Monday, May 30, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 20

After completing my examination successfully I had to stay back in Narve for some more days to attend the annual school day celebrations. It was really a great occasion for me as I had not seen so far any events of this magnitude. The headmaster was a great organizer.  All sorts of events including sports, drama, singing and dancing were held. The celebrations culminated on the annual day when a very big function was organized. Prizes were distributed to the winners. I really enjoyed the dance and the chorus singing by the girl students. A Kannada drama ‘Aliya Devaru’ (Son-in law, the God) written by the famous Dasharathi Dixith was enacted by the students in which some teachers including the headmaster played roles. On the whole I enjoyed these events immensely.

During this period I came to know most of the students of the school. On one occasion I found an argument going on between two students. I was told that I was the subject of argument. There was a student named Sastry who was absent during the examination as he was unwell. He always stood first in class. In his absence I had come from nowhere and snatched his first position! The question was whether I could have secured first position in his presence. That definitely was a matter of argument, even though very much hypothetical at that stage!

This issue became a ‘kabab me haddi’ for me! I did not like anybody questioning my ability at all. Even though I did not continue my studies at Narve I later came to know that Sastry was promoted to 6th standard by appearing for a supplementary examination. I had mentally made up my mind that I should prove my superiority to him. Years later I secured 4th rank in my pre-university examination. Sastry’s name was nowhere in the rank list! I wanted to find out that student who questioned my ability and ask him how he felt! At least the issue had been settled as far as I was concerned!

I returned to my village after these events almost triumphantly! It was as if I had conquered the Narve town. That was the type of treatment given to me by the Narve school teachers and students in general. Besides, Visweswaraiah and his family wanted me to stay with them and continue my studies.  It became a delicate matter for my family to refuse his generous offer. The fact was - my eldest sister and brother-in-law had told my brother that I may stay with them to continue my studies. Visweswaraiah’s being a large family I could have been a burden on them. All said and done, I always thought my sister’s house as a safe haven for me! That was the type of attraction I had on that place. In addition to the protective umbrella of my sister there was some hidden bonus! Unlike in my place there was very little routine work to be carried out on daily basis at home!

During the summer holidays I had an occasion to visit my sister’s house with my mother. This was almost like a pre-visit to the place for assessment! The occasion was the ‘upanayanam’ of Aswathha (banyan) tree by my brother-in-law. This tree had been planted by my brother-in–law himself. It was near the village temple and had grown up to a stage where it was required to have its upanayanam. On my previous visit, my sister was living in a joint family. But now there was family partition and they were living in a new house of their own by the side of the original house.

Two of the younger brothers were living in the original house.  Two of the other brothers had moved to new houses built for them.

The function was held in all its grandeur. Actually the upanayanam of any boy could not have been held better! By that time, my coming to that place for further education had already been announced. Simultaneously another boy by name Vishnumurthy, son of one of the sisters of my brother-in-law was also expected to come and stay in the original house for education.  He had completed his 6th standard and was one year senior to me. I met him on this occasion. We were to be associated for long in our educational career. With the preliminary visit over we returned to our village.

By the end of May I had to visit Narve to collect my transfer certificate and marks card. The headmaster was quite unhappy to see me going to a different school. He said he was disappointed. I also found it difficult to say goodbye to my teacher’s family. Within such a short time they had become so close to me. But that was it. I just remained indebted to them for life for the affection shown to me. My brother invited Visweswaraiah to my house. I was asked to touch his feet and hand over an envelop containing a few currency notes. That was my Guru Dakshina to him. That was the end of my association with one of my greatest teachers.

More than four decades later I was working as a Senior Manager in Canara Bank. I was transferred to Jayalakshmipuram branch in Mysore city. One of my close relatives was a practicing advocate there. One day I was on a visit to his house. He was having a close relative’s daughter staying with him for studies. The girl came home from her tuition classes. I was told that the tuition classes were being conducted by a person whose father was a retired teacher in Narve. I immediately asked him to find out the name of the retired teacher. Believe it or not! Two days later he came back to me to inform that he was none other than Visweswaraiah!

I rushed to the house of the tuition teacher which was very close to my residence. His name was Dinesh. He was the second son of my teacher. He was surprised to see my excitement. He was a postgraduate and was running his tutorials very profitably. The students were chosen carefully and seats were always in high demand. I left instructions with him to inform me when my teacher visited the place.

Hardly within two months, Dinesh sent me a message that his father had arrived. I went to his house accompanied by my wife. It was a great sentimental moment for me!  My teacher remembered everything about me. His wife could not believe me when I told her the gratitude I owed to my teacher. I invited the couple to my house. They came very happily and graciously accepted our expression of gratitude. That was one of the most gratifying moments in my life.

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 19

“Vajradapi katorani mrudooni kusumadapi!
Lokottharanam chetamsi konu vijnathum arhasi?”
(Harder than diamonds and softer than flower petals!
Who can decipher the minds of great men?)

I was expecting a lot of fireworks at the school on the next day. In fact I could not sleep well in the night as I went on thinking whether I had done the right thing in having a showdown with the teacher with whom I had the best of relations so far.

But certainly it was an anti-climax for me. Visweswaraiah did not raise the topic at all. He simply went through the routine. Even though he read my brother’s letter, he did not show any reaction. What is more, he taught me the subjects as if nothing had happened on the previous day. Later when he was on a visit to my house my brother raised the subject. But he simply shrugged it off! He also clarified to my brother that Srinivasaiah had nothing to do with the whole incident. With this, the issue got buried once for all. But there was a positive change of attitude in him as reflected in the treatment meted out to students thereafter.

Visweswaraiah gave me lot of encouragement to develop my leadership qualities. He took it as a pride to present me to the visiting dignitaries to the school as a model student. He would send me with the company of another student to visit different houses in the village. This was for the purpose of inviting them to the various functions in the school. I was also expected to collect the contributions from each family. I immensely enjoyed this role as it gave lot of exposure to me.

The month of March in the year 1959 arrived fast. Visweswaraiah had already spoken to the Head Master at Narve middle school regarding my appearance for the annual examination of 5th standard as a private student. But for the two subjects for which I had no textbooks, all the lessons in others were fully taught to me. Visweswaraiah told me not to worry too much about the examination. But as a village boy first time appearing for the examination in a town I had my apprehensions. I was equally anxious to get my ability tested by another teacher for the first time. The opportunity came to me even before the examination!

