Slowly I started getting introduced to all the boys in my group. The boy Manju from Melkoppa soon became a close friend of me. He had a sister in a place called Hombuja which had a famous Jain temple. It was also a pilgrim place for the Jain community. This place was close to Shimoga and the Tunga dam at Gajanur. He used to tell a lot about these places of interest as he had lived there for some time. For me, a boy who had very limited exposure to outside world, his narrations were of great interest. I liked the association of this boy very much.
The second boy Laxmi Narayana, who was my classmate, hailed from a place called Charanabyle. I liked him immensely as he was a very simple but lovable boy. Being the first son of a rich landlord he had responsibilities at home. He could not concentrate on his studies and failed in 6th standard itself. He discontinued his studies and I felt his loss of company very much. The other boy Shivaramu, the son of the priest of Kolavara temple, hailed from a poor family. I had visited his home several times for drinking water as it was on midway to Basavani. He was the second son and had a large family. His mother was very kind; but it was very painful to see the poor conditions of the family. I am told that this Shivaramu is well-off and owns a petrol bunk near Sujatha Talkies in Bangalore at present.
Let me now come to my other members of the group. Their names were Puttappa Nayak, Venkataiah, Puttappa, Shankarappa, Thimmappa and Gopal. These boys belonged to the “non-vegetarian” section of our group. This section had two major characteristics. They were generally hot tempered and ready to strike you physically with least provocation. They were also generally weak in studies (with a few exceptions, my classmate Jagadeesh was one such) and this added to their ferocity. We, the vegetarians, were referred to as “pulicharu boys” and generally lacked guts to face physical attacks. There was hardly any scope for offence from our side. Rather we had to exhibit lot of diplomacy to defend ourselves from their offence!
Two things helped me defend myself from their offence. Our Vishnu had a personality which gave no scope for the offence against us. He was tall and well built. It gave an impression that he could hit back strongly against the offender. This was in fact not true at all. He was such a mild person who would not kill an ant! But his personality and physic did help me in defending myself from the marauding non-vegetarian gang! The other thing which helped me in the first year was the presence of Shankarappa in the gang.
This boy, whom I have already mentioned as the Captain of one of the Kabaddi teams, was an exception. While he did look like a bully and had the appearance of a big bull, was really mild in nature. He hailed from a poor family and was staying in his uncle’s (Puttappa’s father) home for pursuing his education. He was a very good boy by nature. He would not allow his boys to attack us. He was exploited and ill-treated by his uncle’s family. I had seen his uncle beating him all the way from school to his home on one occasion. Thus both Vishnu and Shankarappa were a case of “appearances are often deceptive”. I had the best of both! These two were like ‘Firewall’ for me!
There was a boy called Nagabhushana in our class. He was a senior boy and was a close friend of Vasachari whom I have already referred to as Captain of one of the Kabaddi teams. They were birds of the same feather! While Vasachari was stuck in 8th standard, Nagabhushana was stuck in 6th. They were finding it difficult to keep a track of number of years they were stranded in each class! If only they could maintain a spread sheet, the things could have been quite different! Unfortunately nobody knew about Guinness records in those days! Otherwise both of them deserved a place therein effortlessly!
Nagabhushana’s this elegant record was broken on account of strange and unforeseen circumstances! While he was stuck in 6th standard, his younger sister could not be prevented from joining him in the same class! He was trying to manage this embarrassment somehow. But our class teacher AG would not allow him peace of mind. In those days there was this cruel and embarrassing punishment meted out to students who could not answer the questions in the class. The student who answered correctly was supposed to punish the student who had no correct answer. The mode of punishment was to hold the nose of the student and hit him/her on both the cheeks! AG would ask the same question to both of them. He would ask the young sister to give punishment to her elder brother once she gave the correct answer and the brother could not! Things reached such a stage when Nagabhushana was forced to give up his education. Thus his great records came to an ignominious end!
