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) --------

1 comment:

Narain said...

The "battles" have been described very vividly. The economy of the are is so wholesomely accounted for. Quite enjoyable to read!