Monday, September 12, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 47

Kaisi Paheli Hai Yeh?
Kaisi Paheli Hai Yeh?
Kaisi Paheli Zindgaani?
(What a puzzle?
What a puzzle?
What a puzzle the life Is?)
                         - Swanand Kirkire

As rightly felt by me, our family was really at the cross roads at that critical juncture. The system had simply collapsed both financially and as a joint family. Its very survival was at stake. My father actually was not new to such a situation. He had faced it any number of times right from his young age. But to my mother it was indeed a great sentimental moment. It was she who had entrusted her first son the responsibility of running the family when our father had failed in his leadership. Even though our brother was quite successful initially, the circumstances had later led to his failure in accomplishing the role. The role was now back with my father. It was a great challenge to him. Unlike earlier, he now had a big family to support. The means available were very limited with the added burden of huge loans.

I was very much anxious to go home and find out the details of the events that led to my brother’s departure from home. I had to wait up to Dasara holidays. I had another hitch. I simply had no money for the bus fare. I did not know how to mobilize that money. In fact I had no money even for my hair cut! Just at that time I overheard some boys planning to go to Udaya Motor Office. I have already mentioned that the hostel Secretary Avadhani was a major partner in Udaya Motors. I was told that the company was issuing some concession passes to the hostel students going home.

 I immediately went and met the authorities. I was told that I could get a half-rate pass. For the full free-pass I had to meet Mr. Gundu Rao, the managing partner, who was also a member of the hostel management committee. I had seen him earlier at the hostel. This gentleman was very nice to me and generously ordered a free pass for me. But that was up to Koppa only. From there I had to catch a Shankar Transport bus - the ticket costing fifty paise. I had to raise a personal loan of one rupee from one of my friends! One fourth of which went for my haircut!

I left for my home on the first day of commencement of my holiday. At Koppa I purchased biscuits for my younger sister and brothers at a cost of twenty five paise. With the available balance fifty paise I got in to Shankar Transport bus and reached our bus stop at a place called B G Katte. Here I had to cross the river Sitha which was still deep as the rainy season had just ended. I found that the work for construction of a bridge had already started.

I had to pass through our arecanut garden before reaching my home. As I entered the garden, I found some unknown persons engaged in plucking arecanut bunch from the trees. I could not find my father or any of my family members who should be normally present on such occasion. I felt it strange and could not tolerate the unpleasant scenario I was witnessing.

I reached the home in an anxious and excited state. I saw my mother and father waiting for me. The first question I asked was who was plucking the arecanut from our garden. My parents told me to finish my lunch first before they could tell me the events that led to such a situation. My second elder brother had already reached the home for his holidays. After my lunch all of us sat together and my father briefed us all the events that took place before our eldest brother left home.

As already highlighted by me earlier, the financial position of our family had reached a stage wherein it was impossible to clear the loans and maintain the family. It seems the rich father-in –law of my brother had invited him with the assurance that he would give a particular piece of land from out of his large landholdings to enable him to live independently. In the given situation it was a fait accompli for him as there was no other alternative. However my parents were not fully convinced, as they were aware of the huge indebtedness of my brother’s father-in-law.

Other than some petty loans, my brother had raised the entire loans from Sampige Kolalu uncle only. The loan was mainly on account of the two marriage expenses at home and the clearance of dues of rupees one thousand five hundred of Srinivasaiah to get the land transferred to us. The amount had shot up to rupees three thousand four hundred inclusive of interest. The moment the uncle came to know about my brother’s intended departure from home, he insisted on clearance of the entire dues in lump sum. This was possible only by selling our entire landholding. This obviously meant that our family would be on the roads.

My father invited his nephew Mardi Krishna Rao and his first son-in-law Mahabalaiah (my eldest sister’s husband) for the Panchayath (arbitration). Both of them were highly respected and in fact known as financial wizards. Together they pushed a hard bargain with the Sampige Kolalu uncle. They had to somehow ensure the survival of our family. They requested the uncle to accept the repayment in three annual installments, the first one to start immediately out of the arecanut crop on hand. But the uncle was bent upon insisting the clearance of the entire dues at a stroke.

