Friday, July 29, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 35

Srinivas introduced me to two famous teachers in National High School. He knew both of them thoroughly as he was an ex-student of the same High School. The first one was Suryanarayana Rao (SSR) who was a very famous Mathematics teacher. He used to give tuitions at home to students including B Sc.students, even though he himself was only a B.Sc graduate. But he taught us, his class students, also equally well. We were lucky to have him as our class teacher. The other was Srinivasa Adiga who was a famous Hindi teacher. Both of them assured all the help from their side for my studies. I should say that this added to my morale which was otherwise low at that juncture.

Our class had five sections of about forty students each. All the English medium students were put in the prestigious A section. Ours was an exclusive boy’s school and there was a separate National Girls High School. We had some very good teachers but the best of them was the class teacher SSR. The Head Master Srinivasamurthy was a Post Graduate in Commerce and Arts. Ours was one of the very few High Schools in Mysore State which had an exclusive Commerce department. I was indeed lucky to get admission to such a good school. We had an option for second language between Kannada and Sanskrit. It may not be an exaggeration if I say that my Kannada language knowledge and depth along with my immediate elder brother were of fairly of high standard because of the exposure we had to Kannada literature at home. But Sanskrit was known to be a scoring subject and hence my option. Quite unexpectedly, this option also turned out to be remunerative for me! I shall come to it later.

The subject of Sanskrit was a highly neglected one in our High School. The reason was partly because the teacher Nanjunda Sastry, an elderly person, was not given due respect by the HM. He was a part-time teacher with a meager salary of thirty rupees per month. There was no regular classroom and we had to sit in almost a shed like structure; this was in spite of our School having a very good building. Sastry was not even allowed entry into the teachers’ room! We all felt very sorry for the aged teacher. He had a younger brother who lived in Sringeri and was known as a very good Harikatha Vidwan. He was comparatively well off. But he had conveniently forgotten his elder brother who could hardly make both ends meet! I had an occasion to visit his house once. His wife was a mental patient and the couple had no issues. The conditions at home were simply appalling. Later after leaving the School I had visited the house again to bid him farewell. I offered five rupees as Guru Dakshina which he received so gracefully that tears simply rolled down my eyes! If only I could offer him more! But that was not to be. God was so unkind to this great soul! Even today when I am writing this memoir, I feel so miserable to think about this sage like person who could never meet his earthly needs in full!

Quite contrary to the fate of the subject Sanskrit was the subject Biology! The reason again was the teacher concerned. The teacher, Khajane Krishnamurthy (KKM), was an exceptionally talented handsome man. He used to dress well and taught his subject with great style. He had a wonderful command over the English language and the subject of biology. I have no hesitation to say that I have never seen again in my entire education career such an interesting and enterprising teacher. He was an expert in staging the dramas written by the great Kannada legend T P Kailasam. He could mono act with great ease and command. During the Annual School day function he would train the students to stage dramas and sing the famous Khavvali songs of O. P. Nayyar, the legendary Hindi film music director. We the students simply enjoyed his shows.

There was another side to his personality. On account of his charming and handsome personality, several beautiful ladies were after him! Mind you, this was no one way traffic business! He enjoyed every bit of it and was equally responding! The result was a number of stories getting circulated about his affairs and escapades! We had on several occasions seen beautiful young ladies visiting him in the teachers’ room. For a boys’ school with no female teachers, the sight of beautiful ladies once in a while, was a refreshing change! Our HM did not like this one bit. While he could bar the rightful entry of the soft and helpless Sanskrit teacher into the teachers’ room, he could not stop the entry of the fair sex friends of our KKM! He was a real Krishna Paramathma and had no hesitation to entertain his Gopies!

The subject Kannada was taught by a great scholarly teacher by name K. Venkataramana Bhat (KVB). He used to wear highly traditional Mysore dress of Petha and Coat. He had a very fair complexion and was almost a look alike of the great Kannada litterateur B M Srikantaiah (B M Shree). I was unfortunate not to attend his classes. There was another famous science teacher by name T S Ram Kumar (TSR). He was a postgraduate. He had a dark skin but was a handsome man who always dressed well. His classes used to be very interesting. He used to tell us several English film stories. I vividly remember the story of Psycho which he told us in such a style that we started shivering with fear in the class room!

Our school students were known to be very creative in one aspect. It was customary to address all the teachers by their initials. The students would use their ingenuity in finding suitable expansion to these initials. These expansions were usually based on the individual physical specialities of the teachers concerned. For example a fat teacher by name A.Manjappa (AM) was called Aanemari (elephant calf); another light weight with name T R Panduranga (TRPR) was called Tar-Purr; even the HM was not spared and was called Huluku Mande (Rash Head) as he had some skin disease on his bald head! We used to often wonder whether the teachers were aware of this trait of their beloved students! If so how they would react on hearing their own initials expanded in this fashion? Of course nobody had the guts to check this out!

During the lunch time of half an hour all the teachers used to visit a hotel by name Gopi Hotel. It was at a walking distance from our School. This hotel was very famous for the delicious dosas and fruit salad with ice cream. The daily routine was to order one plain dosa and a cup of coffee. The habit had got so firmly entrenched that it almost became a part of the time table for the teachers! Actually the hotel was located near a circle by name T. Seenappa Setty Circle. But the hotel became so famous that the circle came to be commonly referred to as Gopi Circle. Many years later the hotel closed down thereby ending a landmark in Shimoga. But the Circle is still carrying the Hotel’s name by legacy! Poor Seenappa Setty’s name appears only in a stone fixed at the center of the Circle! It is crying for attention; but who cares?

We used to come back to Arunachalam teacher’s house during lunch time. But it used to be a very dull and drab time. Unlike the teachers who were tasting the plain dosas at the Gopi Hotel we were left to fend for our selves by drinking water! We simply envied the teachers! But the evening had something good and interesting for us. The teacher and his wife used to serve us different items like Chapathi, Poori, dosa, etc. They served them hot and with great affection to each of us one by one. Except the item curd rice, which in my opinion could not be treated as a snacks item, all other items used to be quite tasty. The couple made no distinction between their own children and other paying guests in serving the food! They used to prepare some special food items on Sundays for lunch. During the mango season they used to serve one big fruit during lunch. The teacher used to look after each boy with care. He would keep an eye on the quantum of food we ate. If on any particular day we ate less he would seek an explanation. If any of us had hotel food he could immediately make it out! He took it as an insult to the food served by him with such great care and affection! I would only say that such persons are a rarity in the present day world!

Our class had most of the students who had studied in local schools. Many of them were from a Government School called the Main Middle School. It was a century old School in Shimoga. The other group was from National Middle school in which our Arunachalam was a teacher. His own elder brother was the HM of that School. The National Education Society was founded and run by a famous freedom fighter by name S R Nagappa Setty. He was an able and totally dedicated administrator. Under his leadership the society went on expanding and presently runs a vast number of well run educational institutions, even though he himself is no more.

Other than me there were only two boys who came from rural middle schools. Both of them stayed in their community hostel which was located next to our school building. There was no scope for me to develop friendship with the two. Both of them were a sort of bullies who would prefer to talk more through their fists than their tongues! I had one or two such experiences with them and learnt to deal with them diplomatically to save my skin (bones!). I was in search of a savior for me to protect me in case of physical assaults. Indeed I got the best one in the form of one by name Govinda.

Govinda hailed from a lower middle class Maharashtrian (settled in Karnataka more than a century back) family. He had lost his father and was being brought up by his elder brothers. He was a toughie as far as the tough guys were concerned. Even though he appeared to be soft and was indeed soft with soft guys, he would not tolerate any nonsense. He would fight it out even though the matter hardly concerned him. He had the requisite physique to help him out. He could within no time make out my vulnerability, as a rural boy, to hardened bullies. He appreciated my merit and asked me to sit with him on the same bench from 9th standard. From then on I was under his full protective cover. Even to this day I have a feeling that I was a younger brother for him!

