Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 12

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) --------

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 11

I had mentioned about the Navaratri celebration in Belavinakodige house in the last episode. My childhood story would not be complete without me writing about this prestigious house in detail:

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.

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.

It is indeed difficult to believe. But Yallappaiah did not wait for help from anybody from his village. He walked more than 2 kms with his eyes blindfolded and hands tied up to one particular house and got his blindfold and ropes from the hands removed. In fact my mother had told me the name of this house. But my memory has failed me here and I am not sure whether any of the present generation family members are aware of it. But the fact remains that Yallappaiah was an exceptional personality and he could cover such a long distance just like a blindfolded magician of today! I had heard this story repeatedly from my mother and every time I ended up wondering about this adventure of Yallappaiah.

One question, of course, would necessarily arise in the minds of my readers. Did not anyone in the village see Yallappaiah on the way? But let me tell you that it did not make any difference. It was simply because they had no guts to ask him anything about his state of affairs. Such was his personality. I am writing this from my experience in seeing the way his eldest son Ganeshaiah was treated and held in awe by our village folk. I would also add here that my mother would never mix up fiction with facts when she spoke about the history of our village.

It appears that the dacoits were never caught and the family lost that portion of the wealth permanently. But there were reasons to believe that the family’s liquid wealth was much more than what the dacoits took away on that particular day. Yallappaiah was not an ordinary rich man who would put all his investments in a single basket! In those days it was quite common to keep a part of the wealth in the form of gold coins in pots hidden underground somewhere inside/near the house. In our village itself there were instances of such treasures being discovered several years later. In fact the person who purchased our Adekhandi house appears to have found one such treasure! But I will come back to it later.

As far as my own memory goes, the Belavinakodige was a crowded house with the family members of Yallappaiah. However, the eldest of his sons, Ganeshaiah, had moved out of our village at his old age to the city of Shimoga. His wife Kaveramma was the sister of another big landlord from a village called Kanooru near Narasimaharajapura. The couple had a son and a daughter both of whom died early. The bereaved couple decided to leave the village for good.  They also took with them the sons and daughters of the brothers and sisters of Ganeshaiah who were in the school-going age. The idea was to admit them in good schools in Shimoga.

But Ganeshaiah continued to keep the financial management of the family fully under his remote control. The city of Shimoga has always been the nerve centre of activity for the arecanut-growing farmers of Koppa, Sringeri, N R Pura, Thirthahalli and Hosanagara taluks. Ganeshaiah made it a point to visit his home on the occasion of all the major festivals along with his entourage. Among them were Navarathri and Anantha Chaturdasi Vratham.

Like all other houses in our village the Belavinakodige house had a perennial source of water in the form of a large tank near the house located at the bottom of a hillock. The water would directly flow into the house through a pipeline on gravity. There was a temple of Raktheswari (comparable to the Kali Matha in Bengal) between the tank and the house. Raktheswari is known as a very powerful Goddess and was under the exclusive private worship of the family. An annual event called Raktheswari Samaradhane was being held, when the villagers had the opportunity see the deity. As children we were afraid of this Goddess and we never dared to go near the temple. We thought we may create some ‘mailige’ (sacrilege) and attract the wrath of the powerful Goddess!

The house had a very big Go-Shala (cowshed). There were a large number of cows and some buffaloes. The family obviously required a huge supply of milk for the captive use. While the Malnad families generally treated the arrival of male and female child with equal pleasure, the things were quite different as far as female and male issues of cows were concerned! The arrival of a female calf was a cause of celebration in all the families. But a male calf faced discrimination from the moment it was born! While the female calf would be reared with all affection and care, the male one would be banished at the earliest opportunity!

The Belavinakodige house had a different arrangement for the male calves. The family had vast paddy fields and it was possible to use some of the quality male calves for ploughing, once they grew up. So some months after they stopped drinking their mother’s milk, the male calves would be shifted to a ‘creche’ near our house! This creche was maintained by a senior servant of the family called Sesha. This Sesha’s creche was actually a cowshed called Koodu-Kottige in Kannada. What it meant actually was unlike in the normal cowshed, where the individual cows are tied to a pole, the young bulls here would be left free to move around inside uncontrolled. Sesha’s duty was to herd them together in the evening on return from grazing by counting them manually and locking the door. He would release them in the morning on arrival of the cowherd Chowda (I have written a separate story on him).

It appears the young bulls in this creche enjoyed their childhood to the full. We used to visit this creche often to see the games played by them! While the senior bulls would rest themselves peacefully, the younger ones were restless, mischievous and a total nuisance. They would go on fighting and pushing one another throughout! There was no limit to their naughtiness! The senior most bulls would be moved to another shed (called Yetthina-Kottige) near the paddy field in the next stage. Here they would graduate themselves to start ploughing the paddy fields from the next season!

Coming back to Sesha, I should say that I have never seen a more faithful and committed family servant of his caliber. He lived in a shed near the creche mentioned by me above. A middle-aged person, Sesha lived alone and cooked his own food. Once in a year he would go back to his village in South-Kanara to visit his family. He was totally dedicated to the Belavinakodige family and needed absolutely no supervision for any of his duties. One of his major duties was to irrigate the arecanut gardens from several tanks located at different places during the summer. The gardens near our house belonged to the Belavinakodige family. We could see him often watering the plants there. He used to wear a trademark dress including a cap made from adike-haale (I find no equivalent word in English) and a pink towel.

Sesha used to grow a number of vegetables near his shed. One such vegetable was called Basale (green leaves with stems) in Kannada. Due to some unexplained reasons, this vegetable was a taboo for our community in those days. My mother used to prepare very tasty sambar and hashwale (tambuli) from Basale. Sesha would deliver Basale to our house during the night in a hush-hush manner! A cup of coffee and yele-adike were the only consideration he expected! I do not remember as to when exactly Sesha finally bid adieu to the family. With the advent of power tiller and tractor, the creche system for the young bulls stands terminated. Nevertheless for some of us at least, Sesha and his creche will remain permanently etched in our memories.

