“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-”
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 . 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)-