Talking of bullies, there was one real bully in our class. Even though he had the name Mahavira, his behavior had nothing to do with the great last Tirthankara of the Jain religion. Left to himself he would always prefer to hit a person before talking to him! His father owned a workshop in Shimoga in an area quite inappropriately named as ‘Garden Area’. If you thought that the area had many parks and greenery you would be in for a shock! There was not even a single tree in the area for name’s sake! The area was known for all kinds of mechanical workshops. In fact the area is famous even today for a very big foundry by name Bharath Foundry. It is delivering quality items to major automobile manufacturers in India.

This Mahavira was in a group of three boys. Luckily the other two, Jayaprakash and Narasimhamurthy, had none of the qualities of a bully. Jayaprakash was the son of the owner of a transport company by name Vijaya Motors. He had the class of an aristocratic family upbringing. Even though he belonged to the Konkani community with the surname of Shenoy he never displayed it. The other boy Narasimhamurthy actually belonged to the Konkani community only. But he had none of the features of that community. He would always wear spotless white dress including a neatly ironed Gandhi cap. Often this was a matter of discussion in the class and the boys would ask Jayaprakash to explain how his friend was an exception to the normal community features. He would explain it away by calling his friend a ‘Kadu Konkani’ (a Jungle Konkani)! This Narasimhamurthy later completed his CA examination and set up a very good practice in Shimoga. Some of my bank friends were going to him for CAIIB accountancy coaching. Jayaprakash joined his family business and in fact became a client of our Canara Bank.

Our class teacher SSR had a special capacity to identify and to extend suitable treatment to bullies like Mahavira. Of course nobody had guts to complain against these toughies. But it was not necessary. SSR could somehow find out on his own. On a fine day he would catch one of these guys on wrong foot and start his treatment! It was not that he would beat them with a cane and leave it at that. He would start with asking the student to stand upon the bench. He would ask the guy how the class looked from that height! After this initial treatment for one period, the student could proceed to the second stage in the next period! Meanwhile he would be given some side dish in the form of boxing of ears, etc. The next stage would be to stand on one leg! As the class teacher used to have not less than three periods in a day, the going used to be tough. The punishment would generally end with a cane treatment and a severe reprimand. We all enjoyed this special SSR treatment for the bullies. Of course we could never show it in the open! That was, for sure, inviting trouble!

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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 34

The completion of my education at Basavani School was an important stage in my life. My education career was at crossroads at that juncture. I knew that my bother was particular that I went to a High School which had English medium classes. At that time only Schools in Shimoga had one section exclusively for English medium. It was a privilege to get admission to this section. My brother had another motive. He wanted me to be a ‘city boy’ who could not only speak English, but also speak Kannada in ‘city style’. But it was not going to be easy. Our family resources could not afford us even to pay the school fee. The payment of my establishment expenses was simply beyond our capacity.

When the results were published, my brother sent me to Hokkalike with instructions to collect my TC and marks card as early as possible and get back. As expected I had secured very high marks in the examination. But unfortunately the HM had received transfer orders and was on leave at that time. So the issue of TC was delayed. My brother sent me a SOS through my other brother asking me to come back urgently with the documents. Ultimately Giriyappa himself signed my documents and handed over them to me with best wishes.

I reached Koppa in a hurry. There my brother was waiting for me anxiously with his close friend Krishna Rao.They went through my marks card and were quite pleased to see my performance. But the situation appeared to be grave! I was told that all the seats in Shimoga schools had been filled up. Even the seats at Koppa High School were reported to have been filled up by that time. The situation appeared to be worse than the present day admission to Medical and Engineering Colleges! We were expected to reach Shimoga by night and use some influence to get me the seat.

My brother ordered me a masala dosa in the bus stand hotel. That was the first time I was eating a masala dosa after my trip to Chickmagalore many years back. I was relishing the same when I heard the bus agent shouting that Shimoga bus had arrived! My heart started beating fast and I began eating the dosa in a hurry. I was fully tensed up. The fact that I was proceeding to Shimoga direct without seeing my parents at home added to my anxiety. My brother told me to cool down and eat comfortably! He told me that there was another bus to Shimoga which would come in half an hour. That made me relax a bit.

The next bus arrived in time. This bus called CKMS was to pass through Thirthahalli on a good asphalted road throughout (The bus via N R Pura had to pass through an unasphalted road). Besides, it was the prestigious Leyland bus as against the normal Benz busses of Shankar Transport which had a virtual monopoly in our area. I had seen this bus earlier in Koppa bus stand and always had the fascination to travel in it one day. That opportunity had arrived now! This bus had another speciality. It had a driver who when he got down in Koppa bus stand, looked like a Gulliver among the Liliputs! I had not seen such a giant of a personality anywhere else.

We the three of us left Koppa on this bus driven by the Gulliver. It was my first trip to Shimoga. For all of us in Malnad this city was the centre of attraction in view of it being known as arecanut trading centre. I had lot of things going on in my mind about the city where I was going to live. We reached Shimoga by 9 PM in the night. We had our meals in a hotel and straightaway proceeded to the house of one Arunachalam in Durgigudi extension. He was a teacher in the National Middle school. He was running a mess at home only for selected students from Malnad. He went through my marks card and assured us that I would certainly get an admission in National High School with that type of marks. We were also told that I had to appear for a test along with other aspirants to get selected for English medium. We felt relieved for the time being. I stayed in the teacher’s house for the night.

When I woke up on the next morning I found about ten boys from Malnad staying there. Arunachalam’s wife Rajamma was a beautiful lady and a busy housewife. The couple had two sons and one daughter. The first son was studying for diploma in Bhadravathi. The second by name Mohandas was my classmate. The daughter was studying in SSLC. I found the other boys brushing their teeth and queuing up for taking bath. It was the first time I was seeing anybody using tooth paste and brush to clean their teeth! We at home were accustomed to using the ash made out of burnt rice bran for cleaning our teeth. You could say that the same was at zero cost. Spending money for the same appeared to be strange and unnecessary! I was also new to the concept of having a separate set of soap and towel for one individual. The first thing my brother did was to purchase these items for me in the morning. I should say that my entry into the City life started with this purchase! But I had quite a tough time in learning the art of brushing the teeth as I was a late entrant to this business!

I was expecting the teacher to call us for the breakfast once we were through our morning ablutions. But there was no sign of the same. Instead we were called for our meals straightaway at 9 AM. Then only I came to know that there was no morning breakfast system. You can imagine my despair! I was accustomed to eating half a dozen dosas every morning at home and later at my sister’s house! So this was going to be my fate in the City! I had to break my fast by eating my meals instead of the so nice a thing called Tiffin! I could see how busy the couple Arunachalam was in the morning. They had to prepare and serve food for almost fifteen persons by 9 AM after ensuring that each one had finished his morning ablutions including hot water bath. The continuous heating of water in the bath room itself was a major challenge. And the teacher ensured it personally by replenishing the paddy husk continuously in the oven.

Along with other boys and my brother we went to the National High School which was at a walking distance from the house. My admission process went on smoothly. We were told that the test for the English medium would be conducted on the next day. I had another three classmates in the teacher’s house hailing from Malnad. All of us including teacher’s son Mohandas appeared for the test. Except for one boy by name Ganesh all of us got selected. My brother’s one greatest ambition in life had been fulfilled! But the more challenging part of meeting the cost of my stay remained.

Quite unknown to me my brother had planned for a free establishment facility for me at Shimoga. There was a hostel for Brahmin students in Shimoga. It had set aside certain free seats for the poor and meritorious students of our region. The hostel used to collect donations from rich personalities. My brother was aware that certain big landlords from our Malnad had given their donations. The idea was to use their influence to get me a seat. One requisite for admission was that the boy should have had his Upanayanam. I could understand why my brother had desperately managed to get me that eligibility in a hurry! But there was another major hitch. The hostel had the main aim of getting the boys admitted to the college after their SSLC. Hence hardly any free seat was being offered to the High school students. The idea was High School facility was available in Taluk centers and there was no necessity to come all the way to Shimoga! Naturally the hostel management could not appreciate my brother’s ambition to put me in English medium.