Yallappaiah had ensured that his sons were well trained in all the physical jobs connected with the agriculture and family customs and traditions. I have seen both the younger brothers of Ganeshaiah – Thimmappaiah and Venkappaiah - doing all sorts of manual work despite of the fact that they belonged to such a wealthy family. In fact they were experts in covering the roof tops of houses with fresh arecanut leaves. This was an annual affair at all the houses in our village done on a labour-sharing basis. For several years they continued to participate in this event including the one at our Adekhandi house. They gave up these jobs only at the later part of their life.

The two brothers used to dress like simple folks wearing the traditional paani panche (dhothi) also called Barapore panche and a trademark shirt which was midway between the present day shirts with half sleeves and full sleeves. This dress was quite comfortable while doing all sorts of manual works. They would also wear a Gandhi shawl normally. They would upgrade their dress to a full-sleeve shirt and a longer Kachhe-panche while attending important functions. The family had the traditional right and responsibility to lead a ‘dibbana’ (procession) from our village to the annual car-festival at the Lakshmi Venkateshwara Temple at Megoor – also called Munivrundapura. This dibbana accompanied by vadya would cover the entire distance of over 10 kms by walk.

The family’s major portion of agricultural land was under the cultivation of tenants. Our family also had a small portion of arecanut garden belonging to this family under tenancy (geni). The collection of arecanut and paddy as per the tenancy arrangement was an annual affair. An entourage of the family under the leadership of Venkappaiah would arrive at our houses with a takkadi (weighing equipment) for weighment and collection of the arecanut. As per the arrangement, the geni adike was to be in the sorted variety of hasa (the top-rated and the highest priced variety) only.

Venkappaiah would personally weigh the arecanut with assistance from others. He would wear a Mundasu (turban) made out of his Gandhi shawl while weighing. As per the custom, a person is not supposed to exhibit his pate (with or without hair!) while weighing! Similarly the first unit of measurement for counting is mentioned as Labha (profit) instead of the number one (Ondu)! Again the number seven (yelu) is not mentioned and instead it is counted as matthondu (additional one)! For some unknown reasons, it is a taboo to use these two numbers while measuring/weighing! After the completion of weighment, the consignment would be kept aside. It would be lifted on a bullock cart subsequently.

The arrival of Ganeshaiah and Kaveramma with their entourage for the annual celebration of Navarathri and Anantha Chaturdasi Vratham used to be a major event in our village.

------- (To be continued) ------

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 10

Childhood is the time when the curiosity in every event going around us is at its highest level. It was not different in our case also. The life appeared to be so interesting in spite of the difficulties faced on account of meager resources our family had.

The Navarathri festival used to be celebrated with great spirits in our village. Pooja and function used to be conducted in different households on different days. The last three days functions used to be held at the houses of three big landlords of our village as shown below:

v On the Sapthami day at the house of Laxmi Narayana Rao (Chairman of village Panchayath) of Hurulihaklu
v On Ashtami day at the house of Ganesh Hebbar (Biggest landlord and a giant personality respected and equally feared by the villagers) of Belavina kodige
v On the Navami day at the house of Srinivasa Subrahmanyam (village Patel) of Puradamane

The festival would culminate on the Vijayadashami day at Sringeri and all the villagers were expected to visit and participate in the celebrations at the Sringeri Mutt. The God Sharadamba would be decorated specially on that day. The elder Swamiji would be taken around the town on the Ratham and what a visual delight the whole thing was!

We children used to have gala time attending each function at different houses and enjoying the Pooja and the grand lunch thereafter. While the elders used to be busy preparing for the function at each house, we used to be in our own world playing and fighting amongst ourselves! We used to divide ourselves into two groups just like the present day political parties. We fell into different camps just like that without any logic to justify. Some times the fight used to be on one to one basis between two camp members; there were occasions when the two camps would fight it out in groups! It was almost a war between two camps! My elder brother was physically strong and I was always well protected! Somehow our camp used to win all such wars! I think our recruitment of members was on a sound footing!

There used to be a pair of brothers called ‘Grandsons of Gangamma’ from a place called Kelakoppa. This Gangamma was an old aged widow wearing a white sari. In those days the widows were expected to shave their heads and wear only red sarees.But young ladies who lost their husbands were permitted to wear white sarees and retain their hair. It appears Gangamma had also lost her husband in her young age itself. She was seen only during Navarathri festival. Her grandsons would always accompany her. None of us knew who were their father and mother. It was also not clear why they did not have any names of their own. We used to distinguish between them by addressing them as elder brother (Anna) and younger brother (Thamma)! This Thamma was very notorious; at least that was what we thought! We used to hate him just because we thought his very appearance was intimidating! I had several fights with him duly backed by my brother. Later these boys worked as ‘suppliers’ in Koppa bus stand hotel. We were envious of them thinking that they could eat all items in the hotel free! We were also astonished by their physical growth after they joined the hotel service! We presumed that eating of masala dosa, bonda and vadas daily must have contributed to their physical growth! Later we gathered the information that these boys had become hotel owners in Bangalore.

Another boy who became our bitter enemy was the son of a person called  Sanne Bhatta. This Sanne Bhatta hailed from Sringeri town. In fact we used to stay in his house whenever we had to stay overnight in Sringeri. He was a regular visitor to our village for Navarathri functions. He would assist the Pooja team and would be paid for his services. We were always under the impression that he was named Sanne Bhatta in view of his personality (dwarf)! In Kannada sanna means small. His son used to invariably accompany him. We used to get highly intimidated by him. One of the reasons appeared to be his ‘squint eyes’ which we all disliked for unknown reasons. He used to be a bully and eager to fight out! We used to gang up against him and hit him hard. On one occasion the fight reached such a crescendo that this boy went to the kitchen and came out with burning wood to burn us alive! Timely interference from elders only could save our skin!