One evening Visweswaraiah had to visit the house of our village Panchayath chairman for some official purpose. He took me along with him. The house was about three KMs from our place. We were asked to stay back at the place as it was late night by the time the official work could be completed with the chairman.

The chairman had engaged a private teacher named Vittal Shetty for teaching his children who were in middle school classes. They were also to appear for their examination in middle school at Jayapura for 7th standard. This teacher was known as a very good English teacher and he had earlier taught the children of another big landlord in our village. During the night he started testing his students in front of us by asking oral questions. We saw his students struggling to answer certain simple questions put by him. After some time he asked Visweswaraiah whether he could test me for my preparedness for 5th standard examination. Visweswaraiah readily agreed. The teacher took me through a viva voce. I could answer all his questions correctly to the full satisfaction of him and my teacher as well. He congratulated Visweswaraiah for the way he had prepared me. But Visweswaraiah gave full credit to me. Looking back, I should say, this was one of the finest moments of my life.

Visweswaraiah made it clear to my family that I should stay at his house in Narve town during the examination. Accordingly he took me with him to Narve on the weekend before commencement of examination. His house was located in an agraharam in the town on the banks of the River Tunga. The family welcomed me wholeheartedly. It was a big well-knit family. Visweswaraiah’s father was a postmaster in a different town. He had nine children. His second son was also a primary teacher. The eldest was a daughter who was already married.

This was the first time I was staying with another family. But they made my stay so comfortable that I really wondered whether I deserved such a nice treatment at all! I was taken to the house of the head master named Hirannaiah for introduction. He was a very famous teacher in the district and carried lot of respect. He told me that he had already been briefed by my teacher about my merit and he would personally test it in the examination.

My examination began on the Monday with English as the first subject. Head Master himself was conducting the examination viva voce. I was the last one to be called. I could correctly answer all the questions comfortably. But the last question was confusing to me. Pointing at his watch Hirannaiah asked me what it was. Actually the word ‘watch’ had not appeared in any of my English lessons. As the word was used in our daily Kannada conversations I was under the impression that it was a Kannada word. I told him that I didn’t know the English equivalent for ‘watch’! He laughingly told me that it was actually an English word.

In the evening the head master sent a word that he had awarded the highest marks to me. He also mentioned that none of his own students came anywhere near me. There was a big celebration in the teacher’s house. Everybody started praising me and my teacher. I was totally basking in the glory I had achieved! I did equally well in Kannada and mathematics. Then the real problem came. I had to attend the examination of history and geography for which I didn’t even have the textbooks!

Today when I am writing down this episode in my life I really wonder how my teacher could ask me to attend the examination without having even seen the text books! But that was it! I had butterflies in my stomach when I went for the examination on that eventful day in my life!

As usual I was to be called last for viva voce in geography in the first session. All of us were waiting in a classroom to be called one by one by the examiner who was sitting in another room. By that time news had spread that one ‘unknown boy’ had stood first in the examinations held so far. While I was anxiously waiting for the call to come, three senior students came to see me. They congratulated me and asked me how my preparation for geography was. I explained to them my predicament. They could not believe that I had not even seen the textbook.

They went out for a while and came back with a plan. One of the students would walk into the room of the examiner and observe what kinds of questions were being asked. As senior students they had this freedom. He would come back with the information. The other two students had already collected the textbook from one of our class students. They were to prepare me for all those questions by referring to the textbook.

The student came back after some time with a list of questions. The first common question was ‘what are the physical features of India?’ When they asked me I told them that I had not even heard such words!  They then asked me what was lying to the north, south, east and west of our country. I told them the presence of Himalayas, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. I was told that the answer was correct and complete. On a similar way I was prepared for the other common questions. I had this capacity to memorize and repeat whatever was told to me. This capacity came in handy on that occasion.

When my turn came for the examination I was fully prepared and could walk in confidently! Needless to say that the examiner was totally impressed by me (courtesy: the senior students)! A similar strategy from the same students in the afternoon session for the history subject made me come out in flying colours! I did not know how to express my gratitude to these senior students!

When I look back on this episode in my life I am really not able to guess what exactly made these students to help me out like this. I never met them later in my life. In fact the reader may not be even able to believe this as true. But I only feel that such ‘angels’ do appear in everybody’s life and these favours are on non-returnable basis only!

 - (To be continued)-

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 18

Let me get back to writing about my teachers at this stage. As already referred to in the earlier episodes my eldest brother was the first and foremost teacher in my life. However, I would like to credit two other teachers with the honour of guiding me at the initial stages of my education and for their contribution for what I am today.

As stated earlier there was frequent break in my primary education as the teachers posted to our village school either failed to report or abandoned the place after two or three months. In fact it was even said that certain teachers were drawing salary for having worked in our school even though they never reported at the school. They were doing this in connivance with the education officer and school inspector. This fact came to light when my brother wrote a letter to the editor of Prajavani, a Kannada daily.

We had almost forgotten the presence of a school in our village when suddenly, one fine morning, news came that one teacher named Subba Bhatta had arrived. He had arrived with his family in tow and it meant that he was here to stay. My immediate elder brother Puttanna had already completed his primary education by that time. I headed a group of students, all girls, including my younger sister while going to school from my house. The school building was in fact a part of the house of Puradamane Shingappaiah. It was a very big bungalow and a portion in front was donated by him as school building. At that time Srinivasaiah, adopted son of Shingappaiah, was the owner of the bungalow.

Subba Bhatta was a great teacher. He had earned a very good name in his earlier placements. Within a short time he found that even though I was to study in 3rd standard as per records, I had already completed studying all the books for 4th standard - courtesy my brother. By making some adjustments in the school records, he upgraded me to 4th standard. He did this by taking some risk. But unfortunately one visiting school inspector found this out and took him to task. I was present at that time and thought that the game was over and I had to move back to 3rd standard! But the teacher was quite adamant and stood his ground. He challenged the inspector to test me and find out for himself which standard I deserved! I am proud to say that the teacher was found hundred per cent right in his assessment of me! The inspector was pleased to give up! He however asked the teacher not to publicize this adjustment and land him in trouble later. I used to get frequent dreams in those days wherein I was forced to get back to 3rd standard by another inspector! But fortunately it never became a reality.

