Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 37

A state of uncertainty about the continuity of my education in Shimoga started with my name being absent in the first list of admission for the Brahmins’ hostel. My brother rushed to Shimoga with some more recommendation letters. Along with Srinivas we visited the house of the President of the hostel committee. He was a senior advocate by name Srinivasa Iyengar. His family owned Modern Talkies and had a major share in CKMS, a bus transport company. He explained to us the difficulty in giving free seat to the High school students. However, he assured us that he would put up my case strongly. We also met another member by name Dr. Dattatri. He was famous for his beautiful Fiat car!  He had purchased it at a princely sum of rupees eight thousand! He appeared to be sympathetic to my case. We also visited the hostel and met the manager and the warden. We were told that another list of admission will be announced shortly.

All the boys who had secured the admission in the first list moved to the hostel. I was left almost alone with the other members of the teachers’ family. I was feeling miserable and for the first time felt the helplessness of a boy hailing from a poor family. The teacher told me not to worry. He was aware that I could not afford to stay for long at his house. I could ill afford the monthly charges of rupees thirty. Meanwhile my brother and Srinivas thought of some contingency plan for me. The idea was to contact the wealthy persons from our community to contribute for my maintenance in case of ultimate non-availability of admission in the hostel.

The second list was also out soon. Again my name was simply not there! My spirits were totally down and distressed. To our surprise we got the information that one High school boy had indeed got free admission. The reasons for not considering my case favourably were quite unknown. Srinivas had gone back to his home and was not available. But he got the news and contacted some more persons. He was told by somebody that the Secretary of the hostel by name Ramanarayana Avadhani was the only person who could help me out. He immediately sent a message to his younger brother Shankar to take me to the Secretary.

Shankar took me one morning to the house of the Secretary on a bicycle. It was a very vast bungalow built very recently. Avadhani hailed from an important place called Koodli - 15 KMs from Shimoga.                                            

This place is located at the confluence (Sangama) of the Rivers Tunga and Bhadra. The rivers are known to be sisters and we from Malnad are very much sentimentally attached to both of them. Legend has it that the twin sisters who took their birth at a place called Gangamoola in the Western Ghats were separated after some time. The elder River Tunga simply flowed away silently. But the younger Bhadra could not stand her separation. She went on search calling loudly for the elder sister as Akkaa! (Oh! My elder sister!). One can hear her cry by way of the loud roaring of the River near Kalasa on one’s way to the famous pilgrim centre Horanadu. On the other hand, the river Tunga flows almost stealthily through the town of Sringeri. The Bhadra is stopped at Lakkavalli by a man-made dam. Undaunted, she proceeds further through Bhadravathi town to ultimately meet her beloved sister at Koodli. Tunga embraces her sister in all affection and together they proceed to Hospet via Harihar with the joint name Tungabhadra. Here a man-made big dam stops them to feed vast agriculture lands in Karnataka and Andhra. Undaunted, the sisters proceed further to meet their ultimate destination- the River Krishna. Here their mission gets completed in their union with lord Krishna.

Avadhani had vast land holdings in Koodli. He was a highly respected super rich pious man. He was also a major partner in Udaya Motors. This company ran two busses to Sringeri daily from Shimoga in addition to other routes and was quite well known in our Malnad.

We were told that Avadhani was at his daily pooja. We waited in the hall. The family’s aristocracy could well be seen in the way the hall was decorated and the impressive furniture placed. I was in total awe of the family. After a long pooja, Avadhani appeared in the hall. I should say he had a personality worth waiting for so long. He was tall and well built. He was wearing the Vibhoothi on his forehead and arms and looked every inch a pious man. He asked us to sit down in his deep voice and sought the reasons for our visit. Shankar explained to him my need for a free seat in the hostel. Avadhani then looked towards me as if to ask me to justify my needs. I simply started weeping trying to explain my desperate needs. Avadhani could understand my situation and asked me to meet him at hostel on the next day evening.