The function at Puradamane (Patel’s house) had another great attraction for all. During the night there used to be a programme called ‘Jagarane’. Actually this was nothing but a Yaksh Gana episode without the stage and make up of the artists involved. The artists would conduct their programme sitting in the hall itself. The programme included playing of harmonium, Tabla and Chande by great artists. I remember the names of some of the great artists. They are Thimmappaiah of Keremane, Shingappiah of Quaranakodige and one Subbannaiah. Thimmappaiah was well known for his role play as Draupathi. As the programme ran throughout the night, we children could witness only part of the episodes. But we enthusiastically sat through till the sleep overtook us! Another attraction for everybody was the snacks served during the middle of the episode. We used to desperately manage postponing our sleep till the snacks arrived on the scene!

My immediate elder brother (nicknamed Puttanna) and I (nicknamed Kitta-short form of Krishnamurthy) always moved together. We used to share all types of information. Because of his seniority Puttanna always had access to more information. He used to caution me on certain matters. One day he showed me a person who had come to our village on some work. This man was strangely silent throughout and was not uttering a single word. Puttanna told me that his tongue was cut off! It appears that this man was holding his tongue between his teeth during a journey when suddenly he fell down. His tongue was crushed between the teeth on account of the impact of fall! The moral for me was not to keep my tongue between my teeth! I was unduly worried and started seeing my tongue lost in my dreams! I could regain my confidence only after I saw that particular person speaking to some body on a different occasion! My brother could not explain to me how his tongue came back!

At some stage of our childhood we brothers suddenly became very notorious. We started beating up our mother and run away from the scene! We enjoyed our power enormously! However, our proudness in our prowess came down crashing one morning. There was a Malayali labourer working for our neighbor who had a son called Kutty. This boy was very handsome and intelligent even though he was an illiterate.

 One day we brothers were boasting ourselves the way we were able to beat our mother and run away! Kutty heard us and was shocked! He told us that he had so far heard only about people worshipping their mother. And Lo! Here we were boasting our prowess in beating our mother! He asked us whether we had read the scriptures Ramayana and Mahabharata. We proudly said that we did! Kutty was then forced to teach us the value of mother in the life of humans. We felt so ashamed of ourselves that we put a full stop to our proud activity immediately! This incident remains still fresh in my memory. The Rig- Veda says “let noble thoughts come to us from all sides”. In our case it came from an illiterate Malayali Kutty!

There was a big Sampige tree in our village near the Belavinakodige house. The branches were well spread out over a vast area. Many of the flowers bearing branches were at a low height. This enabled young boys like us to climb the tree and pluck the flowers at ease. One fine (?) morning we brothers were on the tree. I was plucking the flowers happily when suddenly I slipped and fell down. My brother came down and found me unconscious. As he had not seen any person unconscious so far, he thought I was dead! He ran home and announced my death to my parents! They rushed to the place with other neighbors. By that time one Yellappaiah had carried me to the house at Belavinakodige. I had regained my consciousness before my parents arrived. They were happy to see me alive!

I had fractured my left hand and was in great pain.  I was taken to Koppa Government Hospital where they put my hand in plaster. It took more than a month for me to recover. Soon I was back in form to climb all sorts of trees!

—(To be continued)---

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 9

My next trip was to the Headquarters of our district itself, I mean, to Chickmagalore Town. As my trip to Koppa was a very short one, I wanted to make a long journey by bus. I have already mentioned that my father or brother would be visiting Chickmagalore on Tuesdays for trading in raw bananas. I managed to accompany my father on one such trip.

The preparations for this trip had to start on Monday morning itself. We had to visit different houses of our village to collect raw bananas from their plantations. We would cut off the banana tree to collect the bunch of bananas directly. They would then be packed in gunny bags after counting the same in presence of the owners. As our house was not approachable by bullock carts (there was only a very narrow road) we had to shift the bags to Sampige Kolalu manually for loading in their bullock cart. We had to pay for the bananas and the hire charges of bullock cart after returning from the Chickmagalore market.

We left on our bullock cart in the early morning of Tuesday. The cart had to cross the river Sitha before it reached the bus stop in a place called Belagola. Here we unloaded the bags and waited for the 6.30 am bus to arrive. Unfortunately for us the bus was already overloaded by the time it reached our stop from Koppa town. As there was no place on the top to load our bags the driver and conductor expressed their inability even though both of them were very well known to my father. The next bus was to arrive only at 10 am. We waited patiently. But to our bad luck even this bus had no seat for us and no place for our luggage. We really had it very tough as we had missed the market day at Chickmagalore. Ultimately we reached the town only at 7 pm in the night by catching a late afternoon bus.

The market was already closed and we simply unloaded the bags in the corner of the bus stand. Our stomachs were empty as we had not taken any food after our early morning breakfast. We went to the bus stand hotel. I was highly excited as I was visiting a hotel first time in my life! A uniformed waiter came to our table and asked for our orders. He gave us a full list of items including three different types of dosas. All these days I was aware of only one kind of dosa! My father ordered for two masala dosas. I was bewildered as we generally ate not less than five dosas at our home as breakfast! Besides, our stomachs were totally empty.

The waiter who took our orders was not to be seen for quite some time. My father mistook another waiter as our waiter and asked him to serve the dosas urgently. After some time both the waiters came to our table with the dosas! They had an argument with my father and asked him to accept both as it was his mistake. I thought it to be a blessing in disguise! But my father would have none of it.

I really enjoyed the masala dosa which was packed with baked potato (aloo playa)! I could also understand why we could not eat more than one piece as it was heavy stuff unlike the ones made at home. We left the hotel with full satisfaction. We asked a shop keeper to take care of our luggage and went for the drama “Dashavathara”staged by the famous Gubbi Company belonging to the legendary Gubbi Veeranna.

I should record this as one of the most satisfying moments in my life as a boy. I was totally mesmerized by the scenery and the artistry displayed by the troupe. Till date I remember the wonderful “Samudra Mathana” (sea churning) scene and the young Lava Khusha duo played so perfectly by two kids! I found one major difference between the drama and Yaksha Gana troupes. Here the female roles were played by females themselves. This added to the glamour! The role of Mohini played by a young and beautiful girl simply charmed us. What a tantalizing act she put in while distributing the nectar (amrita) which was the product of sea churning! The beautiful sceneries displayed (totally absent in Yaksha Ganas) added further value. I was so reluctant to come out of the theater after the show was over! The play had taken me to a different world altogether!

