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)---

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