My parents were back at home before evening. I found them in good spirits as they had been paid well by Nakra Poojari. Their spirits went up further when I told them about my scholarship. The money was sufficient to comfortably complete my 9th standard at the School. My immediate elder brother (Puttanna) also came home for the holidays. We decided that we would work hard and support our father during our ensuing summer holidays. Father told us that the owners of our tenancy land had not considered our request for waiver of geni. They had mercilessly collected their share of the arecanut. Hence very little of the produce was available for sale by us. We had to depend on subsidiary activities only for our maintenance till we had the next crop.
I went back to Shimoga after my Christmas holidays. I could spend my further three months of education comfortably. In this period I was through with all of my scholarship money. I was back to square one by the time I came home for summer holidays.
In view of Sampige Kolalu uncle’s insistence for recovery of dues in one stroke, we had cut off our relations with his family. Even though the family was closely related to us and was one of our immediate neighbors the relations could not be restored till many years. We had in our possession a big vacant land near our house called Achemane (neighboring house). It was actually the solid foundation of an ancient ruined house. Our village had a good number of stone inscriptions of Jain period. We could make out that this foundation must have had its own story to tell in view of its solid ancient foundation. Only an archeologist could have found out.
We used to grow all sorts of vegetables in this land. My father was an expert in growing vegetables. When the management was in my brother’s hands, the Sampige Kolalu uncle requested him for using a part of this land for raising arecanut seedlings. My brother was obliged to accede to his request in view of our indebtedness. About one third of the land was thus used by the uncle for raising seedlings. It was supposed to be a short-term affair. But once our relations were cut off, the uncle fenced the land and treated it as a part of his garden. We were simply helpless and could not even protest for his highhandedness.
The summer months of April and May were very critical for our Malnad people in those days. As our village used to be cut off from the towns during the rainy season, we had to store all our requirements for a period of six months during these two months. Besides, there were certain tasks peculiar to our Malnad and our village which were to be carried out during this period only. My brother Puttanna and I chalked out a programme to finish all these tasks before we rejoined our Schools after the holidays.
The first task was to collect firewood from the forest. In our village all the forest adjoining the gardens were allocated as hola (land earmarked for the use of the respective garden owners). We had to use this land for the supply of green leaves (soppu) for our gardens and for cowsheds. Similarly a portion of such forest, called daragina- hadya (land for dry leaves), was to be used for collection of dry leaves for the cowsheds during the summer. Both the hola and daragina-hadya were not to be used as sources for firewood. The trees in these lands were not to be cut under any circumstances. The allocation of this land was scientific and was based on an unwritten understanding. But this had no legal sanctity. We had sufficient hola and hadya of our own. Only we had to ensure that there was no trespassing. Such instances, though not frequent, did arise.
Beyond these adjoining forests there were thick forests. We had to climb the hillocks to reach these dense forests. We engaged a person called Subba to cut wood in these deep forests on contract basis. We had to allow the wood to dry in the sunlight for a minimum of one month before the same could be transported to our home. While the rich landlords could afford to transport the firewood on their bullock carts, we had to manually carry the firewood to our home on our heads. Even if we were to hire the cart, the same could not reach our home as there was no pucca road. We two brothers with the help of our parents completed this task first.
The next task was to cover the roof of our house with the dry leaves (soge) of arecanut tree. The collection of these leaves starts during winter as the trees start shedding the leaves. These leaves are picked up at weekly intervals and stored in soge-ottlu, a platform specially set up in the gardens for this purpose. Before the leaves are used to cover the roofs of houses, we have to separate the haale (the top portion of soge) from the soge. The haale is used as firewood in the ovens.
It took more than a week for two of us with our father to cut all these soge as we had to cut each piece individually. Thereafter we had to transport the same to our house on our heads. We had to fix one particular day for the task of covering the roof by replacing the existing leaves. In our village the task of covering the house roof is called Mane- hochhuvudu. This is done every year before the arrival of the Monsoon. We have to invite all the households in the village for this purpose. Each household will depute at least one person on the appointed day for this work.