We had to sleep at the bus stand itself during the night.  We could not go to a lodge as we had to take care of our banana bags. In the morning father had tough time in disposing the banana consignment as the market day had passed off. Ultimately he could sell off at a price which was at a discount to Tuesday market price. We completed our purchases of certain provisions which were known to be available at best rates only in Chickmagalore. We reached back our village in the night. As usual the journey from the bus stop to home was painful as we had to carry luggage on our heads. On the whole I enjoyed this journey for the adventure part of it!

Another adventurous trip I made was again to Jayapura town. This time it was for seeing a Kannada film first time in my life. The film was the famous “School Master” produced and directed by B R Panthulu under the banner Padmini Pictures. The film became quite a hit as Kannadigas flocked to the theatres all over Karnataka (then the State of Mysore).It became a topic for discussion in all village functions and meetings. Somehow all the members of our family managed to see and enjoy this film but for me and my brother. As expected we started pestering our father to take us to the film. He did manage to fulfill our desire. But this turned out to be another adventure of our boyhood!

My father had been to Koppa and asked us (we two brothers) to come to the bus stop in the late afternoon on a bullock cart which was going to a place, called Kondibylu, very near the bus stop. We left our village accordingly on this bullock cart driven by one Hassan Sab. We enjoyed this journey very much and reached the banks of the river Sitha by about 4pm. There we got down and the cart proceeded to Kondibylu. Father was to come there and take us to Jayapura. But for reasons unknown to us father failed to turn up.

After waiting for a long time we started getting jittery.  The place was lonely and but for the sound of the river flowing no human voice was to be heard. The banks of the river were fully covered by deep forests. The river was deep and could be crossed only by experienced elderly persons. We thought we were lost in the wilderness and started weeping loudly. We must have spent quite a time crying desperately. We suddenly saw a big batch of Purohiths (Brahmins trained in performing religious functions) coming from the other bank of the river.

We saw them crossing the river and approaching us. They were shocked to find us crying loudly. When asked to tell them the reasons for our crying at the river bank, we simply increased our sound of weeping and showed them the other bank of the river mentioning “father! father!” What we actually meant was that our father who was expected to come from the other bank had not arrived so far. But they mistook it as if our father had drowned in the river! They became desperate and two of them readied themselves to jump into the river to save our father! We were asked to show them the exact point at which our father had drowned!

It took us some time to explain to them our real situation. Once they understood us they heaved a sigh of relief. They told us they were on their way to Kondibylu to conduct a big ‘Homa’ (religious function). They asked us to come with them. We simply accompanied them. Even though we felt relieved, we were disappointed that our film party came to an end this way!

But we were in with some luck. At Kondibylu we found the cart driven by our Hassan Sab on which we had began our journey. He told us that our father was held up in Koppa but had sent him a message to take us to Jayapura on the cart! On hearing this, our joy knew no bounds! This arrangement had an additional advantage for us. We had absolutely no journey to be covered by foot as the cart would take us back home after the show.

Soon we were back on our journey mode. We reached Jayapura well before the show commencement. We really enjoyed this masterpiece from the great Panthulu. The lead pair (Panthulu himself and M.V. Rajamma) had put in a great performance. It also had the famous comedian Narasimharaju riding on a bullock cart (just like us) with his wife and singing a beautiful song! We wondered how the Tamilian great actor Shivaji Ganeshan could speak fluent Kannada as he played a brief role as a guest actor!

Hassan Sab took full care of us. We reached back our home late at night after completing one of our minor adventures with full satisfaction

- (To be continued)-

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 8

The world is equal to the child’s desire
Who plays with pictures by his nursery fire!
How vast the world by lamplight seems! How small
When memory’s eyes look back, remembering all-”
                                                                        -Charles Baudelaire

The childhood is always a period of mystery. In our case this was more so on account of the fact that our village had very little communication to the outside world. During about six months in a year we were cut off from the rest of the world by a flooded tributary of the river Tunga called Sitha river. All our necessities of life were to be procured for this period well in advance by the end of the month May. The nearest bus stop was located immediately on crossing this river at a distance of 7 KMs from our village. The post office was another kilometer away.

The first time I saw a bus was at the age of 6 years. I had been pursuing my father to take me to Koppa town on a market day. He agreed to take me on one of his visits. This visit is still etched in my memory. As usual my father carried with him a big parcel of betel leaves to be sold in the weekly market. To my great surprise and pleasure he had made another small parcel of the leaves for me to carry! I could myself sell this parcel of leaves in the market and the sale proceeds would accrue to me! You can imagine how thrilled I was!

We reached the bus stop after crossing the river Sitha in the early Sunday morning. Within a short time we heard the sound of an approaching Shankar Transport bus. It stopped very close to the place where we villagers had piled up our luggage. My father went on the top and loaded his parcel. Mine was a small one and hence I could keep it with me on my lap. Once everybody was up, the conductor shouted “Right! Poyee!” This was supposed to be the signal to the driver to start the bus (a mixture of English & Tulu)! We got our seat very close to the driver. He looked as a great hero to me! The way he was moving the steering wheels with great skills in the Ghat section, while pressing the horn repeatedly, was simply marvelous!

Within half an hour we were in Koppa town. We unloaded our parcel and straight away proceeded to the market.  My father chose a right place for us to sit in the market. We found people from several other villages, having already reached there, occupying vantage positions. My father went round to collect the information of that day’s market position of demand and supply of betel leaves to enable us to quote our prices. He found out that most part of the supply had already arrived and demand was quite good. We started our retail selling with the price fixed. My entire parcel was purchased by a single customer! That was my first earning in my life! You can imagine my thrill when my father asked me to keep the money with me! In those days purses were unheard of! I kept the money in my shirt pocket!

My father could dispose of his entire parcel after some time. I was later told by my father that the day was good one for the betel leaves growers. As per him there used to be some very bad days when the supplies far exceeded the demand. Most of the sellers were then forced to undersell the produce to one wholesaler called Yele (betel leaf) Ramaiah. This man would collect all such produce and take it to the Tarikere (another town) market on Monday. My father somehow always managed to sell the leaves in the market itself and was never at the mercy of this Ramaiah.