My brother had a classmate by name Talavane Srinivas. He hailed from a super rich family from our Malnad. He was an exceptionally brilliant student. He was the first boy from Malnad to secure rank in his B.Sc. His example was being quoted by all the families while asking their sons to perform well in studies. He had since finished his M.Sc. and was doing research in IARI (Indian Agriculture Research Institute) at New Delhi for his PhD. He had earlier studied in Shimoga National High School and had a good number of acquaintances in Shimoga. My brother had requested him to use his good offices to secure me a free seat in the hostel. He had come home for summer holidays and came to Shimoga on a personal visit.

We met him in a hotel room. I found him a handsome young man very eager to help the brother of his classmate. He was impressed with my marks. He took me personally to one Dattatreya Sastry who was a member of the hostel managing Committee. The Sastry family owned a big Arecanut Mandi in addition to being very big landlords. The Talavane family of Srinivas was sending major portion of their arecanut produce to this Mandi. Hence they were a prestigious Client for them. Besides Srinivas was personally known to them as a brilliant student from Malnad. We were assured by Sastry that he would put in a word for me in the Managing Committee meeting.

My brother had brought two letters from highly respected personalities from our place recommending my case to the hostel authorities. The same were handed over to the hostel Manager as annexure to my application for free seat. In view of my merit coupled with low income and recommendations it appeared that a seat for me was guaranteed. All the other boys who were staying with me at the teacher’s house had also applied for the hostel seat. They included two younger brothers of Srinivas studying in National High School. But they were sure to get the admission as their application was for full payment seats. Being students from well off families they could comfortably pay in full unlike me. I was the only exception. The hostel was to open only on July 1st to coincide with college opening day whereas High Schools had opened on June first.

My brother had to make some more purchases for me including one steal trunk to keep my belongings. For the first time in my life I was to handle my affairs independently including money matters. I was handed over some petty cash and was asked to maintain an account of my expenditures in a small notebook. Having arranged everything for me brother was to leave for home along with Krishna Rao who was with him throughout and involved himself fully in the venture. Both of them were staying in a Hotel called Meenakshi Bhavan. On the night before their departure day, I felt miserably home sick.  My brother could see it from my expressions! He asked me to stay in their room for the night and asked for an extra bed. We went for a late night Hindi movie in the nearby Modern Talkies. That was the first Hindi movie for me. To my ill luck it was a tragedy with the famous tragedy queen Meenakumari as the heroine. The film simply added to the gloom for me!

The morning saw me bidding farewell to my brother and his friend. I returned to the house of Arunachalam in a melancholy mood. For the first time in my life I had moved out of my easy going village life. Actually when I was staying with my sister it had made me no difference. The lifestyle was the same as at my home. Besides, there was the comfort and security of my sisters’ presence. Here in the City I missed them very badly. I had to live in a strange place with so many boys who were quite unknown to me. I really felt like weeping! Actually I was in good company. Besides, the Arunachalam couple was quite considerate and kind in dealing with me. But for the first time in my life I felt detached from my Malnad village life to which I was so dearly attached!  Truly my life journey was at cross roads! I never could return to my original Malnad village life from then on till today!

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

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 33

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
-William Shakespeare

The academic year of 1961-62 saw my entry into 8th Standard. Simultaneously Vishnu passed out from 8th standard and proceeded to Shimoga for High school studies. I came to know that he had to face innumerable problems in continuing his studies there as there was absolutely no support for him from his home front. Meanwhile I had to play the role of a senior student in Basavani. I have already mentioned that I was nominated as the Chief Minister by our HM. I was asked to maintain a notebook and record the proceedings of all the cabinet meetings and other activities like debates. This gave me a good exposure in writing.

I had developed a close personal friendship with Sridharamurthy and Jagadeesh. Our relationship used to be quite close even though I had snatched away the first rank from Jagadeesh. Sridharamurthy had to accept third rank. But they carried no grudge against me. Things were going on quite smoothly when suddenly both of them decided to stop talking to me! Those days the boys and girls had this practice of suddenly stop talking to each other. The boy or girl who first decided would show his/her two fingers to the other thereby indicating that he/she was not on talking terms with the other. The event which led to this action used to be forgotten and in any case appeared to be quite irrelevant in the end!

In our case also the same thing happened. As a result I am not in a position to recollect the reasons for our break up. But my position of being a senior student with the rank of Chief Minister (including first rank in class) had given me lot of strength in facing this onslaught from my erstwhile close buddies. I just ignored the pair and continued with my normal activities. The ‘pair’ had not anticipated this firmness in my attitude. They had thought that I would come around and seek a compromise with them. Actually I did value their friendship. But I thought that I should not yield so easily.

After a few days I got a message through one of my classmates, Satyanarayana, that Jagadeesh wanted to talk to me. I simply refused to talk. Subsequently the same classmate handed over to me a letter from Jagadeesh. In the letter Jagadeesh had blamed Sridharamurthy for the break up of our friendship. He had also explained how much value he had attached to my friendship. While this letter brought immense satisfaction to me, I did not want to give up so easily!  I wrote back to him strongly.

This correspondence went on for quite some time. Sridharamurthy was totally unaware of the things going on between two of us. After some time I gave up and shook hands with Jagadeesh to his immense satisfaction. He had promised me that he would never again give up my friendship! He had shown his desperation in the matter. By that time I had realized that my friendship was indeed at a premium! You can say that things had gone to my head literally!

On coming to know the reconciliation between the two of us, Sridharamurthy had the shock of his life! Actually I had attached more importance to his friendship than that of Jagadeesh. But I never showed it openly. Sridharamurthy had also by this time realized his loss! But he had not anticipated this surrender from Jagadeesh! Thus began a great romantic (?) saga between the two of us!  I should admit that this saga in fact never reached a logical conclusion. It was a case of two friends desperately trying to get back to each other but could never do it ultimately! So much for the mysterious ways of our life!

Today when I am writing down this memoir of mine I am really at a loss to find words to explain the amount of loss felt by both of us. It was a case of ‘so near, yet so far’. But to continue the story, it was again the same Satyanarayana who brought the first ‘love’ letter to me from Sridharamurthy. Even though I did not open up immediately, it was a question of time before I did. Thus started the flow of a continuing exchange of  letters between the two of us. Indeed we started calling Satyanarayana the ‘Post Man’ which role he played quite happily. But somehow we could not get back to our original friendship as far as the outside world was concerned. Years later I had the occasion to read the sonnets of Shakespeare. I have quoted the best one at the beginning of this episode. There is a School of thought which says that most of these sonnets were addressed to a male friend of Shakespeare. I feel they may be correct after all. I have no hesitation to say that my own correspondence with Sridharamurthy was nothing but a pure romantic affair! The fact that it remained unfulfilled in the end and lingered on for ever makes it eternal even to this day.

I had preserved these letters for quite some time. My sister had gone through some of these letters. But on one occasion my brother-in-law himself read one such letter. He could not make head and tail of it. He asked my sister what sort of correspondence it was! I was embarrassed and destroyed all the letters in a huff. Even today I feel I should have preserved those letters. That would have shown the mental state of affairs of two close friends who could never get united in spite of their best efforts.

Years later I met this Satyanarayana, our ‘post man,’ once again while I was studying in Sringeri College for my B.Sc. He had joined the same college. He told me that Sridharamurthy was studying in Sahyadri College, Shimoga. We got our communication line open once again through our post man. Sridharamurthy’s letters revived our efforts to bind us once again. But the distance between us did not allow us to find our bearings again. Slowly we lost our touch. More than twenty five years later I had the occasion to meet him at my brother’s house. He was working for Dr.Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd.  Both of us could realize that the fire had burnt out and only the ashes remained! That was the end of the great story of our friendship!
The youth of Basavani in the age group of twenty went for a Scout camp and underwent training in Shimoga. They came back well trained in conducting drill for the boys. At the request of our HM they started daily evening drill classes for us. Sridharamurthy’s elder brother Dattatri (already referred to by me) was one among those youth. While the other youth were soft spoken kind gentlemen, this man used to talk big and too proud of himself. He almost tried to make this exercise a punishment for us. Knowing him fully well, I used to be very careful with him and avoided facing his sharp tongue.

