Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Story of Malnad Boy - 42

One of the important things for me to become a city boy (Pete huduga) was to learn cycling. I had my own apprehensions as a village boy about my capacity to learn and ride it in the busy city road. But somehow I had to make a beginning. My classmates Neelakanta and Venkataramana helped me in this venture. In those days we had to pay hire charges of one anna per hour per cycle. To get the cycle one had to be properly introduced to the shop owner. It was also important to get the best cycle for one’s riding. There was one MI Cycle Shop near the Convent School which was located half way between our hostel and School. I became close to a Muslim boy who would ensure that I always got a good cycle. He used to address me as Kitten and I somehow liked it very much. May be I thought it as the better city version of my rural pet name Kitta!  So peculiar was the psychology of a rural boy!

I was taken to the famous Nehru Stadium in Durgigudi for my first lessons in cycling. It had a vast playground with lot of big green trees at one end. I got a good training on the evenings of a Saturday and a Sunday. The Sunday learning exercise became more interesting. The reason was we could witness the amorous adventure of a romantic pair! We had initially observed a girl waiting for somebody below one of the big trees. We were sure that some boy would turn up sooner or later. We kept a close watch by taking our cycle close to the tree in each of our trip. We were not disappointed. The boy appeared in a short time. We discreetly kept an eye on their movements! They held their hands together and moved towards the woods (thick group of trees away from the grounds). Our cycling destination also shifted accordingly! For me it was just a recollection of the romantic episode of Rangappa. But I could watch it live now! There is no necessity for me to describe it in words!

We had earlier read about many romantic episodes in Kannada novels. And we were not an exception to the natural human curiosity and the eagerness to witness the forbidden things in our life. We did visit the same spot on subsequent Sundays. But alas! We never saw the pair again! But I had picked up my cycling well. We could go on a jolly trip to the Tunga river dam at a place called Gajanur on our hired bicycles. I enjoyed every bit of this journey.

Even though I learnt cycling I did not take it as a big hobby, one of the reasons being lack of money. But somehow news reached my home that I spent a good time in cycling! So much so that a fracture I had in my left hand was taken as a cycling accident automatically! Actually it happened like this. I was playing Kabaddi with some of my hostel mates in front of our hostel. I was always interested in this game and allowed no opportunity to go wasted. In this case a boy from Mattur (whom I didn’t like a bit!) made me fall down with my left hand palm hitting the ground with great force. I already had an earlier fracture on the left hand by falling down a Sampige tree. The bone was very weak and this fall resulted in another fracture. I was rushed to the McGann Hospital. There the X ray confirmed the compound fracture. I had a harrowing time at the hands of a young doctor. He was supposed to put a plaster bandage to cover my fractured bone. But he was more interested in playing some games with a young nurse! He put some plaster on her cheeks! May be I could have enjoyed their love game if only I didn’t have that severe pain in my hand! It appears that I was not given any pain killers. As a result I had to face severe pain for many days. Besides, it was most uncomfortable to sleep and take a bath with the plaster on the hand. I had to face this situation for a period of one and a half month. I had to be helped out by my hostel mates which they were kind enough to do. I received a letter from my brother advising me to avoid cycling and to concentrate on my studies at least in future!

My friend and senior Vishnu was already in Shimoga and he had joined the Government High school. He had to put up with lot of inconveniences as there was no support from his family. He had to survive on having his free meals at different hotels on Varadamane basis. In those days it was common for the poor boys to visit different households for free meals once in a week. These families had the generosity to feed poor boys on a particular day in a week. These boys had to ensure that they had such arrangement with different houses to cover all the days in a week. In Shimoga certain hotels also offered this facility as a charity. Vishnu was one of the beneficiaries of this facility. He had also tried desperately for free hostel seat, but could not manage to get one in his first year in High School. For the second year the hostel permitted him to stay in the hostel, but without boarding facility. He had to continue with his hotel food.

Two of the cousins of Vishnu, whose families were well off, also joined the hostel as full payment students. They were studying for their PUC. One of them had a personality which made some of his hostel mates suspect that he was a TB patient! A rumor started spreading that he was indeed suffering from TB. All the boys started avoiding sitting with him in the dining hall. It amounted to a virtual boycott and was very painful to the concerned boy. Ultimately he was forced to leave the hostel. This incident remains fresh in my memory. I was a witness to this unfortunate humiliation meted out to that boy.

It was on 20th October 1962 that the famous Sino-Indian War commenced. In fact, on October 26, 1962, the Government of India announced that ``India is being put on a war footing to face the Chinese menace.'' Indian president Dr. Radhakrishnan even proclaimed a state of emergency. Following this announcement, India went into hyperactivity in order to put an end to the two-pronged Chinese aggression in the then North Eastern Frontier Agency (now, Arunachal Pradesh) and Ladakh.

Overnight, a 31-member National Defence Council headed by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was set up to monitor the rapid development at the border. In fact, the Chinese troops made inroads into the Indian Territory - they occupied Tawang in NEFA and inched towards Chaushal in Ladakh. The Indian soldiers' progress was severely hampered by lack of warm clothing and difficulty to acclimatize to the hilly and cold ranges where the battles were raging.
To tide over this, the then finance minister Morarji Desai flagged off the National Defence Fund with an appeal to the people to contribute generously in rupees, gold and/or gold ornaments. And, people contributed with patriotic fervor. 

In Shimoga also different associations started collecting funds as contribution towards National Defence Fund. In our hostel the students association started the collection. Our Secretary Subramanya was in the forefront and he was forcefully convincing all the boys to contribute. A decent amount was collected and remitted to the Fund. While everybody was quite appreciative of the efforts put in by the Secretary, one of the boys had a small query (comparable to our present day RTI Act!). He just wanted to know the amount contributed by the Secretary himself. Believe it or not! He was informed that the Secretary had not made any contribution!  It was a shock for all of us. We could never appreciate the reasons for the same.

The River Tunga was flowing very close to our hostel. Once the rainy season came to an end the boys were permitted to go to the river for their daily bath. I always wanted to learn the art of swimming. My room mate Lachhu (Lakshminarayana) was an excellent swimmer. We chose a particular spot in the middle of the river for our daily bath and for my learning exercise. I could pick up the swimming skills slowly.  One particular day I and Lachhu were alone in the river. I was aware there was a very deep spot in the river where there were no currents. I swam to the other end and was coming back through that very spot.

Suddenly I felt totally tired and could not push my hands and feet within the river. I simply gave up and sank deep in the river. However deep I went, my feet were not touching the grounds. With all my strength I pushed myself up and reached the surface of the river. I waved to Lachhu desperately and went down again to the bottom. I was indeed lucky. Lachhu was not only a great swimmer but also had a great presence of mind. He reached me within seconds and pulled me up with all his strength. While swimming with a single hand, he could hold me in another hand and brought me to the shores. I had already drunk a good quantity of water. Things were looking hazy to me. Indeed Lachhu had given me another birth! I would remain indebted to him for life. But for him ‘The Malnad boy’s Story’ could never have been written!

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

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