We started purchasing the provisions for us in the market itself. My father was a master in bargaining. He had this great talent and ingenuity to sell his produce at the best price and purchase his necessities at the lowest price! This talent of his was recognized by the entire village and often his services were sought.

We came back to the bus stand for our return journey. On the way an incident took place. We had to pass through in front of the Koppa police station. There we found a teen aged boy urinating in front of the station. A Constable who was observing from the station caught him “wet handed”! To my horror the boy was taken inside the station and no amount of apologies from him was considered. I was told by my father that it was an offence to urinate in the open in town. The boy had committed a ‘cognizable’ offence and that too right under the very nose of the enforcing authority!  He would be jailed! This incident made me conclude that it was better to live in our village with full freedom than to live in a town and face such consequences! On our way back we had to carry the entire luggage from the bus stop to our home on our heads. Needless to say that I did not enjoy even a bit of this part of our journey!

My next trip out of our village was to Jayapura town at a distance of 10 KMs from our village. Our village used to be served by a barber called Vasu on a regular basis. The arrangement was - he would cut our hair at regular intervals. The consideration for this service was paid annually in kind by a fixed quantity of arecanut. During a particular time in that year Vasu was missing for some reasons. My brother and I found our hair growing fast and we almost reached a stage where it became difficult to distinguish us from the girls!

We went on a Satyagraha and forced our father to think about us. He had a genuine problem. He had no money to send us to Jayapura, the nearest town, to cut our hair! There the saloons would accept only cash. There could be only one solution. He made us to carry two parcels of betel leaves. We were supposed to sell the same at Jayapura market and out of the earnings get our hair cut!

We started our padayathra (journey by foot) to Jayapura one fine morning with the parcels loaded on our head. It was a tough but interesting journey. As we were traveling in this route for the first time, we had to make certain explorations! Mind you, we could not travel on the regular road as it was lengthier as compared to the inner route through forest, hills and paddy fields. We had a dog at home by name Tommy. This Tommy accompanied us in our journey. Initially we thought it to be a good company. But we had to repent later!

On our way we crossed two villages, Hosalli and Holekoppa, and proceeded towards a village called Yetthina Hatti. Here we ran into a major hurdle. There was this rivulet, a tributary of Tunga river, which could be easily crossed in summer. But at that particular time the Monsoon had just ended and the waters were still deep. We were supposed to cross the stream at a point where the water was neither deep nor carried any currents. Being unfamiliar to the place we had it tough to select this point. Fortunately for us we found one Thimmachari (a blacksmith) coming in the same route at the right time. With his help we could cross the stream comfortably even though we found our half-pants half wet!

We could hardly have a sigh of relief, when we landed in another problem. We could see our Tommy being held up on the other side of the stream. We requested Thimmachari to help us (Tommy) out. He told us not to worry as he was sure that Tommy could take care of itself. To our great surprise Tommy just jumped into the stream and started swimming towards our end. But we thought it had committed a critical mistake. It had entered the stream at a point where there were strong currents! We saw it being pulled away by those currents! We started crying for Tommy thinking that its story was over! Thimmachari advised us patience. True to his expectations, Tommy reached a spot where it could swim and reached our end comfortably! As per Thimmachari, it had intentionally jumped in to the currents to enjoy the thrill of being pulled by them! We appreciated the adventuristic nature of our dear Tommy.

We proceeded with our journey thinking about the heroics of our Tommy. We were little aware that our hero would turn out a villain within no time! At the next village called Daimballi we were passing in front of a house belonging to one Chinne Gowda. Suddenly we found our Tommy missing. But after sometime it came back with a prey in its mouth. It had caught a hen belonging to Chinne Gowda and had killed it instantaneously! Seeing this, we took to our heels as were not in a position to pay for the lost hen! Our hearts were in our mouths till we were quite away from the scene of murder! With the baggage on our heads it was indeed a ‘great escape!’ Needless to say that we had to take a different route on our return journey to avoid this village.

We reached Jayapura at about 9 AM. Our journey had taken nearly three hours. We had a tough time in disposing of our parcels of betel leaves. As there was no market we visited several shops to sell our produce. But the shop owners showed little interest. We were on the verge of frustration when we landed at the shop of one Achhanna Setty. This gentleman knew our father. He could appreciate our predicament. He kindly asked us to hand over the parcels and paid us a royal sum of one rupee! With this money on hand we proceeded to the cutting saloon to achieve our target!

In those days the saloons were expected to charge 6 annas for an adult and children like us were eligible for half rate. But seeing the length of our hair the barber made it clear that we deserved no concession! As per him even the full charge would not compensate him! As against the normal periodicity of two months we had a crop of more than 6 months! Anyways we were happy to unburden our hair load! We were left with a cash balance of 4 annas.

After coming out of the Saloon we found a building on the opposite side of the saloon carrying a name plate which read Amba Bhavan. I found a lot of people sitting inside and eating. As our stomachs were empty I was tempted to find out. I was told by my brother that it was a hotel. We could order food and pay for the same. It appeared to be a totally new concept to me! I asked my brother whether we could order something as we had four annas with us. He told me that after the haircut there was no way we could eat something unless we had a bath! My first visit to a hotel had to wait! We reached back our home before evening without any further incidents on our way back!

- (To be continued)-

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 7

My father was well aware of the critical position he was placed at that juncture.  He was maintaining a most unviable family set up with meagre financial resources.  He was also aware that it was only a question of time before he lost his Godfather, all-time well-wisher and kind-hearted Shingappaiah. There was a requirement of minimum of 2-3 acres of arecanut garden and 2-3 acres of paddy field for a family to become viable in those days of Malnad. It was a pittance compared to the total landholdings of Shingappaiah. It was only a question of his asking the same and getting the gift deed signed in his favour in the presence of village elders.

But the reluctance of my great father to hold land in his own name became apparent when he refused point blank to accept any land transferred in his favour. Ultimately the elders forced him to accept one acre of arecanut garden and three-fourth of an acre of paddy field. It remains a mystery for all of us till date as to how this acreage was arrived at!