He decided to conduct a competition in the drill for each class. The student who did all the exercises correctly was to be awarded a prize in the Republic Day function. The competition was held in our School grounds. For our 8th standard boys the same was conducted in the end. The competition went on and all other boys dropped out one by one as they failed to take their drill commands correctly. Ultimately only Sridharamurthy and I remained on the scene. By the way Dattatri was behaving, it was clear to everybody that he was bent upon making his brother the winner against me. It was a neck to neck race between the two of us. At that stage Sridharamurthy suddenly committed an error in following the command. His dear brother was exhibiting some clever blindness by ignoring that error! But the students and other teachers started shouting at Dattatri. He had to ultimately declare me the winner in spite of his great reluctance!

If you thought that I was given the prize I won, on the Republic Day, you could not have been more wrong! On the function day the students were being called one by one on the stage to collect their prizes. Dattatri went on the stage to announce the prizes for the drill competition. He announced the prizes for all the classes except for the 8th Standard and left the stage. On being asked as to what happened to my first prize, he had the audacity to tell that there was no scope for giving prizes to everybody! He had absolutely no regrets for exhibiting his favoritism towards his brother! It was simply ‘either my brother or nobody else’ for him! I have never seen a more blatant favoritism in my whole life so far.

The beginning of the year 1962 saw the third General Elections to Indian Parliament and simultaneously to Mysore State Legislative Assembly. I was an avid reader of daily news paper and kept watching the election scenario very closely. That was the last election which the Congress fought under Jawaharlal Nehru. I was a great supporter of V K Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister. I celebrated his win from Bombay north constituency against Acharya J B Kripalani. I used to remember all the names of members of Nehru’s Cabinet.

Coming to the State assembly, I was a supporter of B D Jatti, the then Chief minister. But the elections saw his supporters lose heavily against the faction headed by Nijalingappa, the other Chief ministerial candidate. But to the utter dismay of this faction, Nijalingappa himself was defeated by a little known candidate called Rangappa from Hosadurga Constituency. The only course left open to this faction was to allow their leader to contest in a bye election by making one of their faction MLAs to resign. That is what they did ultimately. Meanwhile S R Kanti was made the interim Chief Minister as a stop gap arrangement. He came to be known as ‘Bharata’ in Mysore state politics. He faithfully handed over the reins to Nijalingappa once he was elected in the bye election. I kept a track of the whole episode and enjoyed immensely at that time.

It was a keenly fought election in our Sringeri Constituency. The Congress candidate was the then Revenue minister Kadidal Manjappa. For a short time Kadidal was also the Chief Minister of Mysore State. From the opposition the candidate was N P Govinda Gowda. The election turned out to be a fight between landlords and tenants. This was because Kadidal had already introduced an act in the assembly conferring the ownership title to all the tenants. In my own village the support went to Congress as majority of the voters were tenants. On the other hand from my sister’s place the support was almost in total to the opposition as the majority were landlords including my own brothers-in- law. However, most of these landlords had very small holdings and suffered heavily as the law made no differentiation. Even though the election was fought very bitterly, the victory went to Congress by a huge margin. But Kadidal was not given any ministerial position again due to factional politics. That was the last election he fought. He came to be known as Gandhi of Malnad on account of his corruption-free unblemished political career.

Our HM, as a forced bachelor, had his own group which spent time merrily. Visiting ‘Holekoppa Camp’ was one of the activities of this group. The youth wing of Basavani, under the leadership of Dattatri, was against this group. The two groups were bitterly against each other. By the time our Annual Day Celebrations were being announced, these two groups entered in to a sudden compromise. Once the compromise was entered into they became close buddies! You may not believe this! But I became the first casualty of this compromise!

It was customary to print the name of the ‘Chief Minister’ in the invitation to the Annual day function along with the name of the HM as President. I being the ‘Chief Minister’ should have had the privilege of seeing my name printed in the invitation. But I was shocked to see, instead, the name of Sridharamurthy appearing as Secretary! But I could do nothing. Our Hindi teacher Gopal was a highly principled man. He observed this anomaly and asked me the reason. I told him that I was equally clueless. Gopal raised strong objection for this unjustified act with the HM. He could understand that this should have been one of the ‘compromise terms’ between Dattatri and our unprincipled HM. But nothing could be done at that stage.

I should mention here specifically that Sridharamurthy himself had no role to play in this ‘Shakuni’s’ role played by his bother Dattatri. In fact he was worried that such things may spoil our friendship. Between us these were not the issues at all. As already stated by me for all outwardly appearance we were not on talking terms. But our exchange of letters had reached a stage where we could not part even for a minute.

The Annual Day function always used to have a drama staged by the students. That year it was decided to stage the famous drama written by N. Kasturi. It was a comedy by name ‘Gaggayyana Gadibidi’. The role of Gaggayya had a lot of dialogue and the same was entrusted to me in view of my capacity to by heart and reproduce. I should admit here that I was an ordinary artist and hardly knew any nuances of the art of drama. On the other hand, Sridharamurthy was a very good artist and played his role superbly. When we were behind the screen, we could engage in some private conversation, which otherwise we could not. Both of us enjoyed it. The function was a grand success and the drama was well appreciated by the audience.

For my classmates and other boys the success of the drama was more like a mystery. They could not imagine as to how we could play our drama roles so nicely while we were not in talking terms otherwise! They were quite unaware that what we were playing for them was really another drama! Of course the ‘post man’ was the only one who knew. Believe it or not! Satyanarayana retired as the Post Master of Basavani Post Office!

That year for the first time the 8th standard examination was to be held as district level public examination. We were all quite excited to see the printed question papers prepared at district level. As per the examination rules all the question papers reached our School just before the start of the examinations in a sealed box. The HM was to daily take out the papers as per the time table from the box. The seals were to be opened in the presence of another teacher.

As expected, the duo of HM and Giriyappa wanted to freely allow the students to copy. But AG and Gopal were dead against it. But they could do nothing to stop the duo. I had no complaints so long as the duo was not asking others to copy my papers. But the situation changed on the day of the Mathematics paper. There was one particular arithmetical problem to solve, which was quite different from the usual problems taught in the class. The duo had a very high opinion about themselves in solving the arithmetical problems. They solved the problem in their own way and wrote it on the board for all the students to copy. I had already solved it in my own way. I also knew the duo had committed a basic mistake in solving the problem. I just kept quiet and avoided attracting their attention.

Giriyappa was going round and ensuring all the students had copied correctly. He came to my seat and found me trying to hide the answer sheet from him. His curiosity was raised. Suddenly he must have remembered the Hindi examination episode. He asked me to show him how I had solved the problem. I could not hide it anymore. He went through the same and could immediately find out the mistake the duo had committed. He shouted ‘Eureka’ and immediately called the HM. Within no time the duo erased the earlier writing on the board and rewrote it based on my answer paper! If you thought that they were appreciative of my ability to solve the problem correctly you couldn’t be more wrong! They were rather unhappy for my attempt to hide the same from them! They had this attitude of ‘Sarve Janaha Sukhino Bhavanthu’ (For the betterment of one and all)! I had absolutely no objection to this except that I didn’t want it at my cost! They had no respect for the thing called the ‘intellectual property rights’!

The examination drama did not end here. The next blunder the duo committed was almost disastrous to say the least! On the last but the previous day (afternoon) of the examination we had the subject of Hindi. I have mentioned earlier that the subject of Hindi was optional in place of the subject Hygiene. In our Thirthahalli taluk, only our School and Government School at Thirthahalli had this Hindi optional subject. To our great shock when the question papers were opened and handed over to us we found that they were papers for Hygiene and not for Hindi! All of us were totally upset. The teachers were at their wit’s end!

