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) ------


ashwini said...

Sir , I Felt sad about the big robbery in yallappaiah's house. Was there no other system to safe guard the family treasures other than the house or storing them under ground in certain location.

Narain said...

The rustic life is charming. The life has been so smooth and enjoyable without the traps of the gadgets of modernity!!