Subba Bhatta and his family became close to our family. He respected our family for our superiority in education level and our habit of reading. Suddenly we felt ourselves proud.  He taught us well and encouraged extra curricular activities also, which were unheard of till then. Everything was going well for quite some time and my brother even requested him to give me tuition for 5th standard after my annual examination. My spirits were really running high in those days. But like all good things this good thing also came to an end abruptly!

One fine morning (not so fine for us!) news came that Subba Bhatta had been posted to undergo training in a place called Bellare. Believe it or not, the training was for a period of two years! Later we came to know that the long duration was for the reason that Subba Bhatta was a non-matriculate. But it spoiled our party and we were completely stunned. There was no way this training could be cancelled. Our entire family was literally in tears for the departure of this great teacher and his family. But that was it. We had to simply say goodbye to them even though we didn’t like it a bit. Another chapter in my education had come to an end.

For some time no other teacher was posted to our school. Meanwhile the relation between our family and Puradamane Srinivasaiah family was severed as already written by me elsewhere. One fine morning we got the news that another teacher by name Visweswaraiah had reported in our school. But there was a hitch this time for us to attend the school. My father did not find it appropriate to send us to a school in the Puradamane Srinivasaiah house as our relations were severed. But the new teacher was very much interested in our attending the school. He personally visited our house to request my father. Ultimately my father yielded and after consulting other important village elders he permitted us to attend the school.

Visweswaraiah was also a very good teacher. He had passed his SSLC and belonged to a place called Narve about 8 KMs from our place. He taught us well. The annual examination was conducted and I completed my 4th standard. My next destination should have been a place where there was a middle school. But my brother asked me to continue to go to our village school!

Visweswaraiah was quite surprised to see me at the school even after passing the 4th standard. He sent a letter to my brother through me to clarify my presence. My brother in turn sent his reply requesting him to give tuition to me for 5th standard. This correspondence was because my brother could not visit the school as it was attached to Srinivasaiah house.  Visweswaraiah readily agreed without even quoting his fee. My official entry to English language study began with a textbook called Ideal English Reader, written by J C Rollow.

At this stage I had to face another problem. By the time my tuition started it was almost mid academic year. As such I could not get all the textbooks in spite of best efforts of my teacher and brother. I had to manage with English, Kannada and Mathematics text books only. The texts for history and geography were missing. But for that my tuition classes went well.

Visweswaraiah gave lot of encouragement for us to exhibit our talents in other areas like public speaking, singing, etc. He conducted physical drill classes also. He had a brother called Chandri (Chandrasekhar) who was highly talented in fancy dressing, mimicry, etc. He was studying in Narve middle school and often would visit our village with his brother to exhibit his talents. We enjoyed every bit of his actions. Everything was going fine for some time.

All of a sudden Visweswaraiah started acting tough with all the students. The reasons for such provocation were unknown to us. He started punishing the students severely for even silly reasons. The students who came a bit late were asked to stand outside the school for a long time before they were permitted in. I was observing this and didn’t like this attitude at all. I was waiting for an opportunity to see myself how I would be treated on such occasions. The occasion came up very fast.

I have already mentioned earlier that I was leading a group of students on the way to school from my house. My group had grown to almost ten by that time. Being the senior I was in total command of this group. On a particular day there was a religious function in my neighboring house. It took some time for us to finish our lunch there. In the process there was a delay when we reached our school for the afternoon session. I was entering the school with my group behind me when suddenly I was asked to stop at the door by Visweswaraiah. He simply told us to stand there. I had always thought that such punishments were not applicable to me! But my pride was being tested on that day! I was stunned.

I simply took a right about turn and asked my group to follow me. The school building was located just below a small hill. We had to climb down this hill daily to reach the school. I asked the group to climb the hill on the way back to our homes. We started climbing up without even looking back. Visweswaraiah had not expected such rebellious action from me. To say that he was stunned may be even an understatement. He came out of the school and started shouting at us desperately to come back.

We were on the top of the hill by that time. We turned back and looked down at our school. All the students had come out and Visweswaraiah’s desperation could be seen from the top of the hill. All the members of Srinivasaiah household had also come out to watch this ‘tamasha’! Visweswaraiah really had a problem on hand! As our family and Srinivasaiah-family had strained relations, the whole thing would be seen as a provocation from Srinivasaiah family to us! The general public would definitely think that the teacher had played in to the hands of Srinivasaiah in sending us home! In fact this was what exactly happened when we were back at our place!

I reached my neighboring house (where the function had taken place) along with my group. The elders were playing cards at that time after the special lunch. They were all surprised to see us back from school so early. They stopped playing and asked me to explain. I gave them a briefing about the way we were treated by the teacher. I told them that we were late only by a few minutes on account of late lunch after the function. As per me we did not deserve the punishment as such occasions were very normal in our place.

There was full support for my action from all the elders present. In fact my brother even felt that school rules were not applicable to me as I was only a student taking private tuition! The general opinion was that the teacher might have been provoked by Srinivasaiah family as he was staying with them and was indebted to him. But in fact it was not. Honestly Srinivasaiah had no role in the entire event. My brother drafted a letter to Visweswaraiah. But it was decided that the same may be handed over by me on the next day as it was late by that time.

 ----- (To be continued) ……..

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 17

Whereas our village was situated in a valley surrounded by hills on three sides, my sister’s place was quite different. There was a main road running through the village with all the houses situated on one side almost like a small township. Next to these houses, almost parallel to the road, were the arecanut gardens with two small rivulets flowing on both sides. Behind the gardens was a hillock covered with forests. The main road was also fully covered with forests on the other side. While our village was blessed with spring water for each home on a perennial basis, this place had to depend on well water for drinking purposes. The water from the rivulets could be used only for irrigation. Unlike in our village where some houses were having thatched roofs, here all the houses were having tiled roofs. This was actually a sign of prosperity. The reason being all the villagers were landlords, small or big, while our village had a majority of tenants with a few big landlords.

My brother-in-law had four younger brothers and seven sisters. All the sisters had been married off and except the last brother all others were married at that time. It was indeed a big joint family with my brother in-law as the Kartha. There was the old aged mother almost confined to bed. The house was very big with lot of rooms and halls and a big cowshed. Indeed I used to lose my way sometimes within the house itself on account of its vastness and darkness! At night it took some time to close all the doors in view of their large numbers. I felt fully safe at night unlike at my home where there were hardly two doors to close and we always slept in the open. Later in my life I realized that the reason for our house having few doors was simply because we had nothing to lose!