There was no telephone facility in those days. Also no mode of conveyance other than bus to Thirthahalli was available. The earliest one could have reached there was by the evening only. Our HM had to report to the Education Officer and collect the Hindi papers from him. It was decided to send Giriyappa to Thirthahalli to report the matter and get the Hindi paper parcel from the EO.

While this discussion was going on another important issue came up. All the three teachers had planned to leave Basavani on the next day for their native place for summer holidays. We had one more paper to write on that day (a Saturday). If we were to write two papers, as the Hindi paper was also to be written on that day, these teachers could not have managed to leave the place. All the three had become so homesick they did not want to stay back even for a day! A brilliant idea flashed to them. Why not ask the students to write the next day paper on that day itself? They thought themselves to be very smart and exactly did that. We were asked to write our papers for the Geography subject due only next day!  Gopal was not present on the occasion. Otherwise he would have advised them against it.

For me it made no difference as I had prepared thoroughly for Geography already. We finished our writing and completed the examination but for Hindi. Next day when we went to School, we could see the tensed up faces of the duo. We came to know that Giriyappa had been taken to task by the EO when he was told that the next day paper had been made public by asking us to write the same. The duo had not realized one basic thing. Somebody in Basavani could have sent the paper to the students in Thirthahalli and other Schools in the evening. The EO made it clear to them that if the matter came to the notice of the higher authorities he could not protect them. As regards the Hindi paper, he could manage to hand over one copy collected from a Thirthahalli School student. The mistake had been committed by the district authorities and he was helpless.

We wrote the Hindi examination with that single question paper. We also faced the same tension as our teachers, as we got the impression that our examination results may be withheld. Quite for some time I used to get a nightmare that our examination was cancelled and we were asked to continue in 8th standard for another year!

--- (To be continued)---

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 32

I have already mentioned that Vishnu was the son of my brother-in-law’s sister. He hailed from a village called Narji in Thirthahalli taluk. He had a big family. Even though his father had a good land holding, the same was not managed well. He had the bad habit of playing cards with stakes and was in debts. In fact I was aware that he had taken loans from my brother-in law and never bothered to return the same.

My brother-in-law had in fact maintained a separate notebook for all such loans he had extended to his close relatives. Most of these relatives never bothered to return the loans. They were regularly visiting him during the religious functions held at home. But leave alone the matter of paying back; they did not even express any remorse or guilt for their intentional default! I clearly remember my brother-in-law gently reminding them of this matter when they were telling him ‘good bye’ after the function. They would merely laugh it away! I was getting a feeling that my brother-in-law was not really serious and doing that more as a mandatory functional role. He had to ultimately throw away this book and write off the entire amount. But he could not throw away these relatives and they continued to visit him and enjoyed his benevolence!

Vishnu took me to Narji during one weekend. We traveled a distance of almost 10 KMs by walk comfortably. Narji was indeed a beautiful village at the bottom of a large hill range. Vishnu’s was a small typical Malnad house. There was a large green arecanut and banana plantation in front of the house. His mother welcomed me and I did have a nice time with his brothers and sisters. But his father was not visible to me even though I was told that he was at home! The reason was that he was sleeping for the whole day inside a dark corner of the house. I found it quite unusual as he was only a middle aged man at that time. On the second day, the children were playing outside and we were all engaged in deep conversation. Suddenly Vishnu’s father barged out of the house in a rage! He pounced on the children like a wild animal and thrashed them left and right!  The scenario was quite comparable to the Narasimha Avatara in ‘Prahlada Charita’ episode! To say that I was shocked to see this could be an understatement!

After thrashing everybody (Only me and Vishnu could escape his fury!) Vishnu’s father went back to his bed for continuing his sleep in peace! He never took notice of me, a stranger and guest at his home! You can imagine the embarrassment Vishnu had to face in front of me! But I should admit that this episode, even though strange as it was, was not quite unusual in a Malnad household in those days! The children were there to be thrashed by the enraged father for no particular visible and justifiable reason! Vishnu’s father was only following this normal practice! The other members of the family were only the silent witnesses.

My brother-in-law had another elder sister (Vishnu’s aunty) living in Narji. We visited their house. The family had huge land holdings and was well off. Actually there were two other houses of persons closely related to me – house of my father’s sister’s daughters. But Vishnu expressed his inability to take me there as his family had strained relations with them. This was a disappointment for me. We returned to Hokkalike by Sunday evening. This visit remains fresh in my memory as I had no other occasion to visit this place.

One day I was visiting the post office in Basavani for collecting the news paper. I saw a big man standing there who appeared to be very familiar to me. Suddenly the man shouted at me calling me Sannaiah (it was a practice to address the young boys by that name by the servants and labourers)!  I could recollect by then that he was the man who used to pluck arecanut and spray the chemical mixture on them by mounting the tall trees in our village. He had a giant of a personality and as children we were quite in awe of him. He used to visit our village only during the particular season. We used to call him Donatha. The name used to sound quite unusual for us. But nobody could explain to us the reason for him to have such a peculiar name. Years later somebody explained to me the mystery behind the name. He was a Christian by birth and his parents had actually named him Jonathan. But none of his family members and villagers could pronounce the same correctly. The name got so corrupted that he himself came to believe that his correct name was Donatha only!

This Donatha told me that he was presently working at our Hindi teacher Gopal’s place. He made a special request to me. He had taken a hand loan from a person called Bhaskar in our village. He could not repay it so far. He explained to me that Bhaskar had given him the loan on trust at a crucial time. But he had not only failed to repay but had left the place without even informing him. He had been carrying this guilty feeling for long. He wanted me to assure Bhaskar that he would remit the amount within a short time by money order.

I did inform Bhaskar about the guiltiness expressed and assurance given by Donatha. Donatha met me on another two occasions and reassured the same. I do not know whether he ultimately kept his assurances. I am writing this episode only to contrast his behavior to that of my brother-in-law’s relatives as highlighted in the second paragraph of this episode. I could also feel how the burden of a petty loan makes a man feel so small even though Donatha had the personality and attitude of a giant otherwise! To me Donatha appears to be a giant even to this day by his honest behavior! Otherwise, who would have cared to send such a message to his creditor through a young boy like me?

I should mention two great personalities of Basavani at that time. In fact the two I am referring are a pair of husband and wife. They were Ananthamurthy and his wife Janakamma. This Ananthamurthy and a brother of his were the sons from the first wife of one Gunda Bhatta a big landlord. Both the brothers were married and lived separately. Ananthamurthy was known for his aristocratic (‘shoki’ in Kannada) living style. He was the only person who maintained a car in Basavani in those days. He used to dress immaculately and had a great personality.

I remember a great Badminton match played in the Basavani School grounds. The match was between the youth teams of Basavani and Harogalige. The Basavani team had good players and won the match. But what appealed to me more was the umpiring by the great Ananthamurthy!  He was wearing a blazer which suited his personality and the status of the umpire! We the students were so impressed by his umpiring that we enjoyed the same more than the match itself!

Janakamma was a highly talented lady. She single handedly established and brought up a ‘Mahila Samaja’ (Women’s Club) in Basavani which served all the village women around. She taught several vocations to the young and old women. I remember several interesting programmes our School girls conducted on the occasions of Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations under her directions. Balachandra, a highly talented boy, whom I referred to in the previous episode as my partner in a drama was their son. He became a famous teacher in Stella Mary High School in Bangalore. I used to meet him often at my brother’s house. Unfortunately he died early, while in service, leaving behind his wife and only daughter.