We have to first remove the entire existing cover and sort out the leaves which could be reused. The process of putting these leaves back on the roof along with freshly cut ones is a skilled job undertaken by only a few experts. The others have to assist them. The task includes covering the roofs of annexes to the house and the cow shed. The entire work takes one full day and we have always enjoyed this day in the year. It is indeed a community work with a festival atmosphere. Special food for the day is cooked by the ladies from different houses joining together. The completion of this activity is taken as the culmination of a major event in the household concerned.
We had certain daily tasks cut out for us during this period. Our gardens were being irrigated by three different tanks during the summer. The water from these tanks is drawn by different households on rotation. We had to draw water in the morning which would flow in small canals to the garden by gravity. After emptying the tank we had to close it. By evening the water would fill to the brim again. It would be again drawn and fed to the garden in the evening. This activity generally requires two persons. Once the summer came to an end we had to keep the tanks wide open. The various canals of distribution in the gardens are also opened so that the heavy rain water flows out and joins a stream. This would ultimately join a tributary of River Tunga.
Another daily task was to go to the hadya and collect the dry leaves in a big bamboo container called Jalle. We had to carry it on our heads to our homes and spread the same in the cowsheds. It would get converted to fine manure with the cow dung. Once in a month we had to manually remove this manure from the cowshed and put it in a dumping yard called gobbarada gundi. Normally these jobs are performed by labourers. But in our case we had to do these ourselves as we could not afford to pay them. During the rainy season we had to put green leaves from the forest in the cowshed as against dry leaves in summer. The rich manure is fed to the arecanut garden once in a year. This was to be done manually by carrying the same in baskets on our heads.
During the week ends we had to assist our father in collecting banana from the garden. The sorting out and arranging the betel leaves in to Kowlige was another week end job. Both of us would carry these on our heads with our father up to the bus stop which was more than six KMs away. This was on the Sunday for Koppa market. Father would return in the evening carrying our weekly requirement of provisions on his head.
We had to somehow collect sufficient provisions for consumption in the rainy season. Father could not visit the Koppa market during this period. One particular week end father visited the house of his nephew Ganesh Rao (Ganesh Bhava for us). This nephew was one of the sons of my father’s eldest sister. As he lost both his parents while he was quite young he was brought up by my father in his younger days at our home. He had great regards and affection for his maternal uncle. He was an enterprising and progressive farmer. He had developed and brought up very good arecanut gardens in a place called Karigerasi near Koppa town. He had done this single handedly with hard work.
My father’s visit to his house was rather self explanatory! Ganesh Bhava was well aware of our financial needs. He simply addressed a letter to Siddi Sab of Koppa and asked my father to travel to Koppa town on his bullock cart. As per the letter, Siddi Sab loaded the cart with our six month’s requirement of provisions. The items consisted of mainly rice, cooking oil, jaggery and Tur dal. Over and above this Siddi Sab handed over one hundred rupees (cash) to my father as instructed in the letter. Ganesh Bhava had a tradition of never sending back my father empty handed! He was also particular that the items were home delivered on his bullock cart!
We were very happy and relieved to find our father coming back with a cart load of provisions. With one stroke Ganesh Bhava had ensured our smooth survival for six months. We started thinking about our going back to the School as the month of May was coming to an end. There was the same problem of mobilizing money for me to go back to Shimoga.
At that stage we suddenly remembered that certain rich persons from our community had assured me help when there was difficulty in securing free seat for me at the hostel. In fact Guddethota Krishna Rao had told me that it was better for me to collect some money from such people and keep the same in bank for my future requirements. My father thought it fit to visit our community people’s houses for collecting money for my education. As Mr. Krishna Rao had already assured his help we decided to visit his house first. We left our home and on our way reached Jayapura town. To our surprise, we found all the shops closed in the town. The day was
1964. We came to know that our beloved Prime Minister Jawaharlal
Nehru was no more!
----- (To be continued) -----