It took some time for me to adjust to the way of life at my sister’s house. It started with the morning breakfast. In my house I was used to a sumptuous breakfast accompanied by lot of ghee, curds and chutney. Here to my surprise, the people were basically not interested in the breakfast itself! Three of the brothers almost avoided the breakfast while the others took it very late. I had to wait for the company of one of these two for my breakfast. Again they were used to one or two dosas against my minimum requirement of five! My sister somehow had to ensure that I got my quota! Otherwise the life was good with lot of opportunity to play games with boys of my age. I visited almost all houses in the place as most of them were blood relations one way or the other.

There was a small temple in the village near the house of Sri Phaniyappaiah whose wife was one of the elder sisters of my brother-in-law. During the Chaitra masam there would be daily Bhajan at this temple with the special Pooja on behalf of each house on a rotation basis. The statue of the God would be carried to the respective house with the accompaniment of Bhajana mandali. The house owner was privileged to provide panivaram (refreshments) to all the persons. The whole thing was so enjoyable for us boys especially. On the final day there used to be the ‘Rangapooja’held in a very grand manner at the temple. The function would culminate with a grand dinner at the house of Phaniyappaiah who was also the priest at the temple. During the Karthika masam ‘deepotsava’ would be held at the temple daily again on a rotation basis. This place has maintained this tradition even to this day.

My brother-in-law was actually a financial wizard. His father had died leaving behind a small landholding. But by his sheer ability to manage the finances, farsightedness and ability to utilize the opportunities he was able to increase the landholdings substantially. Thus he could ensure that all the five brothers got sufficient share in the property when the family was partitioned later. In fact a new house in an adjacent place had already been built for my brother-in-law to be occupied after the partition. He used to lend money to the tenants and some rich landlords also (who were mismanaging their resources). The repayment was mostly through collection of paddy after the harvesting.  This paddy would be sold to wholesale rice merchants who would come to the door steps with trucks to lift the paddy. He would maintain all the accounts meticulously and was charging a very nominal rate of interest for the loans. He had to write off many loans as he never used any force or legal means for recovery. While I was there I witnessed for the first time in my life my brother-in-law handling so much of cash.

During my stay there three young daughters (Rukmini, Saraswathi & Jaya) of one of the sisters of my brother-in-law arrived to stay. For the first time in my life I had the company of girls to play. One of them was very naughty while the other two were simple. We had some good time for some days. Then I had one life threatening experience which I was lucky to survive to write this memoir of me only because of one co-sister of my sister.

There was a well in the garden in front of the house with a bathroom used only during the summer. On that day we children were there taking bath one after the other. There were no elders accompanying us. While one boy was having his bath the others including me were playing near the well. The well was nearly full and had a number of steps most of which were immersed in water. The water could be collected from almost the ground level itself. We suddenly started a dangerous competition. Who would be able to go down the maximum steps inside the water?  The contest started with the number one step .The last contestant before me went down the fourth step inside the water and came back. It was my turn to climb down the fifth step to show my courage and comfort. I was very anxious to exhibit my chivalry to impress the girls! I stretched my feet firmly to keep it on the fifth step. I would have definitely succeeded but there was one major hitch. The fifth step was simply not there! I simply slipped into the deep water.

I tried to get back on the steps with all my strength. But it was simply not possible. I went deeper and deeper inside the well. I could see the others desperately calling me to get back. I was desperately trying to hold on to a stone on the wall and come up. But I simply couldn’t. I wanted one of them to go home and call some elder person to save me. But quite foolishly everybody spent their energy by shouting at me to come up rather than getting an elder to pull me out! The water started entering into my system as I could not hold my breath any longer. My story appeared to come to an end!

But fortunately it was not to be. One of the co-sisters of my sister arrived on the scene just in time. She shouted at me to lift my hand up which I did instantaneously. She was well built and could pull me out of water in a jiffy! I was carried inside the house and made to lie down and water was sucked out of my body. I was semi-conscious and was still carrying a feeling that I continued to be in deep waters. To this day I have never dared to ask my sister how she felt about this adventure of mine! To her credit it should be said that she avoided tendering any advice to me in the matter! Suffice to say that this adventure of mine became the ‘talk of the town’ (village) for quite some time. I came to be known as the boy who could measure the depth of the well in my sister’s house garden! Other boys would tease me by repeatedly asking me the exact depth of the well which I was supposed to have measured!

Shortly thereafter I had an occasion to go to a place called Jakkarkudige beyond the Sringeri town for attending a marriage function. It was the marriage of an elderly gentle man who had lost his parents and first wife. He was in search of a pair of husband and wife to accept the ‘Dhara’of the bride from his in-laws. Some how he concluded that my sister and brother-in-law were the right pair for the occasion as per his family tree! While my sister and brother-in-law left for the occasion early, the others including me were to undertake the journey on the previous day of the marriage function.

We, a group of about ten persons, started from my sister’s place after lunch in the afternoon. First we reached Hariharapura on foot. Here a lorry arrived to pick us up and to take us to the bride’s place through Sringeri town. We were all in a happy mood to travel the distance in a vehicle as against the normal foot journey! However, our happiness came to an end in a very short time. Half way on the route to Sringeri the vehicle broke down and simply refused to move in spite of the best efforts of the driver and the conductor. We were literally on the roads and it was almost 8 PM in the night.

Luckily for us one bus (known as MPM bus) was supposed to pass through this road to Sringeri at 9 PM. It did arrive in time and we all could reach Sringeri late in night. We stayed at the house of one Sannappayya for the night. This gentleman provided us the dinner and the morning breakfast. The lorry which had broken down was supposed to arrive in the morning to take us to the bride’s place. But it neither arrived nor did we have any message about its fate. But our fate had been sealed and we were constrained to undertake further journey again by the Gandhian mode!

