Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Story of as Malnad Boy - 38

The hostel management had the setup of a manager, a warden and an assistant warden. The warden Mangalamurthy was a retired teacher. He had secured the prestigious President of India award as a distinguished teacher. He had been provided quarters near the hostel and lived with his wife. His two sons, Ayodhyanath and Dwarakanath, had been given free hostel seats and were studying at Sahyadri College. He was an able and upright administrator. A strict disciplinarian, he devoted his entire time for hostel duties.

The manager Chandrasekhara Sastry was a teacher in the Government Middle School. He was working part-time as the hostel manager. He used to work only in the evening at the hostel. He would play the harmonium during the weekend Bhajan programme at the hostel. He was hard of hearing and used a hearing aid always. He had some sort of wickedness in him and was totally disliked by the boys in general. He was partial to students who were on full payment. He would maltreat the free seat students. I had one such occasion to face his wickedness. He would invariably be giving some sort of a speech at the end of weekend Bhajan. He would make it a point to repeatedly praise the secretary in his speech. The boys had given him a name considering his hearing aid. They would address him as Goota behind his back. In Kannada this word represents a small stick inserted in a hole to plug it. As the hearing aid was plugged into the opening of the ear the boys selected this name for him as quite appropriate!

There was an assistant warden by name Sripada Jois. He was working in Karnataka bank and it was a part-time job for him at the hostel in the evening. He used to write the accounts. He was comparatively young. He would be friendly with full payment students. However, he would treat the free students with scant respect. His policy was not to help anybody. However, given an opportunity, he won’t mind harming them!

During the weekend on Saturday evenings there used to be regular Bhajans at the hostel. The attendance was compulsory. The Secretary Avadhani himself would lead us in the Bhajan programme. He was a great Bhajan singer and would be present without fail on all Saturdays. The devotion with which he sang the Bhajans was simply marvelous. One particular Bhajan sang by him reverberates in my ears even to this day. It was known as Kalabhairavashtakam.  It ran something like:

“Devaraja Sevyamana Pavanangri Pankajam
Vyalayajna Sutramindushekaram Krupakaram
Naradadi Yogivrunda Vanditam Digambaram
Kashikapuradhinatha Kalabhairavam Bhaje

Kalabhairavashtakam Patanthiye Manoharam
Jnana Mukthi Sadhanam Vichitrapunyavardhanam
Shoka Moha Dainya Lobha Kopa Tapa Nashanam
Kashikapuradhinatha Kalabhairavam Bhaje”

The Pooja after the Bhajan was conducted by a second year B.Sc. student by name Shankara Ghanapati. He was well versed in Pooja manthram and rituals as he hailed from a well-known scholarly family of Ghanapatis. We used to remove our shirts and banians, cover our chest with a vastram and participate in the Bhajans with great devotion. The programme would end with the distribution of Prasadam. The next day being Sunday our spirits used to be very high.

Avadhani devoted his entire evening for the hostel administration. Some times the work would extend up to late night. It was an honorary post and he used to contribute heavily for the hostel funds. He left no stone unturned for the welfare of the hostel community. I have seen very few people of his caliber in my whole life so far. Even though he was super rich, he never exhibited his status symbols. He would never raise his voice even while he had to talk tough. People would respect him just by his looks. Such was his commanding personality.

The hostel building was located in a spacious area. There was lot of open space for the students to play games like badminton, Kabaddi, etc. We could also play indoor games like carom and Chess. There were two other indoor games by name traders and spell craft. I found both of them very interesting. Quite for some time I was crazy to wait for my turn to play these games. We could go to the open terrace of the hostel building for our studies. We did so in the morning. We could hold our books and read them while walking on the terrace. We had another attraction here. We could watch the various outstation busses moving on the main road. In those days there used to be so many private transport busses; but there were very few State-owned busses. My own class mates’ families owned quite a few of these transport companies. We would be thrilled to see the Government-owned busses going to Bangalore. We would imagine that one day we may get an opportunity to travel all the way to Bangalore!

For most of us there was another attraction. We had already started the count down for our Dasara holidays! We could watch the busses going towards our places. I would be watching the Udaya and Shankar Motor busses proceeding to Sringeri daily in front of our hostel and imagine myself in one of them on the first day of Dasara! I was very much eager to go home and tell my city life experiences to my waiting beloved family!