I went to the hostel on the next day evening. There in the presence of the warden and the manager, Avadhani told me that it was with great difficulty that they could consider my application favourably. He asked me to justify this favour by securing good marks in my examinations. He told me to wait outside. After sometime the warden came out of the office with a short list of names and pasted it on the notice board. I was the only High school student to be given free seat. I should say that it was one of the most defining movements of my life! One visit to the house of Avadhani had produced the result which all other visits to different authorities including the President had failed to achieve!

A free seat student had to pay a monthly fee of rupees six in those days. I made a payment of twelve rupees as two months advance and got myself admitted on the next day. It was a great relief for my family and particularly to my brother who had moved heaven and earth for that one seat! Of course Srinivas had played a major role. Ultimately things appeared to have fallen in line. I gathered the information that people from our village were commenting adversely on my brother’s insistence in making me study at Shimoga English medium School. They felt that it was only the domain of super rich and we could ill afford it. They thought my brother to be crazy! Indeed he was! But to me he appeared to be having a mission to fulfill, which he simply did, least bothered by what others felt about it.

I was very happy to be back with my classmates and others who were earlier with me in the teacher’s house. But they had already occupied different rooms and I was allotted room number six next to the hostel’s office. My room mates were all studying for Pre-University course in the Sahyadri College. They were mostly from Sagar taluk in Shimoga district. They treated me with love and care like a School going kid.

We had to get up early in the morning by 5 AM. The routine started with hot water bath. We had to stand in queue outside bathrooms which were eight in number. The water was boiled continuously by two ovens using paddy husk as fuel. At six AM we could hear the hostel bell ringing for the morning prayer. The warden Mangalamurthy would be present during the prayer session. He would daily give us some thought of the day by way of a small speech. Once that was over the boys were to move to the dining hall for a cup of morning coffee.

There was something special about this coffee. So much so that the moment the warden finished his speech, the boys would run to the dining hall as if they were to catch a departing train or bus at the last minute! Indeed I also found this particular cup of coffee so precious and tasty! We were to sit in rows in the dining hall and the first person in the row would be served first. We had to carry our own cups. Somehow it appeared to everybody that those who got the first servings got the best. Boys were simply desperate to drink it first. In fact we used to take vantage positions near the door of the prayer hall so that the moment the warden’s speech ended we moved out! Sometimes it so happened that the warden was taking his breath during the speech; thinking that he had finished his speech we would move out only to be called back! No amount of efforts by the warden to stop this practice succeeded. For me this morning run appeared quite interesting and within a short time I was in the forefront. Many times there used to be a traffic jam at the dining hall entrance! As a small boy I could push myself between the legs of the big boys to reach the hall early! I could manage to occupy number two or three position at the coffee queue! When I look back on this practice of the boys in those days, I am unable to think about the logical reasons for such a behavior. It simply appears strange!

After the morning coffee we used to study in our rooms till the bell rang for the meals at 9.15 AM. Once the meals were over, we left for our Schools and College. In the evening snacks would be served between 4.30 to 5.30 PM. The evening dinner used to be at 7.45 PM. We could go to our bed only after the bell rang at 9.15 PM. This was a tough call for me! As we had no electricity in our village in those days, we used to go to bed early at 7.15 PM in the normal course. Hence I used to get very sleepy waiting to hear the bell ringing. I found it difficult to hold on!

My roommates were quite sympathetic to me. But the warden was very strict and enforced this discipline mercilessly. He used to go round with his walking stick in hand. We could hear him approaching our room by the sound of the walking stick. He would knock at certain room doors at random. If he found some boy sleeping he would use the stick to unfold the sheet with which the boy covered his face while sleeping! It would be a real nightmare for the boy concerned! He had to get up and start reading! In my case, my roommates would somehow protect me by making my bed invisible for the warden. One boy would stand near the door holding a book giving an impression to the warden that everybody was busy in his studies, while I slept comfortably in a corner!   

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

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