses on the given day! Jois ensured that regardless of his attending the school or marking the attendance of the students, his attendance was always marked promptly! This ensured his pay role in full! Our villagers had absolutely no objections for this! They were happier with completing their religious functions than in the education of their children! We students were so accustomed to his attending of religious functions than the school that we had composed a song for him. The tune was in tune with the English poem “pussycat cat, pussycat, where have you been”! It started with “Teacher, Teacher, where have you been” and ended with him saying “I had been to a place to attend a religious function!”

I remember Jois especially on account of certain peculiar reasons. The concept of underwear was unheard of in those days. Further, the boys were eligible to wear the half-pant (Cheddi) only after the age of three years! But the son of Jois, whom he used to bring to School along with him, was wearing the half-pant even though he was aged less than two! No doubt we were envious of him. But there was one peculiarity! This boy was made to hang his male organ out of his half-pant by keeping the same unbuttoned! We were told that the idea was to make it convenient to pass urine without wetting the half-pant!  We really appreciated the idea. However, we could not understand what purpose the half-pant would serve if it is not covering what it was primarily intended to!

Jois had a great talent in giving funny names to his students. In fact he would never address any of his students with the names given by their parents! I was a great admirer of Jois for this particular talent! He would always ensure that the name given was most suitable to the student concerned. One of the names given to a student who lived in my neighborhood was “Tettette”. To this day, in my opinion, that name sounded more appropriate to the student concerned than his original name!

Another matter of great interest for all of us was that a brother of Jois was said to be working for Indian Airlines. We were informed that he would drive (pilot) all sorts of aeroplanes.  We were all quite envious and in awe of him. Whenever we heard the sound of an aeroplane moving in the skies, we would run out of our house to find out if it was driven (piloted) by the brother of Jois!  On one such occasion my brother told me that he did see the brother of Jois piloting the plane. When asked how he could recognize him he told me that he was having a Juttu (Shike) just like Jois! Not to be left behind, on another occasion I told my brother that I also saw Jois brother and for good sake I added that he waved to me from the plane! In the first case I believed my brother and in the second he believed me! Both were envious of each other. Ultimately it turned out that the brother was actually working for HAL Bangalore and had nothing to do with piloting an aeroplane!

Our school had to shut its doors after Jois was transferred. There was no teacher in the school for a quite long time. Thus my second teacher was not a school teacher at all. He was a ‘home teacher’ (Mane Meshtru) at my cousin’s house. I was sent to this cousin’s house along with my sister for attending classes of this particular teacher. This teacher had the looks of our great Gandhi Mahatma! I would even say that he would have perfectly fitted the role of Mahatma in ‘Lage raho! Munna Bhai’. He was actually a very good teacher.  But alas! Unfortunately his teaching assignment with me ended in a disaster!

Here I should tell you that we had been brought up with certain ‘Sanskara’by our mother. Our second elder sister (Rukmini Akka) had been made the enforcing authority and we had to simply fall in line! One such aspect was not to use any ‘four-letter words’ in our conversations! Although our father used these against servants whenever he was angry or upset, we were strictly forbidden. Naturally we were averse to hear any such words used against us also.

In the beginning the classes started rather well. I was even appreciated for my ability to pick up fast. But there was a minor problem. I had somehow developed a weakness in writing a certain vowel in Kannada in a wrong way. I used to write it upside down! I was warned twice for this mistake. But when I repeated the same third time the teacher could not stand it. He shouted at me and used a four-letter word (Mundeganda) against me! Translated to English, it meant “widow’s husband!” I was totally shocked and decided that I would not take it lying down! My ‘Sanskara’could not stand it!

Next day I told my mother that I would not attend the classes. She heard my case and advised me to talk to my father. When I approached him, he was busy cutting firewood with an axe. He was in an angry mood with his body wet with perspiration. After hearing my complaint, he simply told me “whoever is calling you that name; he himself must be a ‘Mundeganda”. I had my answer. I left for the classes jubilantly! When the scene repeated on the day, I simply told the teacher “that is what you yourself are!” I also added that this fact has been confirmed by none other than my father himself! The teacher had the shock of his life! Possibly not even in his wildest dreams he would have thought that a young student would respond like that. Needless to say that there was a big commotion in the house. An urgent message was sent to my father.