There was a small reading room on the first floor. One Kannada and one English newspaper were available for our reading. I started reading the English newspaper regularly. Slowly I began to appreciate the language and picked up the nuances of English writing. This hobby was to help me in my later education career to a vast extent. It enhanced my knowledge level substantially. It also helped me understand the lessons in the English textbook thoroughly.

We had a non-detail textbook by name Oliver Twist written by Charles Dickens, the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. The character of Oliver, an orphan, had some distant similarity to that of my own as a free seat student in the hostel. We had an assistant cook by name Gurumurthy who had a personality almost similar to that of Mr. Bumble in the novel. The following episode and the picture in the novel had some similarity to the state of affairs in which I was placed, though only distantly:

Around the time of the orphan ’s ninth birthday, Mr. Bumble, a parish beadle, removes Oliver from the baby farm and puts him to work picking oakum at the main branch-workhouse. Oliver, who toils with very little food, remains in the workhouse for six months, until the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel. The task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal tremblingly comes forward, bowl in hand, and makes his famous request: "Please, sir, I want some more."
"Please, sir, I want some more." Illustration by George Cruikshank.
"Please, sir, I want some more." Says Oliver to Mr. Bumble.
A great uproar ensues. The board of well-fed gentlemen, who administer the workhouse, while eating a meal fit for a king, are outraged by Oliver's 'ingratitude'. Wanting to be rid of this troublemaker, they offer five guineas to any person wishing to take on the boy as an apprentice.

This novel and later another novel by the same author, David Copperfield, which were taught to us in School, carried the sort of an impression on my mind which has lasted even to this day. We used to call Gurumurthy Mr. Bumble, considering his close similarity to that of the character. I used to get dreams wherein I stood in front of Gurumurthy asking for more!

The hostel was rearing a good number of buffaloes and was self sufficient in milk. It also had two high breed male-buffaloes which were generating good income. They were hired out for insemination of female buffaloes on job work basis!

There was a main cook in addition to the assistant cook Gurumurthy. He was a senior professional cook and concentrated on his job. Besides, there was a young man called Devraj who was assigned the duty of serving the food. He was a good looking smart guy and an expert in serving the food fast. He used to call me by a pet name Kitten! I liked this young man very much and didn’t mind him calling me by this pet name. I had a doubt that Devraj used to show me some favour while serving food unknown to others! Gurumurthy, whom we called Mr. Bumble, was actually a very good man at heart. We were told that he had a tragic story behind him. He had earlier worked as warden in our hostel itself with great respect. He hailed from a rich family but unfortunately lost all his wealth owing to some unknown reasons. He was in fact close to Avadhani and could address him in singular. But bad luck had reduced him to work as an assistant cook. He was not given due respect by the warden and the manager.

There were nearly one hundred students in the hostel. But within a short time I could recognize all of them by their names and knew in which class they were studying. Such was the level of inter action of the hostel students in those days. Not only that, as all the students in my room were PU students, I could learn the names of important lecturers in Sahyadri College. As most of them had to pass through in front of the hostel on their way to College, I could even recognize them. The famous Kannada writer P Lankesh was an English lecturer in the College at that time. He used to go to the College on his red Lambretta scooter. The scooter was a novelty vehicle in those days and there were very few of them in Shimoga.  The English department had a popular Muslim Professor. His lectures on Macbeth and the story Kabuliwala written by Tagore were greatly appreciated by the students.

There was another famous Physics Professor by name Kariappa. My roommates encouraged me to attend one of his classes. In those days the Sahyadri College had so many students that the classes used to be always overcrowded. Hence I could easily pose myself as a college student and attended one of Kariappa’s classes. He delivered a nice lecture on the subject heat, a form of energy. I had carried a note book with me and took down his notes meticulously. I could follow his lecture comfortably.  Such was the clarity in his expressions! This experience added to my confidence levels.

After about one month of my joining the hostel, a fresh allotment of rooms to the students was announced. The policy was to allot separate rooms to High School students and College students. In this reallocation, I was allotted room number ten with five other High School boys. As I had developed closeness with my earlier roommates I found it difficult to leave them. All of them treated me like their kid brother and tried their best to retain me in their room. But it was not to be. I shifted to my new room with tears in my eyes!

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


Narain said...

This is perhaps one of the most interesting episodes in this series. Feel like reading it again and again!

AVK Murthy said...

Thanks NN.