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)-

1 comment:

Narain said...

Life becomes a big inttrigue at times!