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)-