Hardly a few weeks after the gift deed was made in favor of my father, Shingappaiah passed away. It was a great loss to our family and more particularly to our father. At least the one person who could have kept the vagabond nature of him under control was no more there. My father also had the weakness for playing cards.  It was one more way of losing the hard earned money. The family had to face acute financial crisis as children were added to the family.

Even though one acre of arecanut plantation was gifted to us, it did not improve our finances on account of two reasons. Firstly my father never concentrated on cultivating the land. The arecanut plantation requires its own way of maintenance by way of regular feeding of manure, green leaves and addition of fresh soil. Also new saplings are required to be planted to replace the old trees. This aspect was totally neglected by my father. As he himself used to admit on occasions, “he looked more at the top of the trees than to their bottom”. What this actually meant was that he took interest in encashing the crop grown at the top of the tree and never looked at their roots for feeding them with manure.

Secondly the yield of areca out of one acre of land could never have been sufficient to feed a big family like ours. The paddy field of ¾ acre was under a tenant and the quantity of paddy received by us from the tenant was sufficient to feed us for a month only. The family faced its very bad days for survival. All of my mother’s gold ornaments were either sold or were given as collateral for the loans raised for day to day maintenance and lost for ever. My eldest brother had completed his Lower Secondary examination, but could not continue his studies.

At this stage Shingappaiah’s adopted sons had grown up and the first son took full charge as per the will executed. My father had continued his loyalty to the Shingappaiah household and naturally it passed on to the first son by name Srinivasaiah. I have earlier mentioned that my father was always averse to hold any property in his name. All of a sudden a great idea flashed to him!  He returned the land gifted to him by Shingappaiah to this Srinivasaiah under a sale deed without consideration!  The quid pro quo was that he would provide for the maintenance of our family and hold the property in trust for us. The understanding was that the land will be in our possession for day to day maintenance and the yield would go to Srinivasiah in lieu of our family maintenance. Both my father and my eldest brother were expected to work for Srinivasaiah as my father had done for Shingappaiah.

This system worked reasonably well for some time. My eldest sister’s marriage and my second elder brother’s ‘Upanayanam’ were conducted well in Agumbe temple and Horanadu temple respectively. I should put it on record that Srinivasaiah was quite generous in meeting these big expenses for us. However, the problem was that no attention was given towards cultivation of arecanut plantation by either Srinivasaiah or my father. As a result, the yield kept on diminishing fast.   Further the system of collecting the daily needs of our family (provisions etc.) from Srinivasaiah household led to lot of misunderstandings. This arrangement was to fail sooner or later.  Indeed it did!

An incident took place at this stage which I do not want to elaborate. Suffice to say that one fine morning the whole arrangement came to an end abruptly. Our family relations were severed and for the first time my father found himself on his own. All these days he was a loyal worker for somebody. But there was this problem. He had no title for the one acre of areca plantation in his possession! The whole arrangement was one sided with the property in Srinivasaiah’s name but with absolutely nothing on record to prove that he was to provide maintenance to our family! If only my father had taken care to get his name noted as a tenant in the village Pahani records the things could have been different.

At this stage my mother made my eldest brother responsible for running the family. I should mention here the role of my father’s maternal uncle’s son in guiding my brother in managing the things. True their family had taken away the Sampige Kolalu property from my father. But as far as managing the agriculture property and running the household, he was a master. I would even call him a financial wizard in spite of his very little education!

Fortunately for us, Srinivasaiah never tried to take possession of the land which was in his name. It was definitely a hanging sword for us. From time to time there used to be this rumour that he would send his men for taking possession of the land. We had to get ready for this physical fight! As a young boy, at that stage, I used to get this dream where my father as a hero was found to hit back at Srinivasaiah’s army which tried to take possession of our land! I always enjoyed the heroics of my father! But it never happened in reality. Rather there was no opportunity!

For about four years, my brother was quite successful in running the family. The areca plantation was well cultivated and started yielding good crop. The uncle from Sampige Kolalu taught him all the nuances of running a successful family economically. At this stage two additional activities gave us supplemental income. We used to collect betel leaves grown in our plantation which would be taken to Koppa town on Sundays-that being the weekly market day at Koppa. We also used to collect raw banana from the village plantations and take the same to Chickmagalore town on the Tuesdays (again the market day). Either my brother or father would visit these towns with these consignments. We children had to assist in these activities. Transportation was a major problem with the nearest bus stop being at a distance of 7 KMs from our home. We had to carry all luggages on our heads.

The reader must be wondering at this stage what happened to the property of my mother’s parents. True, she was the only daughter of her parents. Her maternal joint family house was called Modalamane (the first house in our village) for historical reasons. The family owned vast agricultural properties spread across our village and some other villages as well. But after the death of her parents (almost simultaneously), the family ensured that not an inch of land was passed on to her! This, despite her father being the Yajaman of the family as eldest male member till his death. The reason ascribed was that female members were not eligible for the share in the property. Surprisingly one of the two uncles of my mother also had no male issues. This uncle and after his death his one daughter and son-in-law (mane aliya) usurped major portion of the property. The other uncle had one son and a daughter. This son, who gave his name to me, died young leaving a young widow behind with no issues. The said widow was also denied any share in the property. Again, surprisingly, the daughter of this uncle was given a share of two acres of arecanut plantation whereas the same was denied to my mother.

I have already mentioned that the property at Sampige Kolalu was handed over by my father to his maternal uncle’s son. As a tenant the land ultimately became his own under the Karnataka tenancy act. Ironically the share of my mother was indirectly passed on to our other neighbor. It happened like this. The two acres of arecanut plantation given to my mother’s cousin was given for cultivation to this neighbor of ours for cultivation. Again they became owners of the said property under the tenancy act! While my mother got nothing from her family our neighbor got a share under strange circumstances! But that was life for us!

 – (To be continued)-

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 6

It is time for me to write about the financial status of our family in those days. I know unless I write in detail about this aspect of our life, the reader may not be in a position to appreciate the story in full.

