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)-


Narain said...

The adventures and exploits of boyhood are so sweet to remember!

AVK Murthy said...

Thanks NN.