In the aftermath of my eldest brother’s marriage there were several problems of adjustments at our home. I should admit that my sister-in-law could not fit into our home set up. My brother had several problems to face. The family indebtedness to Sampige Kolalu uncle had mounted abnormally. For the first time in our life I could myself feel the financial crunch. My brother had to arrange my Upanayanam. But he had no resources to meet the expenses even at a minimum level. Ultimately he somehow managed to raise one hundred rupees. He sent me to Horanadu with only my parents and younger sister for Upanayanam. There was no sufficient money even to take other members of the family by bus journey. I could remember how my second elder brother’s Upanayanam had been held in the same place in a very grand manner. My father himself taught me the ‘Sandhyavandanam’ which I regularly performed twice in a day for several years. Amidst all the worries, my brother never reduced his tempo and his eagerness to educate me up to the highest level. He never gave up this ‘one point programme’!

Our School got a new teacher in place of Varadachar. His name was Giriyappa. He was a reasonably good young teacher. But he allowed the students to copy in the examinations which I hated very much. I remember a Hindi Madhyama examination which I attended. There were many teachers from neighboring places who were also attending this examination. Giriyappa and our HM Ramappa were pleased to allow theses teachers to copy freely from the textbook. You may not believe this! To their utter dismay all these teachers failed in the examination even with the generosity of our HM and Giriyappa! The reason was simple. They were not able to make out the correct answers for the questions from the textbook! As for our HM and Giriyappa, the Hindi language was Greek and Latin for them! Otherwise they would have marked the answers in the textbook for the teachers benefit!

I had secured first class marks in the same examination. The pair of HM and Giriyappa did appreciate my performance. At the same time they were disappointed with the failure of their teacher friends. Suddenly they realized that they could have indeed helped them to pass out. They could have just asked the teachers to copy my papers! The idea flashed to them too late. Both of them repented their blunder. But they kept this in mind during my public examination for 8th standard. I will come to that later.

After my second elder sister’s marriage, my weekly routine got changed. I used to go to her house in the weekend to stay. Even though I was very close to this sister I had limitations in talking to her at her house. This was because of the presence of her elderly in-laws.  There was one incentive. This family had bought the first Radio in the entire village! On Saturday nights there was the regular programme of a Harikatha in the Radio. Besides, it was interesting to hear the daily Kannada news over the Radio for the first time in my life.

My brother-in-law had a younger brother by name Vishwanath. He was previously a classmate of our Hindi teacher Gopal. He was interested in knowing all about my School life as it was his old school. I used to go on telling about my experiences. He used to give me a patient hearing. My sister’s father-in-law, Thimmappaiah, also used to join the conversation along with my brother-in-law. Thimmappaiah was highly knowledgeable as already stated by me elsewhere. To some extent I feel I developed an interest in story telling due to such dialogues over a period of time.

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 31

Our School had only three regular teachers. They had to teach four classes from Standard 5th to 8th. There used to be combined classes for 7th and 8th standards. Hence on promotion I had the opportunity to sit with more students and that too the senior ones. This was indeed a good exposure for me. Our Hindi teacher Gopal’s brother Padmanabha used to stand first in 8th standard. In place of AG, Mr. Ramappa became our class teacher. He also became the Head Master on transfer of Varadachar. He was a good taskmaster but had limited intellectual resources at his command. Up to now all our examinations other than Mathematics were oral. From this class onwards we had to write for all our examinations. Our Hindi teacher Gopal found that he could no longer award highest marks to Sridharamurthy. In the first terminal examination itself I proved my written answers were superior to that of Sridharamurthy’s.

That year the school students association had a cabinet system for a change (earlier there used to be a President, a Secretary and committee members). Padmanabha was nominated the chief Minister. I got the portfolio of Health Minister. Another 8th standard boy, by name, Devendra became the Defence Minister. He used to sit next to me on the same bench. We developed a very close friendship. He was very strongly built physically and had dare devil nature. He virtually became my defender whenever any bully tried to attack me!

As a village boy, I was very shy of speaking to girl students. In any case, the interaction between boys and girls was very limited in those days. Our new HM had observed my shyness. He wanted to teach me how to mix with girl students. He himself had become a forced bachelor (as per him). He did not want to shift his family to Malnad. He was from a place called Sorab (Ex. Karnataka Chief Minister Bangarappa’s Constituency). He had found out a way of enjoying his forced bachelorhood (as per him). There was a regular ‘Health Camp’ in a place called Holekoppa near Basavani. The same was doing a good work in conducting delivery for pregnant village women. The camp also undertook many other healthcare activities. Our HM was more interested in the pretty young women who were working as nurses in this camp. Whenever he was referring to my shyness for girls, he would make a mention of this camp and talk about his escapades there. He would often tell me; “only when you grow up you would come to know what the real enjoyment in life is!”

One fine day he thought about a novel way of removing my shyness for girls! He simply asked me what exactly I was doing as the ‘Health minister’ in the Cabinet. I told him I was doing nothing other than taking care of my health! He straightaway asked me to check the ‘health status’ of every girl in my class on a daily basis! As a beginning, he advised me to check the cleanliness of nose and teeth of the girls. Believe it or not, I was made to hold the nose of girls and see whether they were dry and clean. If found wet, I was to send them out for emptying them thoroughly! Similarly I was to ensure the cleanliness of their teeth by asking them to open their mouth and exhibit their teeth fully! However, here the time was given up to next day for cleaning purpose! Here my role was virtually that of a dentist! You can imagine my embarrassment in dealing with this situation. As regards the girls who had to undergo this ‘close’ examination by me, one can understand the embarrassment they must have felt! But I was made to perform my ministerial function effectively by our innovative HM! I got an impression that I must have performed my role effectively. The next year saw me being promoted to Chief Minister’s post by the same HM!

Our Hindi teacher Gopal was a creative writer in Kannada. He used to write under the pen name Krupananda. He had already written and published certain novels in Kannada. His short stories used to appear in Chandamama. He was a follower of the Swamiji of Malladihalli in Chitradurga district. This Swamiji used to run charitable school and hostel for village boys. He was a Yoga Master. Gopal remained a bachelor and later set up ‘Yogasadana’ in Bangalore. He has helped several deserving students from Malnad to come up in life. My elder brother AVL was one such beneficiary. Gopal also became a Corporator in Bangalore. Even though I lost touch with him after leaving Basavani I remained an admirer of his achievements in life.

Gopal wrote a small drama in Kannada exclusively for us. It was a comedy. There were only three characters. They were played by Sridharamurthy, myself and Balachandra, a talented junior student. The drama was staged by us for the Republic Day function and was quite a success. Sridharamurthy was also a highly talented artist. Besides, he was a good Badminton player. Our School could win friendly matches with teams from Gadikal, Harogalige and other places under his Captaincy.

I was sanctioned an annual merit scholarship of rupees thirty for my performance in 6th Standard. The same was extended to me for 7th and 8th Standards also. This amount had good value considering the low cost of living in those days. I really do not remember as to how this money was spent by me. But I remember to have felt honoured for my merit and the reward it got for me.

There were a lot of developments in my home front meanwhile. My eldest brother’s marriage with the daughter of our village Panchayath Chairman was indeed a great event in our family. The Chairman Lakshmi Narayana Rao was a very big landlord. He owned properties in several villages in the neighborhood. This was in addition to the big plot of land and a majestic bungalow in a place called Hurulihaklu in our village. He had a good library at home. He was also a good photographer and owned a camera. His vast bungalow had an exclusive ‘dark room’ for developing the photos. He had a commanding personality and carried lot of respect. But he had the problem of mismanaging his financial matters. As a result, he had raised huge debts. In order to clear these debts he had started selling his huge properties one after another.

It was at this stage my brother’s marriage was fixed with his third daughter Sharada. My brother was a frequent visitor to their house. It appears that he slowly developed his romantic association with her. The marriage proposal was brought by the Chairman to our parents as a fait accompli. My parents were against this marriage initially mainly because of the difference in our status. They had their apprehension that eventually my brother may become a ‘Mane Aliya’. This apprehension turned out to be partly true later! To cut the story short, the marriage took place in the bride’s huge bungalow in a very grand manner. It was a three day-long event. The local boys staged three dramas on the occasion. The main artists were two elder sons of Chairman as already mentioned by me earlier. As far as I remember this was one of the highly memorable grand marriages I have ever seen in my life. The memory lingers on even to this day!