In spite of our best efforts, we have not been able to collect the details about our family tree. We heard from certain sources that our grandfather was a rich man. But he was cheated by his relatives and lost his entire wealth.  As per my father, he lost his father when he was quite young. He was brought up by his maternal uncle. Two of his elder sisters had been married off to rich families; but both of them and their husbands died when their children were quite young. In fact one of the children was brought up by my father only. He is no more now. He had always tried to payback my father and our family - you may believe this - in cash and kind as well!  And we were quite pleased to accept! That was the type of situation our family was placed in those days! My father also had a younger sister by name Lakshmi, but she became an outcaste as a victim of circumstances. She lived in our village with her family, but we were not even aware that she was our father’s sister till we grew up. My father never recognized her as his sister!

It appears that my father became a vagabond by the time he became a teenager. He was (un) fortunate not to have any inherited property! This, coupled with the fact that his elder sisters had been married off and younger became an outcaste, encouraged him to lead a carefree life! He always disliked any type of encumbrances including holding of property and cash! His life was always ‘liability based’ as against the normal ‘asset based’ way of life followed by all human beings! You may not believe this, but the contents of the paragraphs below will prove it!

My father was always interested in living his life for others! He was a very loyal worker for whomever he was working. He was very fortunate to work for a big landlord of our village by name Shingappaiah. Readers must be able to recall this gentleman’s name in the episode dealing with the trapping of a tiger and sending the same to Mysore Zoo. My father as a bachelor stayed in his house and worked for him. He was a very benevolent person and always had the welfare of my father in his mind considering his loyalty and hardworking nature.  He identified my mother as a suitable bride for him. My mother was the only child of her rich parents who lived in a joint family. Both my grandfather and grandmother were well educated (in those day standards) and had brought up my mother equally well.

Shingappaiah thought that my father will inherit the property of his in-laws and live a happy married life. The marriage took place with Shingappaiah as the Godfather of my father. But alas! My father had no house to take his wife home! In fact he never thought about it before marriage! He also had no regular source of income to maintain his family. As his in-laws were living in a joint family, he could not live with them as ‘Manealiya’! In any case his temperament would not have made him accept such a position. Who else but his Godfather had to come to his rescue! Indeed he did it and how nicely he did it!

Shingappaiah had a vast holding of arecanut plantations. As he could not afford to cultivate the entire holdings, he had given a major portion it to tenants for cultivation. There was one such plot of 5 acres with a beautiful house in our village itself in a place called ‘Sampige Kolalu’ (flute made of Sampige flowers). Shingappaiah got it vacated and asked my father to stay there with his family and to cultivate the holdings as a tenant. It was such a grand and genuine offer that my father accepted it with all humility. It appeared for the time being that the ‘Gruhasthashrama’ of my father had a very good beginning.

By that time the son of my father’s maternal uncle had a big family. But suddenly they found themselves nowhere to go. The maternal uncle was no more. This family was quite aware of the gullible nature of my father and his total aversion to hold assets and responsibility. They found that one small house was lying vacant nearby in a place called Adekhandi with hardly a half acre plot of arecanut plantation to cultivate. They explained to my father how difficult it was for him to live in a big house at Sampige Kolalu with only his wife and to cultivate 5 acres of arecanut garden! The small house and half acre of arecanut plantation at Adekhandi would be ideal and compact! They were suggesting this as only a favor to my father in his best interest! They also voluntarily offered to accept Sampige Kolalu property to help him out!

My father was quite pleased with the sacrificial and kind nature of the said family! He was so mush convinced of the whole affair that he immediately shifted to Adekhandi! My mother had absolutely no role to play! Even her parents and Shingappaiah, the Godfather, were kept in the dark! The whole transaction took place like an endorsement on a negotiable instrument! The original owner of both the properties in question, Shingappaiah himself, was kept uninformed! In fact the news came as post facto information for him to approve.

When Shingappaiah heard this he was dumbfounded. He could not fathom the unworldly nature of my great father! However he approved the whole transaction as a fait accompli. He continued his benevolence towards my father. Unfortunately the Shingappaiah couple had no issues. He adopted the son of his own brother-in-law (his wife’s brother). But by curse of fate, this boy died at a young age. Ultimately Shingappaiah brought up the other two brothers of his adopted son and willed his whole property in their names.

At his old age Shingappaiah was attacked by cancer. In those days there was absolutely no medicine for cancer. The treatments called radiotherapy and chemotherapy were unknown. In fact our villagers used to call the disease ‘cancel’ quite appropriately even though it was only on account of their ignorance! Being a rich man Shingappaiah was taken to Vellore hospital for treatment. My father accompanied him and took full care of him almost as a male nurse. Shingappaiah fully appreciated the efforts and dedication of him. So much so that ultimately when he came back from Vellore to spend his final days at home, he called an assembly of village elders. In their presence he made an open offer to my father. It amounted to issuing a blank cheque. My father was asked to name any property of Shingappaiah which he would be glad to transfer to him under a ‘danapathra’ (gift deed).

--To be continued--

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 5

It is time for me to write about a typical day in our Malnad life during my childhood. We used to get up quite early in the morning without any difficulty. The main incentive was the system of early breakfast immediately on our getting up. We used to brush our teeth with ash from burnt rice bran which was the official toothpaste in those days. The common breakfast item used to be dosa. Our mother used to serve us fresh hot dosas strictly in the order of our seniority. But there was a catch here. The seniority was in the inverse proportion to our age! What I mean here is the youngest had the privilege of being served first. I remember how I moved from being first in the seniority to fifth position in due course as one sister and three brothers were added to our family!

After the breakfast we had various household works to be completed by us. This time- table was laid down by our second elder sister Rukmini Akka who played the role of a team leader. This routine comprised of collecting flowers from the garden for daily pooja, collection of feed for the cows from our areca/banana garden, sweeping of floor, sending the cows for their grazing in the forest land, etc. Then it was time for taking the daily bath.