We passed through Narasimha Vana and proceeded towards Gangamoola (the place where Tunga begins its journey). On the way we passed through a beautiful place called Vaikuntapura on the banks of river Tunga. Many years later a controversial Kannada film called ‘Samskara’ was shot here. The story was based on a novel in Kannada written by U R Ananthamurthy and was directed by Girish Karnad, both famous personalities in Kannada literature. Our journey through a few paddy fields, forests and hillocks on the Tunga river basin took us to the bride’s place in time to attend the marriage function. Prior to this we had our breakfast in the house of one Subba Rao in a place called ‘Coffee Kadu’ (Coffee forest).  My sister was happy to see me reach there ultimately in time.

I would have stayed for a few more days at my sister’s place. But we got the message that my second elder brother’s ‘Upanayanam’ had been fixed to be held at Horanadu. So one fine morning I left for my home in the company of my sister and brother-in-law.

- (To be continued)-

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 16

I distinctly remember that day in the year 1954, when I was studying in my first Standard. My father had requested our school teacher Srikanta Jois to come over to our house for matching the horoscope of my eldest sister with another horoscope he had just received. Mr. Jois was well versed in this art as he had studied Sanskrit and Vedas at the Sringeri Mutt Sanskrit Pathashala. He visited us in the afternoon. As a boy I was curious to watch this horoscope matching exercise.

Mr. Jois collected both the horoscopes from my father. He took out his spectacles from the pocket of his trademark Gandhi shirt. He went through both the documents and made some arithmetical calculations. His face which looked serious initially started brightening up slowly. Finally there was a broad smile on his face. He announced to the joy of my parents that the horoscopes matched perfectly! So that was it. It was time for my eldest sister to depart from our home.

The marriage of my eldest sister Gowramma with Mahabalaiah of Hokkalike was held shortly thereafter at the Shri GopalaKrishna Temple in Agumbe, the Chirapunji of South India. (The town was made world famous later by Shankar Nag as Malgudi in his TV serial Malgudi Days). Quite for some days, we found it difficult to accept that our beloved elder sister was no more a part of our home. We missed her too much. But we were equally happy to have her back on some occasions. While my father or eldest brother would go to her place to bring her, my brother-in-law would personally visit us to take her back after some time.

The marriage Gowrakka was one event in our family which opened new vistas for us, especially for we children. Up to that time our vision of life was restricted to one particular mode and we had very little exposure to the way life that was going on in other places. This sister opened a new window for us and from there on we entered into a new world altogether. I would even place this as a major turning point in our family life.

Gowrakka has always taken the role of a second mother for all of us. Three of us have in fact stayed in her house for more than two years to complete a part of our education. She had a soothing effect on all of us by her balanced opinions and advices and cool approach in solving the major issues. She was later joined by our second sister Rukminiakka as our second brother-in-law also belonged to the same place. A part of our life was also spent in her house. Together they always extended moral support to our family whenever we found ourselves in dire straits. We had a good number of such occasions and we always ran to them to find solace. There is a saying in Kannada ‘ballavane balla, bellada saviya’which means, ‘he who has eaten the jaggery, only knows how sweet it is!’. Likewise, ‘you can only experience the depth of love the sisters have for their brothers, it is better not explained.’

Initially when she was first married our eldest sister used to come back to our house frequently. We used to just wait for her arrival anxiously. We all would gather around her in the evening to hear about her life in her new home! She had a joint family and would narrate a lot of her experiences which were quite interesting to all of us. She had fitted herself into her joint family like a fish into water. She had learnt to cook some special delicacies which were unheard of in our place. One such item was jaggery from the seeds of jackfruit!  The days would run fast and we used to get upset when the time of her departure came. The first time when she was going back she took my second elder brother with her. He came back after two months with lot of things to tell all of us.

Next it was my turn to accompany her. I had long waited for this D-day. It was for the first time I was going out of our village for staying in a different place. To say that I was excited would be an understatement!

As usual our brother-in-law came to take back the sister. We three of us started from our home in the early morning. We were supposed to travel the entire journey by foot only as proper bus route was not available. In the first leg of our journey we passed through our areca garden and reached the base of a small hill. After climbing the hill and stepping down on the other side we found a pucca road. Half a mile on this road took us to a hillock covered with forest. We had to climb down deep through this forest when we arrived at a place called Bhuvana Kote.

Here we saw the house of ‘Basri brothers’. Theirs was a big family with huge land holdings. One of the brothers was then the General Manager of Karnataka bank at Mangalore. Their father was very close to my father and he was no more. The brothers had grown up in front of my father and he knew them all well. Many of our villagers had taken their sons to Mangalore to seek the help of the ‘General Manager’ for finding a job for them. But he had maintained a ‘clean slate’ by not helping anybody even if they fully deserved! My father had also taken my elder brother to him on completion of his But he could not spoil his ‘clean image’! But later I came to know that he had to employ one of his close family members in his bank for some unknown reasons by spoiling his ‘clean image’. Believe it or not! The job offered was that of a peon! That was the maximum he could do as a General Manager!

Next we had to pass through a paddy field to reach the border of another forest. A footpath through this forest took us to a main road. Moving on this road, we passed through two places called Hallimane and Kondibylu.   Here we heard the sound of the fast flowing river called Sitha. We crossed the river with some difficulty and reached a place called Narve on the main road. On the way we could see the confluence of the rivers Sitha and Tunga at a place called Ardikoppa. This is a beautiful place with a small temple. A super hit Kannada film ‘Yeradu Kanasu’ (two dreams) was shot in this place a few years later. The place became so famous that the priest of the temple came to be recognized as ‘Yeradu Kanasu Bhatru’!

At Narve we were lucky to find a lorry which was going to Hariharapura on the route to our destination. The driver was known to my brother-in–law and happy to take us with him. It took hardly 20 minutes for us to reach Hariharapura on the banks of River Tunga. Hariharapura is a small village and agraharam located at a distance of 19 KMs from Sringeri. It is the home of Sri Adisankaracharya Sharada Lakshmi Narasimha Peetam and Sri Math with a history of over 1,000 years.

Legend has it that Sri Adishankara prayed to Goddess Sharada to follow him and grace the place, where he would assume her power to be eternally radiant. Shankara’s intention was to take the Goddess to Sringeri for installation. Mother Sharada granted the request on one condition. She would follow him but he should not look behind during the course of the journey. If he did, she would stay in that particular place forever. The Acharya agreed and started walking down from Kashmir to the South, all the while listening to the tinkle of the Mother's anklets. When he entered Hariharapura he did not hear the sound and made the mistake of turning back to see the Mother standing there. Sankara offered his prayers and to mark the holy spot consecrated the Sri Chakra and placed the Mother's image on it. Even today, one can see a rare statue of Sharadamba in standing posture. Later, seeing the disappointment of Shankara for not being able to take her to Sringeri, she agreed to be present in Sringeri on all the nine days of Navarathri, as a special case.