Ultimately he gave one offer. He would take the entire arecanut crop on hand from our one acre land and accept the same as the clearance of his entire dues. The arbitrators had no other alternative than to accept it. Being masters in this line, they immediately obtained a conditional receipt from the uncle for the settlement of his entire dues. This was against an agreement to sell the entire crop on hand to him executed by my brother as the land was held in his name. The arbitrators also got a transfer deed executed from my brother in favour of our father and all other brothers jointly.

The above transactions meant that our family would be left with only a nominal income from the tenanted land of about half acre for the current year. That was indeed a great challenge for survival!  On the positive side we were free from the major loan liability which was like a sword hanging over our heads since long. But the best part was that the total value of one year crop could not have exceeded two thousand rupees at the prevailing rates. In other words the dues of rupees three thousand four hundred got cleared with rupees two thousand only! Perhaps the uncle thought that some cash on hand was better than full amount in installments! The arbitrators were happy to conclude the settlement without the selling of the land owned by us and which was the only hope for our survival. Mardi Krishna Rao also sent us a quintal of rice which could meet our needs for about three months.

I could understand now why some unknown persons were in our garden plucking arecanut. The clearance of entire loan at a stroke was indeed a great relief. But it was very difficult to accept somebody plucking crops from our own dear garden! Our sentiments were really hurt. I remembered how Tipu Sultan had felt when he was asked to send two of his sons with the British to Calcutta on his defeat in the Mysore war. I thought our situation was similar. Here we were made to surrender the crop in our land thereby allowing other party to enter our land and pluck the crop.

For the first time in our life my immediate elder brother and I felt that a stage had come in our life wherein we had to virtually fight for our survival. We had to support our father fully. It was not just the moral support. The physical support by way of working in our garden and other related work was rather more important.

Our immediate step was to take out the crop from our tenanted land. We had about half acre of arecanut garden under tenancy. Major portion of it belonged to the Belavinakodige family. We had to remit to them a geni of six maunds which was actually on the higher side. It had been fixed taking the total land as half acre; but the actual area was much less. Our request for re-fixation had not been considered by the rich family even though the same was a pittance for them in comparison with their large holdings. Another small piece of tenancy land near our house belonged to Krishna Rao the younger brother of Srinivasaiah. The geni for this had been fixed at one and a half maund. Krishna Rao’s wife was in fact the only daughter of my mother’s maternal uncle. Thus the family was closely related to us. We expected both Krishna Rao and the Belavinakodige family headed by Thimmappaiah to waive our geni as a special case for that one year. But both the families took the geni without showing any favour or mercy!

In our Malnad the areca crop plucking (adike koyilu) is conducted three times with a gap of one month between each plucking. We finished the first plucking for our tenancy land during our holidays. It went fast as we had to do this for half acre only this year. We assisted our father in the collection and selling of bananas, betel leaves, plantain leaves and soapnut. Our father had no other way than to depend on this source of income. We could find that he was an expert in this line and knew all the tricks of the trade. He had not concentrated on this so far. But in the given dire situation his skills came out.

I had one major relief in the meanwhile. I had been thinking of my eldest brother during this period and missed him a lot. I had somehow concluded that he may not evince interest in my education any more. But he visited our home during my stay. He enquired about my performance in the first terminal examination. He made it very clear to me that he would continue to monitor my progress even though he was not supporting me financially any more. It was a great reassurance to me. I felt relieved to a great extent.

We were at the end of the month of October and my holidays came to an end. Father was aware that I had to pay two months hostel fee. I needed about twenty rupees for going back to Shimoga. On that Sunday afternoon he accompanied me to Koppa. He had carried about ten kilograms of arecanut of the Bette type (this is a second grade areca as against hasa, the first grade). The first grade could not be parted as the same was to be given as geni to the landlords. He was hoping to mobilize the money for me by selling the same to some shopkeepers in Koppa.

To our ill luck the market for areca was at the lowest at that time. Besides, there was no shop in Koppa town which was trading in arecanut. The main market for our Malnad arecanut was only Shimoga. Even there it was difficult to sell areca in small lots. Some petty shops only sold areca on retail basis to the labour class. But this market had a very limited demand. We went to different shops to sell the item. But nobody showed any interest. I could see the CKMS bus leaving for Shimoga at 4 PM. But we had still not sold the areca and hence I could not get in to it. We were tensed up. There was only one last bus to Shimoga at 5 PM. I had to somehow get in to it. We were in a desperate position.

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

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