I would only conclude by saying that the classes came to an abrupt end after this episode. The teacher left the place shortly thereafter.  We never saw him in our life again.

--(To be continued)--

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 2

We were always curious about the fearlessness of our father, particularly, the way he was able to manage those ghosts when he was traveling in late nights. On one such occasion he told us that it was all about how much courage one has - to face any such event! To illustrate this, he told us the story of this benevolent ghost.

To reach the village Hosalli, one had to pass through a dense forest. But nobody dare pass through this forest in the night on account of this strange ghost. It was hanging down a banyan tree and would call out loudly if it saw somebody walking below. It had only one question to ask. “Are you going?” “Are you going?” On hearing this people used to run away shivering with fear.

There was one old lady called Rukkamma in the village. One day she had her grandson visiting her for the first time. His name was Shoora and deserved the name as he was known to be very courageous. When he heard about this ghost he immediately decided to see it in person! That same night he reached the forest and went near the banyan tree. And lo! He sure found this ghost hanging down the branch of the tree! He just went past unmindful of the ghost! The ghost did ask loudly its usual question “Are you going?” “Are you going?” Without any trace of fear, Shoora replied “Yes, I am going. But are you coming?” He immediately heard the footsteps of somebody following him. Shoora never turned back and just went home. When he stopped at the house the sound of foot steps also stopped. And lo! When he turned back he found a pot full of gold coins lying there! His courage was fully rewarded.

Father explained to us that the ghost was actually in a transition stage. It was a miserly man who just went on saving his money and putting it in a pot in the form of gold coins. When he died he was asked by the God to hand over his treasure to a courageous man.  Till then he was cursed to be a ghost. It was only this courageous Shoora who had the guts to reply its question and in the process was rewarded with the treasure. The man was released from the curse and attained salvation.

This narration by our father did encourage us to be brave. We thought that we could also show this bravery and end up with a treasure from some ghost. But our courage would start vanishing with the arrival of night! In the process we were denied this treasure permanently!

My father was totally against this miserliness. At the same time he never spent even a rupee out of his earnings! If this appears as a paradox to you let me explain. Father followed this simple cash flow method:
Borrow →Spend→Earn→Repay
This strategy would have made the present day generation, which believes in credit card, proud! At the same time these new generation banks would have simply loved him. They could have sold all their credit cards to him! What I mean here is that my father always lived on borrowed money. Whatever money he earned always went for the loan repayment. Naturally he was not spending his earnings at all! More of it later.

I would end my narration of ghost stories with the most interesting of all ghosts. This was the highly romantic ghost called ‘Mohini’ ghost! It was highly fascinating to even children of our age! It was supposed to be moving around a place in our village called ‘Brahmana Bana’, which in Kannada meant Jungle of God Brahma. There was a small statue of Brahma in this dense forest and people were afraid to pass through this place in the night as it was haunted! The Mohini ghost had chosen this place for obvious reasons!  It used to wear a white sari and had great looks to match its name! It would be singing a song beginning with “Ba Iniya Nanniniya!” This in Kannada meant “Come my dear! Come my love!” It was being said that there was a beautiful young lady in our family who died as a widow. Her name was Nagakka and her spirits appeared as this ghost. We were dying to see this ghost in person at least once. That we got no opportunity was only because we had no guts to go there in the dead of night.

It was customary in our families to start the child’s education on the Vijayadashami day during the Navarathri festival. Father would initiate his child by making him write ‘Shree Ganeshaya Namaha’with a piece of turmeric on rice granules kept in a plate. This was duly done in my case also. My education responsibility was entrusted thereafter to my eldest brother (AVR). This brother of mine was responsible for whatever I and my second elder brother (Puttanna) have achieved in our life so far! We both give full credit to him and him only! May be we have to take another birth to fully settle his dues by way of our gratitude!