Here we had to cross the Tunga River. Further on our way we came to a place called Bommalapura. This place is known for the famous temple of ‘Thripuranthaki Amma’ on the banks of Tunga. Every year during ‘Chaitra masam’the ‘Rathotsavam of the Goddess would be held in a grand manner. Another two KMs of journey from here took us to Hokkalike the home of my sister.

 --- (To be continued) ----

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 15

Another event which has stood the test of time in my memory is the visit to a place called ‘Benne Gudde’ (Hillock made of butter) on the shores of the sacred river Tunga, not far from our village. The place got its name because of the pure white sand on the river bed. The occasion was the ‘Upanayanam’of Chandru & Chandru, two boys from our neighborhood (one from Kelaginamane and the other from Naduvinamane). This trip was in reality a picnic party as far as we young boys were concerned. We really enjoyed every bit of the journey in the deep forest and the ceremony in the temple on the river shore.

We started early in the morning from our village after finishing our breakfast. We had to first mount a hill on the outskirts of our village called Kithlekatte Gudda. On reaching the top of the hill we could see our village on this side as a beautiful picture full of natural beauty. On the other side we saw a valley full of deep forest with a rivulet flowing down and joining the Tunga at the far end. There was a narrow footpath (kaludari) through the forest on the narrow banks of this rivulet. We started climbing down the hill on this side through this narrow footpath. We could hear the sound of forest animals and saw the monkeys jumping from one tree to other. One or two snakes crossed our way, but we were accustomed to seeing them and were little bothered. The sound of the stream of water flowing down the hill was music to our ears. We could collect a good number of forest fruits without even climbing the trees as they were bending down on the slope of the hill.

We were at the temple well before the ‘Muhurtham’ for the ‘Upanayanam’. The priest of the temple was in fact the Purohit of our family (and the entire village), Sri Shankar Bhat. He was responsible for conducting all the religious ceremonies in our homes. He had to visit all the village houses on Ganesh Chathurthi day every year for conducting the Ganapathi Vrutha. He was also required to visit our homes on the Yugadi day (Hindu New year day) with the new Vontikoppal Panchangam.He would read out the forecast for the New Year as per the Panchangam.He would then religiously hand it over to the Yajaman of the house. Shankar Bhat had grown old by that time. He vacated the place shortly afterwards and moved to Jog in Shimoga district to stay with his daughter as he had no sons.  We never saw him again.

The function was held in a grand manner in the temple. Elders from our village assisted the cooks to prepare the grand meals. We all went to the river bed to see the vast strands of beautiful white sands. These sands have given the name to this place which it richly deserves even to this day. The river water here is so pure and sweet. In fact there is no exaggeration in the saying ‘Ganga snanam, Tunga panam’ (Ganga for the bath and Tunga for the drink)! We returned to our village in the evening. As usual the return journey was not as pleasant as we were all tired and exhausted.

I would like to record here the famous ‘Rangamahal Murder’ case which created a sensation in the entire State of Mysore at that time. It happened in the year 1956 when I was eight years old. In fact I even remember the date on which the murder took place in Gandhinagar, Bangalore. It was on the midnight of June 5th.

Belur Srinivasa Iyengar was a famous criminal advocate in Bangalore in those days. He had a palatial bungalow in Gandhinagar called Rangamahal in Bangalore. I am told that the house stood at the place where the present Syndicate bank Gandhinagar branch office is situated. On the fateful night the entire family was wiped out by a murderous gang. But Rangamani, one of the daughters of the advocate, was mysteriously left out. She was the pet daughter of the advocate and in fact the bungalow had been named after her.

The news spread like wild fire in the entire state and even a distant village like ours got it fast. Actually there was only a single house in our village which had a radio and another house used to get a newspaper on the next day only. We all kept ourselves fully aware of the developments in the case by closely hearing our elders’ discussions. The police did a very fine job in the investigations. The police dog squad was also put into good use. They were successful in arresting the three criminals who committed this heinous act. They were Govinda Reddy, Krishna Reddy and Muniswami. The case went on for a long time and we kept well in touch. Ultimately all the three were awarded capital punishment. They were sent to gallows at the Central Jail in Bangalore itself. We were all thrilled to read and hear how the three criminals faced their death penalty. In a recent article in Times of India it was mentioned that it was the last time death penalty was enforced in a Bangalore jail.

A good number of detective novels were written and even a film was made in Kannada basing on this murder case. A lavani (typical poem written in a popular format) was also written which became so popular that even now I can recite it in its entirety. Mysteriously the real persons who were behind the scene and who planned and executed the murder through the three hired killers were never identified and punished. The motive appeared to be professional jealousy.

If I remember correctly, hardly one year afterwards, a similar sensational murder took place. This time it happened nearer to our home. This was in a village called Handigodu very near to our Sringeri Town. A full family was wiped out in this village by some unknown enemy gang. Here again one of the sons of the family was mysteriously saved as he was studying in Sringeri high school. The case became very famous as ‘Handigodu Murder Case’. Top police officials were camping in Sringeri for a long time for investigation of this case. We kept ourselves fully informed of all the developments. Ultimately the police could crack the case successfully. One Shivappa Nayak was found to be the main culprit behind this heinous murder. The case went on for a long time in the court. If I remember correctly there was no capital punishment in this case.  

---To be continued---

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 14

                                      “Memories are like roses in December”

As young boys certain events or news items got imprinted in our memory. So much so that the details start unfolding the moment we think back. In this episode I would like to place two of them on record.

The first of such events was the passing away of the illustrious Swami Chandrashekhara Bharathi of Sringeri. This Jagadguru was a great scholar and saint. In Sringeri there is a belief that the founder of the Mutt, the revered Shankaracharya, would take rebirth in the form of alternate Swamiji of Sringeri. What it actually means is that if one Swami is an ordinary mortal the other is the reincarnation of Shankaracharya himself. This had been proved time and again by the scholarship and stature of Swami who was thought to be the reincarnation.

