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

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