We had to give a matching ‘Beegara Outhana’ and we did it in great style. The function was held in our house itself. With full support from our relatives, friends and other villagers the function was a huge success. A drama by our School girls was staged in front of our house on the occasion. My sister played a main role in this drama. A gramophone played hit Kannada songs of that era continuously during the day to keep the momentum going. We the young enjoyed the occasion immensely. Once the function came to an end and all the relatives left, a sense of emptiness pervaded all of us for many days.

My elder brother AVL, meanwhile, completed his 7th Standard through private tuition. He was admitted to 8th Standard at Middle school in Sringeri. We had a close relative by name Shingappaiah living in a place called Hanchinamane (tiled house) near Sringeri. He was a big landlord owning a big house and substantial agricultural land. He had three daughters and only one son by name Subrahmanya. He had completed his SSLC. Shingappaiah invited my brother to stay with them. He stayed there comfortably and completed his education up to SSLC.

My brother’s talents were recognized by his teachers. He participated in a competition of writing an essay on Swami Vivekananda and secured the first prize. He went to Mysore for collecting the prize from Ramakrishna Ashram. He was given a large photograph of Vivekananda which adored the walls of our house for a long time.

There was a place called Keremane (tank house) close to the Hanchinamane. The owner Lakshmi Narayana was being addressed popularly as KT. He was a talented man. We had read certain short stories written by him in Chandamama. He bought and introduced the great innovation of the time for us called ‘Tape Recorder’! I remember my brother taking me to his house during the Navarathri function to let me see this great device! My brother had a teacher called Gayathri who was a great singer of Kannada songs. KT had recorded a song by her written by the great Kannada Litterateur D R Bendre. We were thrilled to hear the song “Ilidu baa thayi ilidu baa” so melodiously sung by the Gayathri teacher. Later this KT secured the first telephone connection in our Malnad. For a long time all urgent information to our villages used to be routed through KT’s telephone.
------ (To be continued)-----

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 30

Another important development at this stage was that my eldest sister, with whom I was staying, delivered a male child. The birth took place at our house in Adekhandi and it was the same Soolagitthi Puttu who conducted the delivery. This boy, named Nagaraja, became the first grandson for our parents. It appeared that the things were falling in place for our family at that stage.

With the arrival of the child in my sister’s family my daily life also took a new turn. I have always loved the company of a small child. It gives me immense pleasure to carry a child with me physically. I have also enjoyed cradling them for any length of time. This cradling was always accompanied by singing all kinds of songs. This was in fact a common practice in our family. I have made a reference to this singing in an earlier episode also. I even remember my parents taking me along with them to certain functions only to take care of my younger brothers! So I fully enjoyed my role in taking care of my nephew in his childhood.

Here I should mention the way the students were expected to conduct their studies in those days. The teacher would ask us to mark down certain important questions. We could be almost certain that the same questions would be asked in the examination as far as that particular lesson was concerned. The answers were also duly marked by underlining the relevant portion of the lesson. We were supposed to by heart these underlined portions and reproduce the same verbatim. This was as far as the prose was concerned. As regards the poems, the same were to be by hearted in entirety. The only exception was the subject of Mathematics for obvious reasons! As regards the subject of English, the teachers were under the impression that their role was to tell the Kannada meanings of each of the English words. In other wards, they restricted themselves to be the Kannada translators of the sentences written in English.

The only teacher who could have broken this stereotype for us was our Head Master Varadachar. He was known as an excellent teacher, particularly, in English subject. But to my great disappointment he was transferred on the year I entered my 7th standard for which he was supposed to be the class teacher. It was indeed a great loss to the students in general at the Basavani School. I have no hesitation in stating that the other teachers were quite mediocre. It should be mentioned to their credit that they made a sincere attempt. But they had their limitations. They had no capacity to explain to us those finer points in each lesson which were subtle but were more important.

It was this by heart methodology of studying that made my work of taking care of my nephew rather easy. I would go on by hearting the entire lessons while carrying my nephew on my waist at the same time. With this type of study, I could answer any question in the lesson by just reproducing the relevant portion! When I look back on this mode of studies in those days I feel simply miserable. I should say that the education was more memory oriented than being knowledge oriented as it should have been. While a good memory is an essential requirement it cannot be the ultimate.

With my entering the 7th standard I had a new set of students accompanying me in my daily School journey. Most of them were from Hokkalike only. As Vishnu was not interested in sports of any nature I was the only senior boy to mix with them freely. We used to spend lot of time in playing games like Kabaddi, etc. There used to be number of functions in each household. We would attend these functions but spend our time only in playing games. Besides we would spend most of our time in playing on our weekly holidays. I should say that the village elders were not quite impressed!  

I was the leader of the group of boys and naturally the ownership vested in me. The complaints started coming and reached my sister through my brother-in–law. My sister had the unpleasant job of conveying her mind to me! Being a soft spoken lady she expressed it to me in her own way! But I was surely shocked to hear the bad public opinion about my great sportsmanship!  Indeed I could not appreciate their grievance since I was not playing at the cost of my studies. They were quite aware that I always stood first in my class. I sincerely thought that they were not happy with my all-round development! Ultimately my sister was able to reduce my sportsmanship to reasonable levels in view of the adverse public opinion it had generated.

I should also mention here I had kept my general knowledge up to date. Basavani had a news agent who started sending the daily new papers to Hokkalike first through Vishnu and later through me. I used to read the newspaper daily on my way back from School. I was very sensitive to news. I still remember how I had wept on reading that the famous UNO General secretary Dag Hammarskjöld had died in a plane crash while on a peace mission to Congo in Africa. I had also felt a lot of elation on reading the Indian Army Action in liberating Goa.

I have earlier mentioned that my brother-in-law was the Yejaman of his joint Hindu family. He had started with a small land holding passed on by his father. But by his shrewd financial management he was able to expand the family properties substantially. He had also ensured that each of the five brothers had sufficient land, cash and jewellary at the time of family partition. In recognition of his contribution he had retained one extra acre of arecanut garden at the time of partition. This was not liked by his other brothers. They had formed a coterie and had cut off social relationship with him. But my sister had the best of relationship with all of her co-sisters. They had great respect for her and all the children would visit her at home and loved her.

My sister and brother-in-law were on a visit to Dharmasthala.  At that time the aged mother of my brother-in-law, who was staying with another brother, became seriously ill and passed away. The remaining brothers, without bothering to inform/wait for my brother-in-law, cremated her body.  On returning, my brother-in-law could not digest the fact that his brothers had denied him seeing the face of his mother for the last time. It remained a sore point in his life. But he could do nothing on that. A meeting was held with the village elders. It was found that the brothers had their grievance on the one acre of arecanut garden. They had conveniently forgotten that during the partition my brother-in–law had given them the best options and had retained the last portion after all others had their choice. Of course the fact that he had single handedly-increased the total property had no consideration in their view.

My brother-in–law thought enough was enough. He asked the elders to estimate the value of one acre. It was valued at rupees six thousand in those day standards. He sent each of them the hard cash representing their share. With that the family social union was restored. Thereafter all the family religious functions were carried out together. I was a witness to this family reunion.

There were some sheds in the vicinity of my sister’s house for the agricultural labourers to stay. These labourers generally came from the South Kanara district. They belonged to different communities. Majority of them in those days were from a community called Maraties. There were a few from Malayali community. They were experts in wood cutting which was in plenty in those day Malnad forests. As boys we were interested and used to keep a watch on the activities of these families.

Among the Maraties’ families was the family of Sheena. This Sheena was a thick headed fellow and was henpecked. He had a wife named Lakshmi. She was comparatively good looking. She had a very low opinion of her husband and had a roving eye. Almost next to their shed lived this handsome Govinda Shetty. He was a bachelor as per him (nobody knew whether he had a wife at his native place) and he lived alone. He was trying to get over his loneliness somehow. Just then Lakshmi’s roving eye fell on him. Surely this was not a case of opposites attracting each other! You may rather call it an indecent proposal!

