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)-----

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