Friday, August 5, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 36

Two of my classmates who were staying with me in the teachers’ house were Neelakanta and Venkataramana. Neelakanta was the son of a famous rich landlord by name Krishna Rao who owned a vast arecanut and coffee estate called Guddethota on the way to Horanadu and Kalasa. He was the first progressive farmer to purchase a Russian tractor in our Malnad at a cost of rupees ten thousand in those days. His first daughter, Singari, was married to my brother-in-law’s brother and I had seen him earlier in Hokkalike. Neelakanta’s elder brother Srikanta and younger brother Sadashiva were also staying with us. Venkataramana came from a village very near to our village and his uncle was known to me. His father had a reasonably good land holding. Both Venkataramana and Neelakanta had already stayed in Shimoga for the last one year and were quite familiar to Shimoga by now. I started slowly picking up the city culture in their company. We used to sit on the same bench in the class.

Two younger brothers of Talavane Srinivas were also staying with us. The elder was by name Shankara. He was in SSLC and stood first in class. The second and the youngest brother was Krishna. Even though he was not as good as his brothers in his studies, he was a very ambitious boy even in those days. He later completed his medical degree from Mysore and went abroad. He worked in England and USA as a highly successful doctor. He has since established a very big Ayurvedic hospital by name Indus Valley Hospital in Mysore. It is a very specialized hospital and attracts lot of patients from abroad.

Neelakanta was under full control of his elder brother Srikanta. Srikanta was a simple boy; but was meticulous in dealing with the money matters. As such Neelakanta was not independent financially. But Venkataramana, though not from rich family, could handle his money matters independently. He took me to Gopi hotel one day. We ordered plain dosa first. I had never tasted such a tasty dosa in my life. I enjoyed it fully. While eating the same I could see other people eating a strange item which I was seeing first time in my life! I saw fruit cuttings placed in a cute looking glass container. The cuttings were fully covered on the top by a beautiful coloured cream! Venkataramana told me that the item was called fruit salad (solid?) with ice cream. He showed me an almirah like machine near the cashier’s table. It was called a Fridge wherein the tasty ice cream was being stored. That machine had the capacity to keep the cream in cool and ice form. The whole concept appeared great to me! The item was hotel’s speciality. But it was coming at an exorbitant price of twenty paise! Even though I felt that it would pinch me heavily, I could not resist the temptation to order it. Oh! What an item it was! I had never eaten a more tasty and enjoyable item in my life so far!  The cost appeared fully justified. If only I had money to allow me to eat this one item everyday! But right at that time my very survival at Shimoga was doubtful. I felt envious of the city people who could eat such items daily!

Another place he took me was called Indian Coffee Bar. Here you could order a cup of coffee or hot milk for ten paise. Two slices of bread with butter was a great and tasty combination with either of them. But the best was an item called cake (again a first time for me)! Oh! What a great enjoyment we had with hot milk and cake! So this was what city life was all about! A thousand thanks to my great brother who could give me the opportunity to taste the most wonderful things in life! I decided then and there that I should live in city hereafter!

But more exciting things were still in store for me. On a fine day Venkataramana took me to a place very close to the teacher’s house. It had a name board Nanjundeswara Sweet Home. I had never seen in my life so many sweet items on display at a single place! The whole atmosphere looked so sweet! Venkataramana ordered an item called Jamoon. It was served in a cup. The cup was full with sugary syrup and had two brownish ball like items which looked cute. We had to cut the ball with the help of spoon and eat it with syrup generously spread over. I had never eaten such a delicious sweet item in my life so far. The village-made sweets looked simply miserable with this great innovative product called Jamoon. If only I had plenty of money I could have paid a daily visit to this great sweet home!