You may not believe this, but my brother had this three language formula even in those days! He started with Kannada and stage by stage taught us English and Hindi also. Even though there was a Primary School in our village, there used to be no regular teacher. Hence this KG School set up at our home served us well. We were able to read and write in all the three languages before we had our official admission to the first Standard.

Another achievement of us was that of being able to read all sorts of Kannada stories and novels in our young age itself. Our brother did have a good collection of his own. He would also borrow plenty of books from other sources on which we could lay our hands. He would also bring home a Gramophone from his friend on many occasions. We learnt a good number of songs from Kannada Cinema and Hindi as well! I distinctly remember some songs of K L Saigal even to this day!

Reading the various stories and novels enriched us a lot in our younger days. We were particularly interested in history and we believed in everything we read. Sometimes our belief in written word almost made us ridiculous.

The chapter on Aryans in history stated that the ‘Aryans hailing from Central Asia were very strong physically as they came from a cold climate’.  My brother Puttanna thought that he could also become very strong physically by keeping his body in cold! He decided to remove his shirt and sleep without any blanket during the night! When I heard his strategy to become strong, I was terrified. As it was, he was quite strong being my elder brother and even otherwise.  In our usual day to day fights he always had an upper hand.  I thought it did not augur well for me! Luckily for me within a short time he had an attack of severe cold! My mother could not take this nonsense for long! She would cover him with a blanket whenever she found him uncovered.
Thus ended my brother’s dream of becoming an Aryan! I was quite pleased and heaved a sigh of relief!
 -- (To be continued)--

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy -1

I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in and morn;
- Thomas Hood

For long, I have been thinking of writing about my childhood days. Somehow, I have been postponing the same. Suddenly I have developed a feeling that it is now or never. So let me make a beginning here.

I am sure that my childhood was somewhat unique in that the culture and day-to-day life in Malnad was altogether different in those days. It is true that we had very poor resources to maintain our day-to-day life. But definitely we had an eventful and even adventurous life.

I have a problem here. I am neither a poet nor a novelist who can describe each event with his own imaginations. My poetic imaginations and capabilities are very much limited. So I may not be able to add colour to any of the scenarios or events by exaggerating the same. But I can do one thing. That is to write the things as they were! I think the God was quite generous to me in giving me this ability to write. To quote the famous Bengali novelist Sharatchandra, "all those who have two legs may be able to walk; but definitely all those who have two hands cannot write!" That is God's gift to me. So let me do justice for the same. I begin by invoking the blessings of the great Sringeri Sharadamba!

I should mention here that my birth itself was not ordinary! It was my maternal uncle who made my birth memorable. This maternal uncle (my mother's cousin) was the sole male member in my mother's large family. He was a handsome young man who had just been married. He was loved by one and all in our family. He visited my house on the day of my birth and told my parents to name me after him! It was quite an unusual request. But considering the seriousness with which this request came, my parents obliged. Believe it or not! Hardly within a few days of my naming ceremony, my maternal uncle passed away on account of a strange sickness leaving behind his young wife as a widow. To this day this matter remains a mystery in my family. Did my uncle have a premonition of his death and wanted me to continue his legacy? This question remains unanswered.

In those days, no hospitals or nurses were involved in the delivery of a child. There used to be this Soolagithi called Puttu. She would visit the house just at the fag end of the pregnancy period of the mother concerned and fix the date of expected delivery well in advance. This visit also served the purpose of morale boosting for the pregnant lady and the family. She would visit the house again at the appropriate time to conduct the delivery. There was not even a single case of loss of child or the mother. Puttu maintained this unbroken record till she stopped this activity on account of her old age. As far as I remember, it always used to be a free delivery! I mean, she never charged a single paisa for her services. People used to some how manage to make her accept some cloth, rice or arecanut to show their affection and gratitude to her. I was also one of the privileged free deliveries of Puttu! As was the tradition in our family, my father personally planted an arecanut tree in our garden to celebrate the birth of me. I am proud to say that this plant is yielding arecanut till today, appears quite strong and is not exhibiting any old age syndromes so far!