The students in the 8th standard were highly respected and we were all in awe of them. The best student was Chidambara who hailed from an aristocratic family. His father was a big shot and owned a beautiful and vast bungalow in the middle of the Basavani town. He had a big land holding and owned the rice mill. The family members maintained a class of their own. Except one handicapped boy, all others had great looks and cause for much envy from ordinary folks.
Two of the boys, Thimmappa and Phaniyappa were competitors in a ‘business’. On my first day at the school both these boys approached me and asked me to place my orders with them and went away. I was at my wits end. I could not make out exactly what type of orders they were referring to. The mystery was solved by my classmate Sridharamurthy. He told me that these boys were selling textbooks after bringing them from Thirthahalli town. We had to pay them in advance and they would keep a margin of one Anna per book.
My brother had purchased all the books for me. Only Hindi text was missing as it was an optional subject taught in only Basavani and Thirthahalli. For me Phaniyappa looked a nice and sophisticated boy. On the other hand, Thimmappa appeared to be a bully! I did not know with whom to place the orders. While I wanted to oblige Phaniyappa, I could not think of incurring the wrath of Thimmappa, the bully. The problem was solved when it came to light that the Hindi books at Thirthahalli were already sold out. They were not interested in placing an indent only for one book for me from Shimoga. Both Phaniyappa and Thimmappa were disappointed to loose the one Anna margin from me! While I felt relieved for the time being, the real problem for me was how to manage without the textbook. My ambition to beat Sridharamurthy in Hindi subject faced the first and foremost hurdle! But Vishnu told me that his maternal uncle Nageshaiah had one old book with him. This was an old edition of the same book and the new edition had some minor changes. I got the book and had to some how manage with the same.
There was another handsome boy in 8th standard by name Rangappa. He hailed from the village Laxmipura from where my classmate Jagadeesh also came. It appears that the name Laxmipura was quite appropriate as all the families from this place were well-off! So was Rangappa. He was a very good boy and good in studies as well. But he became famous for a different reason all together.
It would be quite appropriate to call this as “Rangappana Pranaya Prasanga” (The romantic episode of Rangappa). He had a classmate called Sharada who was good looking. She hailed from a rich family. One fine morning the Head Master called both Rangappa and Sharada to his Chambers. He enquired them as to what was going on between them! Nobody knows exactly what happened afterwards in the Chamber. But the words spread fast that the two had a romantic association. It was also said that the pair was meeting regularly in a secluded place between their villages. This became a hot topic for discussion in the School.
That evening our group was waiting anxiously to get the full story from Thimmappa who was in 8th standard. He was equally eager to disclose the same to us. But we had to wait until Vishalakshi dropped out at Nenangi. Soon after, Thimmappa began the story. As per him it was Manjappa, a 7th standard student, who played the role of an investigator. He, some how, had a hunch that the ‘pair’ was up to some thing. He kept an eye on Rangappa’s activities after he left from the school.
His efforts were fully rewarded when on a particular day he found Rangappa deviating from his usual home route. He followed him surreptitiously and found Sharada waiting on the way. They exchanged some words and proceeded to a secluded place. They were found holding each other’s hands at this stage. As per Thimmappa, this in itself was vulgarity! He stopped the story at this stage to know our reactions. Our group fully agreed and wanted to know what happened next as we could not hide our curiosity any more! Our imaginations were running wild.
As Manjappa found it difficult to hide himself while on their trail, he mounted a tree on the way. From there all he could get was a bird’s view! As his view was limited he could only confirm that the pair was found in a deep embrace! He had no camera to click. But could give a graphic description of what he saw. Thimmappa finished his story here. That was enough for us, the gossip hungry group. The story was passed on by word of mouth. It had value additions at every stage depending on the power of imagination of the storyteller! For me Rangappa appeared to be a great romantic hero! I had read some romantic Kannada novels by then. But this was a real and live story! There was quite nothing to beat it at that time!
---- (To be continued) ----