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)-----

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