 I dreaded this activity for some strange reasons! We had a big bathroom comprising of a big copper vessel (Hande) in which water was heated. We were privileged to have this 24-hour flowing water into the bathroom from a nearby spring, as is common in any Malnad home. My sister would personally conduct the bath for us. The usage of soap was restricted to only washing of clothes in those days! She used to brush our body with soapnut powder in such a rough manner that it brought tears in our eyes. I had a doubt that this brushing was more severe in my case for some unknown reason. Later I came to know the real reason behind the same. I was the only one among the children who had a slightly darker skin. My sister genuinely believed that I must definitely be having a fairer skin layer below the darker exterior. She was only trying to bring it out by this harsh brushing of Shikakai powder!  That she never succeeded and had to give up was only on account of my misfortune!

Our other duties at home thereafter depended on whether it was a school holiday or otherwise. It also depended on the season. We had several duties to perform even in our younger age as our arecanut plantation required all round the year maintenance including the rainy reason. There used to be some special work for everybody. Needless to say our sister was an excellent work distributor and monitor! To put it straight, there was no scope for idling in our daily itinerary! In the evening we had to ensure that all our cows had safely come back to the shed after the daily grazing. We were also to conduct the daily Bhajans and say our ‘bayi patha’before we went to bed.

In our younger days, we never used to see any cinemas but had good opportunities to see the ‘Yakshaganas’ performed by different troupes, also called Melas. The most famous Melas being Mandarthi and Mahammayee. Rich Landlords in our village used to arrange for these shows called ‘Prasangas”. We could also see one such Prasanga during our annual visit to Sringeri for Navarathri celebrations. This visit was mandatory for our families on the Vijayadashami day.  The problem for we children was - the show would start only at 10 PM at night and conclude in the early morning at 6 AM. We could see the beginning, a bit in between whenever we woke up and the final part in the morning. We never got to see the full show.

Here I would like to recall certain funny incidents I had heard that took place while staging certain Prasangas by the Yakshagana troupes:

The Yakshagana Prasanga called “Draupadi Vastrapaharana” had been played by a particular troupe in Hosalli a few years ago. It so happened that the role of Draupady was being played by a male called Thimmappa. He was made to wear six thin sarees. The person playing the role of Dushhasana (Ramu) had been clearly told that he is supposed to pullout only five sarees and faint! Unfortunately, Ramu was weak in arithmetic and counted the numbers wrongly! He ended up exhibiting the underwear of Thimmappa! As luck would have it, there were no curtains in those days and Draupady (Thimmappa) had to virtually run away from the stage!

There was another such incident which happened after the curtain facility had been introduced. This was in the Prasanga called ‘Prahlada Charitha’. In the end HiranyaKashyap, the father of Prahlada, asks him where his so called God Vishnu is. Prahlada tells him that he is present everywhere (omnipresent).  His father challenges him to show the God in a particular pillar. Then at the request of Prahalada, Vishnu comes out of the pillar in the avatar of Narasimha and kills HiranyaKashyap.

In this particular episode staged in our village, the troupe had stationed the actor who was playing the role of Narasimha in one particular pillar.  The person playing the role of HiranyaKashyap had been clearly told to ask Prahlada to show the God in that particular pillar only. But for his own reasons he asked Prahlada to show the God in some other pillar. This put the actor playing the role of Prahlada in a fix. He was quite aware that the ‘God’ was stationed in a different pillar and not in that pillar! All his efforts, through some gestures, to change the mind of HiranyaKashyap failed and he was at his wit’s end!  We later came to know that ‘HiranyaKashyap’ indeed had some dues to be settled by the troupe management! This was his way of getting it settled!  The problem was solved by bringing the curtains down and settling his dues! Needless to say that the audience was fully entertained by the antics of HiranyaKashyap! In the present day terminology it could have been called ‘value-addition’!

The other incident took place in an episode where a King was sitting on his Simhasana. His enemy walks in and challenges him for a fight. As per the storyline, the King is supposed to get wild and get up from his Simhasan to fight with the enemy. It was found that for some strange reason the King was not getting up at all! Any amount of cajoling from the enemy did not provoke him!  The culprit in this case was the Simhasan itself! It had been borrowed from a village Landlord.  On account of huge get up done for the King befitting his stature, he had been tightly fitted into the Simhasan! He was totally stuck and in fact could not get up in spite of his best efforts! The problem could be solved only by bringing down the curtains!

I should mention here the sudden realization I had one day that everybody born on this earth has to die one day. The occasion was the death of our great grandmother. When this news came suddenly we were asked to take a bath. This was the first instance of death I came across in my life. I had several questions in my mind most of which were left unanswered. For instance, I was told that people die at their old age. Obviously I thought that the same was strictly as per seniority! But I could find out immediately in our family itself both our grandfather and grandmother had predeceased our great grandmother! The more questions I asked the more confusing were the answers! What I surmised ultimately was that we had to die one day on reaching the old age.

My next aim was to find out if there is any method of avoiding this old age itself. I had this inquisitive nature by birth. I started closely observing all men and women of our village. I came across one strange feature in the men I observed. All the old men in our village had juttu (shike) and whoever had cut their hair neatly was invariably young or middle aged! I arrived at the conclusion that the best way to avoid old age was to have the hair cut done regularly! I decided that I should have my hair cut early to avoid getting old aged.

Hardly had I a sigh of relief on learning the art of remaining young for ever, my brother brought a bad news. He had been to Sringeri for the Navarathri celebrations (I had to miss the same as I was not well). There is a statue of Basava (bull) near the Samadhi of Swami Chandrashekhara Bharathi in the Narasimhavana. It is said that the horns of the bull are growing slowly. It is also believed that when the horns touch the roof, the world would come to an end. We were fully convinced about this legend and were always keen to observe the position of the horns as compared to previous year. We had always come to the conclusion that it would take a pretty long time to reach the roof and our world was quite safe.

This year in my absence my brother had observed that the horns had reached perilously close to the roof!  As per his assessment we may not even have the opportunity to witness the next Navarathri festival in Sringeri! You can imagine my frustration and agony. Here I was waiting to tell my brother about my discovery of art of remaining young for ever. And Lo! He was bringing me the news of approaching end of the world!

- (To be continued)-