I am really not in a position to remember the exact period in my life when my mind started recording the events happening around me. My father was the person with whom I was very close in my childhood days. I used to sleep with him in the same bed and he used to give some "Bayi Patha’ (oral recitation lessons) to me daily. I was made to learn the names of all days in the week, all thithies in a fortnight, all months in the Hindu calendar, all the Samvatsaras, all the Stars (Nakshatras), Ashta Dikpalakas, etc. Before going to sleep I was also made to recite the shloka beginning with "Ramaskandam, Hanumantham, Vynatheyam ...etc." In the morning I was to invariably get up on my right side only. Before commencing our meals in the noon we were to recite the mantra "Annapoorne, Sadapoorne, Shankare Pranavallabhe, etc.” After finishing taking of bath we were to pronounce "Govinda, Govinda" to announce the completion of bathing. My father was very much particular in these matters and permitted no deviations in this routine. In his absence, my eldest brother would ensure the same from me.

My father was my hero in those days. There appeared to be no end to his heroics. The word fear was unknown to him. He was an expert in climbing tall trees. Even during the heavy rains he could climb the tall arecanut trees and spray the chemical mixture to protect the crop. He would jump from one tree to another tree using an instrument called 'dhoti' to pull the trees. He was not afraid of snakes and could kill them with ease. They were regular visitors to our Malnad houses in those days. Of course, he was not supposed to kill serpents as they were supposed to belong to the family of Adisesha. We all knew how to distinguish them from ordinary snakes and black Cobras. They would exhibit their hood prominently and we could find the imprint of Vishnupada on their hood clearly. We were expected to prostrate before them and request them not to harm us and to leave the place peacefully. If any family members saw a dead serpent, the head of the family was supposed to conduct all the rituals of death (SarpaSamskaram). For this, one was supposed to visit Subramanya in South Kanara District. My father had to undertake this on two or three occasions.

We were all afraid of the ghosts in our childhood. We were particularly afraid of this female ghost called Kolli Devva. It was supposed to move around our village in the night carrying some burning sticks in its hands. There was only one way of finding out whether it was a real ghost or otherwise. Its feet used to be invariably turned backwards. We were told that my father was successful in teaching a lesson to this Devva by identifying it correctly at the right time. One particular night my father was returning from Koppa town. It was a dark new moon day. But my father had absolutely no problem in walking in absolute darkness as he had no fear and his eyes were very sharp through the night. This Kolli Devva appeared from nowhere and sought the help of my father in the guise of an old woman. But my father could identify it within no time by seeing the directions of its feet. Any other person would have frozen in absolute fear. But not my father! He snatched the fire sticks from this ghost and threw them on its face! The ghost simply ran away! We heard this story umpteen times from different sources and felt proud of our father every time.

There was another ghost, which had this strange habit of appearing below a Jackfruit tree near our house every night. It would go on howling wildly during a particular time of the night. We children would wake up and start shivering in our beds with fear. My father could not take this nonsense for long. He thought it was high time to teach this ghost a lesson. He decided to give this ghost a taste of its own medicine! One particular night, he went below this jackfruit tree well before this ghost could reach there as he had marked its timings. Believe it or not! He went on howling imitating the voice of the ghost! We were told that the original Devva when it appeared for its usual rounds, found another Devva already in place! Naturally it took to its heels! It never came back revisiting the place. You can imagine how much proud we children used to be about our heroic father.

I vividly remember the only occasion when I came almost face to face with one particular ghost. My eldest brother and myself were on a visit to the house of our mother's maternal uncle. It happened to be another new moon day. Before we went to bed in the night, we were told that there was this ghost on a mango tree near the house. It would come for its usual rounds during the midnight and call out our names loudly. We were supposed to just ignore the call and not to respond to its calls. Hearing this, I started shivering even before we went to the bed. There was another problem. We had to sleep in the Veranda, which had no doors to protect us when the ghost came visiting. As expected, the ghost did come on its rounds as we could make out by its footsteps. Believe it or not, it started calling me by my name! I held on to my brother firmly and started the 'Ramanama Japam' which was a sure recipe for such situations! The ghost had to return empty handed!