Shree Chandrashekhara Bharathi had several such qualifications which could prove that he was such reincarnation personified. However this is not the place for me to list out the same. Suffice to say that we were all in great awe of him and worshipped his photograph in our homes.

As is customary, the Swamiji used to stay on the other bank of river Tunga in an Ashram type of place called Narasimha Vana. He used to take bath in the river Tunga in the early morning. Thereafter he used to visit the Sharadamba temple on this part of the river for conducting the daily Pooja. He had already appointed his disciple Shree Abhinava Vidyathirtha as his successor. Slowly all the ritualistic practices had been passed on to him. The elder Swamiji had restricted his activities to conducting Pooja and spent his time in penance. He had become an ‘anthermukhi’and was mostly on ‘mounavrutham’.

On this fateful day in the year 1954 the Swamiji got up in the early morning and was taking his bath in the sacred river Tunga. One of his disciples who used to accompany him found that the Swamiji did not get up after taking two three dips in the river. Swamiji knew swimming and there were no currents in the river at the spot he was bathing. The disciple promptly raised an alarm. By the time help arrived, the body had been washed away by the river. Finally it was collected within the town limits at a spot where the waters were stagnant. Everybody believed that it was not an accidental death, but ‘dehaparityaga’by the Swamiji himself.

The news spread like wild fire. I distinctly remember the time we received the news at our home. Suddenly the mood everywhere turned out to be one of great mourning. My father and eldest brother rushed to Sringeri along with other village elders. They came back only after all the last rites were completed and the body was laid to rest in the ‘Narasimha Vana’itself. We were told that the town was flocked by devotees from all over Karnataka, Tamilnad and Andhra.

The death of the elder Swamiji called for another great event in Sringeri –the coronation of Shree Abhinava Vidyathirtha as the Jagadguru and the official successor. This occasion again remains permanently embedded in my memory. Our entire family was in Sringeri and we could sit in the Sabhangana of the Mutt and witness all the rituals of coronation. My aunty had to hold me on her neck to allow me to see the Kshirabhishekam of Swamiji. I remember to have given lot of trouble to my mother by asking for balloons repeatedly. I went on bursting them one after other by blowing the air! Each time I persisted in getting a new one immediately! My mother never forgave me for that. Whenever the occasion of coronation was referred to she would remind me the trouble I gave her! In fact she used to say that she would remember this occasion more for the trouble given by me than for the coronation itself!

I should mention here the efforts put in by me to erase my mother’s memory about this episode in my life. Particularly after the ‘Kutty episode’ I made lot of efforts to please my mother by my improved behavior. My mother did appreciate this. But there arose another problem for me. She made me and the ‘balloon episode ’a case study for my younger brothers. She started quoting this incident on every occasion explaining to them how I could improve from the lowest depths to which I had sunk at that time! Thus all my efforts to erase this incident came unstuck!

Years later, she was on a visit to my house at Santa Cruz, Bombay. I took her to Juhu Beach with my wife and young son. There my son was playing with a balloon when it suddenly burst. He demanded another one immediately. My memories came back flooding to me! I looked at my mother. I was expecting her to tell me “history repeats itself”! She merely smiled at me and asked me to get one more for him! With that this ‘episode’ of my childhood came to an end.

The next event most memorable is the “Kashi Yathre” undertaken by some of the elders from our village. The members of this party included ‘Kittajjaiah’ (our neighbor) ‘Doddamma’ of Sampige Kolalu (my father’s auntie) and ‘Ananthaiah couple’ of Melinakodige (my mother’s maternal aunty and her husband). In those days there was no guarantee that the Yathrees would come back alive. The main factor was their age. The Yathrees were expected to wear traditional dresses. The attire for male members was similar to the one that is worn by the bridegroom on the occasion of his marriage (all married Hindu males do recollect this scenario often in their life). Special coats were stitched for the purpose. For children like us the male pilgrims looked like ‘Dasaiahs’ who used to visit our village often and tell the future of the Yajaman of the house. A grand function was held and the Yathrees were given a traditional send off. We all went with the Yathree troupe up to the border of our village accompanied by a ‘Nadaswaram’ team.

If I remember correctly, the team returned safely in about a month. They were received cordially and the whole village was eager to know their experiences. The ‘Kashi Samaradhane’ was held as a great event at Sampige Kolalu. The relatives of the family came from different villages to participate in the celebrations. ‘Doddamma’ was a well known figure and carried lot of respect even outside our village. We all got one ‘Kashidara’ (sacred black thread from Kashi), which we tied to our forearms happily. We also got a four Anna coin as dakshina! We had absolutely no use for this money even though it had good value for elders in those days. The reason was there was no shop in our village where we could have put it to good use! We had no alternative than to surrender it to our parents!

The troupe had brought a good number of pictures from Kashi. We were thrilled to see those pictures! Each troupe member was supposed to forego one of his/her favorite eatables after the Yathraa. Our Kittajjaiah had to sacrifice his best item, ‘ananas rasayana’. For almost a year we went on hearing the Yathraa story from the members and were never got ourselves fully satisfied! One particular thing of interest and curiosity for all of us was the reference made by all of them about the presence of an underground route from Kashi Vishwanath temple to the Rameshwaram temple! They all had seen the entry point from Kashi! One of my greatest ambitions of my life at that particular time was to explore this route when I grew up!

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 13

The Belavinakodige family also owned coffee plantations and vast paddy fields in addition to the arecanut gardens. While the coffee plantations were under direct cultivation, the paddy fields were mostly given on tenancy, except for about 10 acres under own cultivation. Major portion of paddy fields under tenancy were located in a place called Chittemakki. This place had its own history and the story of the family will be incomplete without a mention of this place.

All the families in Chittemakki belonged to the Madivala (Dhobi) community. They had been the tenants of the Belavinakodige family from generations and cultivated only paddy in their fields. They had to depend on other occupations to make both ends meet, as the income from paddy was just insufficient.  Their hereditary occupation of washing clothes could also fetch very little money in those days. The families here had one distinct practice. They would name their children in only two-letter words in Kannada. The names were like Manja, Thimma, Hoova, Rudra, Dugga, Naga, Shoora and Singa (all males) and Sheshi, Belli, Loki, Chinni and Subbi (all females). There was absolutely no necessity to twist our tongues whenever we had to address them! Among them the family of Manja had the biggest landholding. Naturally Manja was also their community-head for all purposes.

