The old lady in the centre is Booramma, sister of Yallappaiah and grandmother of my mother
Kaveramma wife of Ganeshaiah
(Both the photos from my brother's collection are more than 70 years old . I got them from my younger brother Madhava Rao)
The first time when Ganeshaiah-Kaveramma couple moved to Shimoga, they had taken with them three boys of three different parents – Shankru (Shankar), Gundu (Bhaskar) and Chandru (Chandrasekhar). The trio could be called three Us as their short names ended with U. The couple also took with them two daughters of Venkappaiah – GangaRatna and Annapurna – who were still too young. While Shankar was the third son of Thimmappaiah, Bhaskar and Chandrasekhar were the sons of two sisters of Ganeshaiah. At a later stage, four other sons of Thimmappaiah and one son of Venkappaiah (Keshava) also joined them. These boys were in the age-group of me and my brother (AVL). All the children would accompany the couple during their visits to our village.
The boys who were in our age-group were much envied by us because of their exalted status as city-boys. I should mention here that living in Shimoga city in those days was rated much higher than working in US now! They would speak the city-version of Kannada language very fluently, which showed the inferiority of our daily spoken rural Kannada. Oh! How stylishly they spoke! They were even mixing some English words in their conversations for better effect/impression. Some of them were also talking about some new game called cricket! We could not even make out what type of game it could be! We never thought there could be any other game superior to Kabaddi! So that was it. We thought we had a lot to cover if at all we dreamed to live in a city one day!
The Navarathri Samaradhane of those days was much more than even a marriage function of today. A senior gentleman called Mahabalaiah, a look-alike of Mahatma Gandhi, would arrive with his team one day prior to the function, to cook the special food for the occasion. This man was a specialist cook who would have given the present day TV chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor and our own Sihi-Kahi Chandru a run for their money! He could even make bondas from the skin of potatoes! The work would start in the afternoon immediately on arrival of the team. Representatives from all the village families (both men and women) would arrive in time to join the preparatory work (called Odyata) including the cutting of vegetables.
On the day of the function Ganeshaiah himself would perform the lengthy pooja and the arathi to the Goddess. The grand lunch would start immediately thereafter. After the lunch all the elders would assemble in the main hall. In the normal course it was the time to play cards (without stakes). But so long as Ganeshaiah headed the family, the practice was to just sit and wait for him to speak. He was such a towering and gigantic personality that all other elders looked like Lilliputs in front of Gulliver!
Ganeshaiah would address each head of the family by his first name. He would collect information about all the events and developments in the village between his last visit and the present one. All the family heads would only speak in a mellowed voice. Some of them were not even lifting their heads as they had no courage to face him. That was the type of respect Ganeshaiah carried with the villagers! The only person I had seen speaking to Ganeshaiah face to face was a gentleman called Baisemane Madhava Rao of Hosanagar. His daughter Lakshmi had been married to Yallappaiah – the first son of Thimmappaiah. He invariably wore a black coat while attending the functions and that took him up a notch above the other ordinary personalities. We were told that he was also a big landlord.
The next major festival in the family was the Anantha Chaturdasi Vratham. This Vratham is known as a tough one among the several other Vrathams performed at home. Some other families also performed this Vratham along with the Belavinakodige family. While the Vratham was performed in the morning, the Anantha Visarjan in the afternoon used to be very interesting for us. For the visarjan, Anantha Kalasham had to be taken to a well in the arecanut garden below the Belavinakodige house. Ganeshaiah and the other males who also performed the Vratham would take the Kalasham to the well accompanied by the female members of the family and others. Most of the males would wait for their arrival back from the well after visarjan.
We had to throw the grains of a commodity called Genejalu on the persons who had performed the Vratham, while they were coming back after the visarjan. Genejalu was a type of corn. Our family had a monopoly on this item. It was simply because the Genejalu plants were available only on a tank-bed in our arecanut garden. Neither it was grown anywhere else in our village, nor do I know this practice of using it in the Anantha Vratham in any other villages. The origin of this custom and the importance given to this particular item, during the Anantha Vratham, are indeed a mystery. As children, we used to be very proud of this monopoly of our family. We would wait for the people to come to our house annually to collect this special item in advance. Oh! What a special privilege we had! We even thought that the Anantha Vratham may have to be abandoned in case we refused to part with this special commodity!
Generally Ganeshaiah couple would stay back in the village for some days after the Navarathri festival. They would visit all the families separately. We would receive advance information about the visit of Kaveramma. She would be accompanied by some lady members of the family, while Ganeshaiah would come alone. We anxiously awaited the arrival of Kaveramma as she would invariably carry sweets, dry fruits and apples to be distributed among the children. She was such a graceful and beautiful lady! Her very presence was sufficient to create a festival atmosphere in the houses she visited!
Quite in contrast, the visit of Ganeshaiah used to be unannounced. His movement was comparable to the visit of tigers to our village. It used to be sudden and a surprise. There were two routes to reach our houses from Belavinakodige. One was entirely through the arecanut gardens, while the other was through the road. It was even difficult to make out the route through which he reached our houses. He would appear suddenly as if from nowhere!
The conversation with Ganeshaiah used to be a totally one-sided affair and the practice was to give only replies to his questions. Nobody dared to put any questions to him. The topics used to be about the arecanut crop and the related problems. I particularly remember one occasion when he visited our house. My father and mother were sorting the arecanut into different categories at that time. My father was a master in the matter of colouring the arecanut. He used to prepare a special dye from the bark of a tree. Even though it was the same item as used by other families, my father was mixing it in such a way that the final product (arecanut) used to be so special and distinct from others. He would also take extra care to ensure right level of boiling the mixture with arecanut. Ganeshaiah was very much impressed with the kind of stuff created by my father. He advised him to send the consignment to the arecanut Mandi in Shimoga in a separate lot. It indeed helped. The consignment got the highest bid for the variety in the Mandi during the auction.
I do not recollect much about the last days of Ganeshaiah. I was studying in the middle school while staying at my sister’s house in a place called Hokkalike near Thirthahalli. It was probably the year 1961. I was visiting my second elder sister’s house in the same village. As I entered the house, I saw tears in the eyes of my sister. She told me that Ganeshaiah had passed away in Shimoga. The news had even appeared in the newspapers. His name was mentioned as a very highly respected and important personality of the Malnad region. He deserved that tribute and that was perhaps the first time a Malnad landlord’s obituary appeared in a state-level newspaper.
With the death of Ganeshaiah, there was a vacuum in the leadership space of our village, which was never filled up. As far as the Belavinakodige house was concerned, the family traditions and management were continued by the two brothers Thimmappaiah and Venkappaiah smoothly. But alas! No other personality in our village could come up to the leadership level of Ganeshaiah. Indeed an era had come to an end!
------- (To be continued) --------