Another instrument of fear for us children in those days was the risk of 'Gumma' calling on us! Whenever we gave trouble to our elders, they would warn us that they would call this Gumma! This was a normal threat given to us if we refused to eat or did not stop weeping. We were quite aware of this Gumma as a reality as its howling was heard many a times during the nights. What was worst, we were aware that even the Lord Krishna was afraid of this Gumma! Our elder sisters used to sing this cradlesong composed by the great Purandhara Dasa in which Krishna fervently begs his mother not to invite this Gumma! He assures her that he would not be naughty and eat his food regularly if only his mother does not call this Gumma! You could very well appreciate our apprehensions on this Gumma as we were after all humans! When I grew up I came to know that this Gumma was, after all, the harmless bird owl, which had its vision only at night!

-- (To be continued)--

Thursday, March 17, 2016

I Don't Know, Son! -87

The Finisher and the Finished!
Son: Mahendra Singh Dhoni is considered as the world’s best finisher by many, dad.
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: But his former teammate and India opener Gautam Gambhir begs to differ, dad.
Father: How come? Go on, son.
Son: According to him, it is Virat Kohli and not Dhoni who is the best finisher in the world, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: When asked about his own career in Indian team, Gambhir was said to be equally emphatic, dad.
Father: Emphatic on what? Go on, son.
Son: He was emphatic that it was as good as ‘finished’, dad!
Father: I don’t know, son!
Kalaburagi Case Solved!
Son: A Times of India report says that the Karnataka police have solved an old pending case in Kalaburagi, dad.
Father: You mean to say they have solved the murder case of the renowned Kannada writer Dr. MM Kalburgi?  Go on, son.
Son: No dad. They have caught a man accused of stealing lemons 40 years ago in a village near Kalaburagi (Gulbarga), dad!
Father: Interesting. Go on, son.
Son: The accused had stolen lemons from a farm on 16 Nov 1976 - then worth Rs300, dad!
Father: Go on, son.
Son: He was a labourer from a nomadic tribe, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: The police are patting their back for having solved the longest pending case after arresting the poor man from a village 30 km from Kalaburagi, dad!
Father: I don’t know, son!
The Dubious Distinction of Mallya’s Kingfisher Airline!
Son: Vijay Mallya’s infamous Kingfisher Airline (KFA) has created a record of sorts, dad.
Father: Like what?  Go on, son.
Son: It has set a record in the matter of payment defaults, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: Mallya has been declared as a willful defaulter as far as bank loans are concerned, dad.
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: The airline defaulted in payment of lease rentals to its aircrafts, fuel bills to petroleum companies, salaries to employees and airport landing charges to airports and other charges to DGCA, dad.
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: What was worse - it failed to remit the service tax collected from fliers and tax deducted at source from employees’ salaries to the Government, dad.
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: Observers say that public should be grateful to Mallya and KFA on one respect, dad.
Father: Like what? Go on, son.
Son: Quite luckily for them, the airline had not raised any public deposits, dad!
Father: I don’t know, son!
Not the Right Time!
Son: Vijay Mallya who ran away from the country expecting arrest warrants from banks has said that it is not the right time for him to return to India, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: He says he has only Rs9,000 rupees in his bank account against the bank dues of over Rs9,000 crore, dad!
Father: Poor man! Go on, Son.
Son: He hopes that banks must have by now made adequate provisions towards his bad loans (NPAs), dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: His plan is to return to India only after all the banks write off the loans of his Kingfisher Airlines, dad!
Father: I don’t know, son!
The King of Good Times!
Son: Vijay Mallya, the King of Good Times, is facing some ‘Bad Times’ right now, dad!
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: But Mallya, who was the Chairman of the largest spirits company in India, is said to be still in high spirits, dad!
Father: How come? Go on, son.
Son: It seems the reporters  asked him what he could do if he was extradited to India by the UK Government, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: He is reported to have told them that it was not for nothing that he had bought the Sword of Tippu Sultan, dad!
Father: Interesting. Go on, son.
Son: He told them that he would fight the British Police with the legendary sword and die a hero’s death just like what the great Sultan did against the British Army  in the Srirangapatna war, dad!

Father: I don’t know, son!