Venkataramana told me that we could not afford to visit these places frequently. I asked him what was the cheapest mode of refreshment available to us with our limited resources. He took me to a place called Indian Milk Bar. We ordered one cup of hot milk and one sweet bun. It was quite enjoyable at a meager cost of ten paise. It was located close to the teacher’s house near Mallikarjuna Theatre. But there was one major hitch. On the way we had to pass in front of the house of one of our School teachers by name RVS (R V Srinarasimhaiah). He would be in the garden watching us. We were afraid that he may inform our teacher! This RVS was really a good teacher but was somehow under- rated. For us everything about him appeared strange. He carried a shikhe (juttu) on his head like a traditional Brahmin. But he covered it fully by wearing a black cap. In spite of this, he would dress in full by wearing a suit with a tie! This combination looked crazy! He had the qualification of B.Sc, B.Com.B.Ed. This we found equally crazy! While every boy was struggling to get one degree, here was a man who could get two degrees just like that!

Another interesting thing I found was whenever we visited the hotels in a group, we could order the coffee as “by two, two by three, four by five,” etc.  While this looked quite odd to me, I was told that this was the way of saving a few bucks for eating more at a future date. It was a first lesson for me in saving while spending! The concept appeared to be quite innovative! There was also another concept called “thera thera and mera mera!” It was also often referred to as military system. In this system each person was to pay his bill separately on his own. There would be no mix up and no bill sharing business involved. But this system appeared to be very harsh to me. As I was always short of money, I expected the other rich guys to pay my bills at least once in a way! But alas! They were not as generous as I expected them to be! I even once had a nightmare. I was in a hotel with my brother eating and enjoying the lovely items. When the boy came up with the bill, my brother asked him to make it “thera thera and mera mera!” I was shocked; but woke up from the dream to my great relief!

I was told that there was an easy way to eat the hotel food cheap once in a way. The methodology followed was this. Two persons would visit the hotel and just order by two coffee. Once they get the bill, they would either pay the bill amount without surrendering the same at the cash counter or ask for a second bill by telling the boy that they had not received the earlier one. This was a sort of hoodwinking the cashier or the server. But appeared to be harmless to both at that time. Later on a different day, the same two persons would eat their stomach full by ordering different items. While tendering the bill they would tender and pay the old bill for by two coffee and walk out coolly! This strategy would be used in different hotels on different days. This idea appeared to be quite innovative and daring! But I found them morally incorrect and not practical for an unsophisticated rural boy like me. But I should admit that the attraction for hotel food was so great and the money was in such short supply, the boys could be excused for such minor adventures. At least that was what I felt in those days.

I had a problem in entering these hotel expenses in the notebook provided to me by my brother. I consulted Venkataramana. He was quire aware of this. He told me that in the beginning of the academic year we can make some entries of expenditure towards note books and stationery. But later it was very difficult to make such fictitious entries. One could be easily caught. I was in a dilemma. I knew how difficult it was for my brother to meet my expenditure. These additional expenses were well beyond his capacity. But the lure of the delicious hotel items was too much for me. I was just hooked on to it. A sense of guilt would often pervade me. But the temptation was too much to overcome!

The class teacher SSR announced that boys who were eligible for fee concessions may submit the forms along with family income certificates. In those days the boys with annual family income of less than rupees one thousand two hundred only were eligible for fee concessions. This was subject to their merit. My brother went to the Tahsildar’s office to get the certificate. He was issued certificate stating that our annual income was rupees one thousand. This had been worked out basing on the value of arecanut sold by us. But I was told by Srinivas that the same was actually gross income and not net income which was to be certified. As per him all the expenditure incurred on growing and maintaining of arecanut garden was to be netted against this sale value of produce. I could not understand the concept then. Looking back, it was the first lesson for me in accountancy! In any case I was sanctioned the full fee remission considering my merit and low income.

I was in the process of settling down to my routine city life. My home sickness had been considerably reduced in the company of my new friends. Meanwhile the first list of students who had secured admission to Brahmins Hostel was announced. To my and my brother’s utter shock my name appeared no where in the list. All other boys in the Arunachalam house had secured the admission. Of course all of them had applied for full payment seats and hence had guaranteed admission. My fate appeared uncertain. My brother’s dream appeared to have ended in a stalemate!

------ (To be continued)

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