To cut the whole story short, the proposal was well accepted! Govinda Shetty started visiting Lakshmi’s shed at unearthly hours. He took care to ensure that Sheena was not in the shed during his visit. The Sheena couple had a son, named Gunda, who was already bringing them name (?) as a petty thief. He never bothered about his parents nor interfered in his mother’s affairs. Rather he himself was a big botheration for them!

We were all aware of Govinda Shetty’s secret visits to Sheena’s shed. Naturally other shed members also were quite aware. Only Sheena was exhibiting some clever ignorance! Of course one could understand his helplessness. But the affair became public under strange circumstances.

Two young men from Sheena’s community had a petty fight with Govinda Shetty. In a fit of rage they told him that they were quite aware of his affair with their own community woman. In return Govinda Shetty, a physically strong man, beat them black and blue. In the evening these men gathered their community men in full strength. They hit him really hard and thought they had taught him a proper lesson. They were aware of their numerical strength in the village and the non-availability of Govinda Shetty’s community members locally.

But they had badly underestimated the powers of Govinda Shetty’s community! There was a big landlord of their community in the village nearby. The news first went to him that his community man had been beaten up. Then the news spread like wildfire. By next day a whole army of this community people arrived in our village. They first searched for the two men who had a fight with Govinda Shetty. They had already disappeared from the village! The other members of their community had to bear the brunt of their anger. Their sheds would have been burnt. But as they were belonging to local landlords they were saved. The army left the place only on assurances that such an event would never take place in future. I should admit that the whole episode was truly thrilling for all of us. We enjoyed every bit of it. We genuinely appreciated the total unity of Govinda Shetty’s community. But the same could not be said of his affair with Lakshmi as such!
---- (To be continued)----

A V Krishnamurthy

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 29

There were a number of developments in my home front during this period. My second eldest brother (Puttanna) who had discontinued his studies was given tuition by Visweswaraiah. He appeared for 6th standard examination at Narve and came out successful. His 7th standard tuition was given by Subba Bhatta, who had come back to our school after his training. With that we both landed in the same class.  Our eldest brother was entirely responsible for ensuring good education for both of us.

Meanwhile my second sister’s marriage was fixed. The bridegroom was again from Hokkalike only. He was the first son of Thimmappaiah, a highly respected and knowledgeable gentleman. The family had sufficient land to maintain their normal life. But my brother had tough time in arranging finances for the marriage expenditure. Naturally the uncle from Sampige Kolalu was the only source. While the loan could be raised from him, there was absolutely no surplus income to pay it back later.

At this juncture need for another loan cropped up. In the presence of village elders it was decided that we should have some compromise with Puradamane Srinivasaiah. Our relations had been cut off after an incident highlighted by me earlier. During the negotiations, Srinivasaiah agreed for the restoration of the relations on one condition. As per him, he had paid one thousand five hundred rupees to my father at the time of registering the lands in his name. He wanted it to be paid back. Actually my father had registered the land in his favour purely on trust (Nambike Kraya).  But the document clearly mentioned the consideration as rupees one thousand five hundred, thus corroborating the version of Srinivasaiah. I have to mention here that let alone receiving rupees one thousand five hundred, my father had not even seen a hundred rupee note till that time in his life. But the records were against him and as expected in those days he had signed the documents blindly. There was no point in asking the witnesses, they had obviously witnessed the signatures and not the transaction!

I clearly remember the day on which my brother returned from the meeting and spoke to mother in a hush hush tone. While the general opinion was definitely in favour of a compromise, the cost of the same was no where nearer even to our annual gross income. With the marriage expenses added up, the loan to be raised from Sampige Kolalu uncle could simply blow up to a huge amount. With our limited resources there was no way this loan could be liquidated. Unfortunately that was exactly what happened afterwards. I would come to it later. Ultimately the decision was to go for the compromise. The money was borrowed and paid to Srinivasaiah. The land was transferred by him back. But somehow, the same was registered in the name of my brother alone. Our relationship with the family of Srinivasaiah was fully restored.

My sister’s marriage was held in a place called Andagaru, located between Narve and Koppa. The dibbana (marriage group from our side) traveled on five bullock carts. The function was held on a reasonable scale keeping in tune with our living standards. It took place on my summer holidays. My brother-in-law’s family owned a bullock cart. I accompanied my sister on the cart journey to her in-law’s place. From then on we had two sisters to visit in the same village. We have always made it a point to visit both the houses on each of our journeys unfailingly. Next to our eldest brother, these two sisters have always played the roles of mentors to perfection for all of us, the youngsters.

I should mention here certain great things that happened in the cultural life of our village in those days. The school was shifted to a new government-owned building on the main road. The strength of teachers was increased to three. The posting of a new teacher called Subbanna from Davanagere added some variety. He joined Visweswaraiah in introducing many cultural activities in the students’ career. The boys were trained to stage a Kannada drama written by Kshirasagara. Puttanna played the lead role in this drama. It was well directed. It became so successful that it was staged again and again during the Navarathri celebrations in Belavinakodige and Puradamane. Another drama by school girls also became quite a success. My younger sister Leela played the lead role in this. The annual school Ganapathi festival was celebrated with great enthusiasm and spirits. There was total involvement by all the villagers.

Meanwhile the Adult Education Department officials visited our village. They were instrumental in starting a village library. The same was named Shree Vidyathirtha Pustaka Bhandara. A good number of books were donated by the Village Panchayat Chairman Laxmi Narayana Rao, Belavinakodige Yellappaiah, Hosalli Venkappaiah family and my brother. A news item appeared in the Kannada daily Prajavani wherein all the donors’ names were published prominently. We were thrilled to read our brother’s name in the newspaper.

One more school was opened in our village near the Chairman’s place called Hurulihaklu. This school got the advantage on account of posting of an excellent teacher. He single-handedly built a drama group of his school boys. They staged some excellent Kannada dramas which became very popular. These dramas were not only staged in our village functions but also in Koppa town bringing laurels to the group. Two of the elder sons of the chairman, Thimmappa and Ramesh, were recognized as excellent artists. There was a healthy competition between the two schools. When I look back, this appears to be the golden period in our village life. Unfortunately this period never came back!

I should mention here about the creative talent of my second elder brother, Puttanna, which was evident even in his school days. He was very much interested in writing in Kannada. As a school boy he single handedly brought out a Kannada magazine called ‘Chandravali’. The magazine contained stories which were fully hand written with even some sketches of the characters involved. He would cut the sheets and stitch them into a book form. I was the only subscriber! The subscription had no fee, rather it was free! If I remember correctly, he brought out a good number of such issues. But the response from elders was rather lukewarm!

His creativity did encourage me. I also thought of writing stories. To add to variety, I decided to write detective stories! The backside of last page of Chandravali was reserved for advertisements! Puttanna put the advertisement of my coming detective story there! The story was named ‘Bheeshana Kole’ (The Brutal Murder)!

To my great disappointment this story was never published. The only reason was that it was never written in the first place! Today, when I think about my failure, despite all the encouragement by the magazine editor (Puttanna!), I can easily find out the reason. I had committed a tactical mistake. I should have first conceptualized the story and then given it a name. Instead I had given the name, advertised it and then thought about the story! I had wild imaginations about the murder plot. But it got so complicated that there was no way any detective could solve it! Obviously I could not fit in the role of a detective in the supposed to be ‘detective story’, my brother had so well advertised! It rather turned out to be a ‘defective story’!

My brother had indeed taken the horse to the water; but he could not make it drink! In fact he tried to help me out. I explained to him the murder plot. He found it indeed interesting. It had three characters all of whom wanted to murder the same person. Ultimately the murder took place and the detective was expected to identify the real murderer with proof. But I could not make my detective investigate and find out. You may not believe this. But Puttanna was shocked to find out that I, the author, myself, was not sure who the murderer was! So much for my creativity in my boyhood! You may even say that my creativity was nipped in the bud by none other than myself!

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