Manja was also a very good hunter. The Belavinakodige family held a gun under license. Manja was the only person who could handle it to kill wild animals. In fact it was Manja who ultimately shot the wild boar that attacked Kittajjaiah, our neighbor. I have written this episode in a separate story. But no other persons of his community could develop this skill. Manja was already an old man by the time I saw him. The family had also lost the leadership of the community as Manja’s son Thimma was not such a strong personality. All attempts to regain the community leadership had failed miserably.

As children, we used to hear and enjoy several stories about the fights between the vast extended family of Manja and other members of the community. In fact we used to refer to them as the First Battle of Chittemakki and the Second Battle of Chittemakki (comparing them to the various Battles of Panipat). These stories were very interesting as they were told by the eyewitnesses of these battles and helped us to face the boredom of adike-sulitha (cutting of arecanut) during the late nights.

The First Battle of Chittemakki was unprecedented in the sense that it was waged by the ‘one-man army’ of a person called Subba against the powerful army of the family of Manja. Believe it or not! This battle was won by the one-man army of Subba! There was no necessity to conduct a post-battle enquiry to find out the reasons for the defeat of the ‘powerful’ army of the family of Manja! The reasons were simple and obvious. While the army of Manja was weaponless, the one-man army of Subba used the most powerful weapon of those times – the Donne (a wooden stick)! Let me elaborate.

Subba was a well-built young man who had married Loki, a girl from another village. The young couple had just started their happy married life. But Subba had attracted the enmity of the family of Manja on account of some dispute. One particular night there was a big quarrel and the entire family of Manja gathered near Subba’s house and started abusing him. The arguments reached a high pitch and the altercation turned physical.  The family of Manja thought that it would teach a perfect lesson to Subba and Loki on that night.

But they had obviously under-estimated the power of Subba! The young man thought enough was enough. He knew he was badly outnumbered. He looked for a weapon. Fortunately he could find no lethal weapons on the spot. Undaunted, he uprooted a long wooden stick (Donne) from the fence and moved with lightening speed. He used the weapon with great effect on the male members who were on the frontline! There was no necessity for him to use them on the females. By the time he had finished with the males, the females had simply vanished in thin air! They had safely bolted themselves in their houses leaving the hapless male members at the mercy of the valiant Subba!

We had heard this story several times in our boyhood and enjoyed it each time. For us, the heroics of Subba were nothing less than the heroics of Veera Abhimanyu in the legendary Mahabharatha War. While Abhimanyu had lost his life in the battle, Subba had won the battle decisively. After all, the war of Kurukshetra was thousands of years old, while the Battle of Chittemakki was quite contemporary!

The Second Battle of Chittemakki was equally interesting. This time the enemy camp of Manja’s family had doubled its strength! Instead of the one-man army of the first battle, it was actually a two-man army from a different family! There was an elderly man called Hoova, who had no issues. He had adopted two sons of his sister named Singa and Soora. Somehow the family of Manja was not happy with Hoova and his adopted sons. One particular day there was a big showdown between the two families.

Hoova was an aged man and he had a problem with his vocal chords. He was unable to raise his voice even under extreme provocation. Naturally Manja’s family had the upper hand in the arguments that ensued. But they had again under-estimated the two teenaged adopted sons of Hoova. In fact Hoova had named them appropriately for the occasion! While the name of Singa is derived from the lion, the name Soora literally means courageous. The two young men could not bear the insult to their beloved maternal uncle and the adopted father. The two needed no weapons for the battle that followed. They used whatever instruments they could lay their hands on! While Singa pounced on the crowd like a lion, Soora hit them hard courageously. The two men justified their names in full! The Second Battle of Chittemakki ended with the understandable results. There was no occasion for the Third Battle unlike the Panipat! The Second Battle turned out to be the decisive and the final one! The Manja family had learnt its lessons well.

Other than the Belavinakodige family, ours was the only family that had a stake in the paddy fields of Chittemakki. But that was the lowest unit of measurement possible for the paddy fields. In fact the paddy field in front of Manja’s house belonged to our family. It was a small plot measuring one Khanduga (3/4th of an acre) that had been gifted to my father by a gentleman called Puradamane Shingappaiah. Manja was giving an annual geni of two Khandugas (50 seers each- put together called one palla) of paddy to us under the tenancy arrangement. That could hardly meet one month of consumption of rice by our family.

This paddy field was located on the route of our mother’s maternal uncle’s house in a place called Kelakodige. We used to travel on this route often. Every time we used to feel very proud while passing through this land. We used to shout loudly that the land belonged to us! There was a big tamarind tree in the plot that used to yield quality tamarind. Left to us, perhaps, we would have displayed a board there– “This land belongs to Adekhandi Family. Trespassers will be prosecuted!”

Manja’s grandson Ganapa (Ganesha) was in my age-group and was my schoolmate. Ganapa was a simple and friendly boy. The family did a favour to us. We were sure to lose the land under the tenancy act of the Government of Karnataka. My father arrived at an understanding with the family. The family did not tender any declaration under the act. The land continued in our name and the family continued the cultivation under the age old tenancy system. The arrangement continued till my eldest brother sold it off.

As per the age old tradition, all the families of Chittemakki would undertake manual work at the Belavinakodige house in the matter of cultivation and harvesting of paddy and the annual cutting of arecanut (adike-sulitha). The season of adike-sulitha used to be from October to February every year. The families used to divide themselves into two groups. The first group would camp at the Belavinakodige house itself. The second group would camp at a one dark-room house near our neighbor Kittajjaiah’s house. This house had a verandah where the families would conduct the adike-sulitha. They would use the dark room for cooking their food. The women would do the adike-sulitha throughout the day and till late night. The men would engage in other connected work in the day and join the adike-sulitha in the night.

This house had a history. It was called the house of Venkata Lakshmamma. She was an aged widow who was living with the Belavinakodige family. We were told that once upon a time she used to stay alone in that one-room dark house.

The families of Chittemakki were also engaged by us for different jobs during the off-season. As per tradition they would supply the batthies for lighting the lamps during the Deepavali festival to each household. They would also collect the cloth for washing at least once in a year as it was their profession by birth. Generally they would collect the consideration in the form of arecanut and coconut. Thus the families of Chittemakki were a part and parcel of our daily life in our childhood.

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