Friday, October 7, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 53

Vishwanathapura is a small Agrahara on the banks of the River Tunga. It is at about a distance of three KMs from our village. The Gopal Rao family in this Agrahara was having the hereditary rights of Shanbhogue for our village. This family had the entire details of the revenue land and other family affairs of our village on their finger tips. The family belonged to Shivalli sub-sect in the Brahmin community. Most of our villagers belonged to another sub-sect called Hebbar. It was generally believed that the Shivalli families did not like the Hebbar sub-sect people to come up in their life.

Shankar Rao, being the eldest of the two sons of Gopal Rao, was the Shanbhogue of our village at that time. There was a tradition to give a small measure of arecanut to the Shanbhogue annually as a token of respect. This would be collected by a representative of the Shanbhogue by visiting the houses of each of the families. The Gopal Rao family had large landholdings and was well off. As such, they were collecting this token of respect only as a matter of their hereditary privilege. When the relation between our family and the Srinivasaiah family had soured, my father had checked up with the Shanbhogue as to the status of our family in the revenue records. He wanted to know whether our name was entered as owners or tenants in the records. To his shock and dismay he found that the entry was neither as owners nor as tenants, but as coolies!

It may be mentioned here that Srinivasaiah was the Patel of our village. These revenue records were updated annually under the joint ownership of both Patel and Shanbhogue. It was obvious that the entry was made at the instance of Patel Srinivasaiah. But basically it was the duty of Shanbhogue to update and maintain these records. My father did not take this insult kindly. He was basically a short tempered man. That year when the representative of Shanbhogue visited our house, he refused to give him the usual arecanut contribution. He simply shouted at him showering a mouthful of undesirable epithets on the post of Shanbhogue!  The same was conveyed verbatim by the representative to Shankar Rao, the Shanbhogue.

I had seen the Shanbhogue Shankar Rao on a few occasions. He had a highly commanding and respectable personality. He used to address all the villagers kindly with due respect. Nobody spoke anything bad about him anytime. None of our family members agreed with the way my father treated the Shanbhogue’s representative. Besides, we were small fries compared to his stature. It was not advisable to spoil our relations with him particularly when the Patel was already against us.

Being a thorough gentleman, Shankar Rao never took it as an insult to him! Rather he regretted his mistake and took necessary corrective steps. Later as a Director of Malnad Arecanut Society he helped my father a lot. My father’s attitude towards him also changed to the other extreme!

In our Malnad there were only two first grade Colleges at that time. One of these colleges was at our district headquarters of Chickmagalore. This college was quite unknown. Besides, the Chickmagalore town was under-developed and was not found to be a hospitable and livable place. All the College going students flocked to the other famous College. It was the prestigious Sahyadri College in Shimoga. The Shimoga City had its own charm for the people Malnad. It was deservedly known as the Gate Way of Malnad.

In the beginning of the sixties there were frequent attempts by different people/associations to start a first grade college in the interior Malnad. None of them were fruitful mainly because there was no agreement on the location of this College. The towns in competition were Sringeri, Koppa and Thirthahalli. As there was no unanimity, the people from respective places started their individual efforts towards establishing the College in their own town.

The people from Sringeri had their own reasons to argue their case. After all it was known from ancient days as a pilgrim town. It had the prestige of having one of the four Mutts established by the great Shankaracharya. In fact the Mysore Kings had left it as jahgir of Sringeri Samsthanam. The entire revenue from the taluk was to go to the Mutt only. The Jahgir was abolished only after independence.

The Hulgar family near the temple of Kigga was well known in Sringeri. The Yejaman of this family had the privilege to administer the affairs of Kigga temple.  He was also entitled for a major role in the affairs of Sringeri Mutt. The Swamiji of Sringeri generally consulted him on various issues. At that time Chandramouli Rao was the Yejaman of the family. He was a leader of high stature. He was the President of the Sringeri town municipality from its inception continuously for more than twelve years.

Chandramouli Rao was in the forefront of the committee set up for establishing the College in Sringeri. He was ably supported by K N Veerappa Gowda, the MLA from Sringeri. Together they took it as a challenge to establish the College. They got an offer from the well known Manipal Academy headed by the famous Dr. T M A Pai. As per the offer, the committee had to collect a sum of Rs. 2 lakhs and hand it over to the Academy. The academy would, in turn, contribute a sum of Rs.1 lakh. The college would be established and run by the Academy. The academy had already successfully established and running Colleges at Manipal, Udupi, Karkala, Kundapura, Mulki and Moodabidri.

The committee with great difficulty could successfully mobilize this amount from the philanthropists of Sringeri taluk. The foundation of the college was laid in the month of December 1964. By June 1965 the Academy was able to construct a makeshift building, ready for starting the pre-university classes. The necessary clearance from the Mysore University was also obtained.

The real trouble for the committee started at this stage. There were only about forty students who had passed out from Sringeri High school in that academic year. Some of them, including my brother, had left for studying at different places. There was another set of students who were required at their homes for looking after their lands. Some others were least interested in college studies. There were some cases wherein the students wanted to study, but the parents just thought “enough was enough”.
As per terms agreed with the Academy, the mobilization of students was one of the conditions. In any case it was a matter of prestige for the committee to bring the students to the College from the families of reluctant Malnad farmer community.

Each of the committee members was allotted certain quota for this purpose. From our Hebbar sub-sect, Manjappaiah, of Talavane family was one of the members on the managing committee. He was the elder brother of Talavane Srinivas who had helped me in my hostel admission at Shimoga.

Shankar Rao, our Shanbhogue, was also one such member. Besides, he was closely related to the Hulgar Chandramouli Rao family. The Hulgar family also owned a rice mill near our village which was managed by Shankar Rao. A tragic incident had taken place earlier within these two families. The eldest son of Chandramouli Rao, Raja, was a very popular young man. He was on a visit to Vishwanathapura with his friends. They had gone on boating in the flooded Tunga River. Suddenly the boat capsized and all the friends had to jump in to the river. Raja was an expert swimmer. He could save two of his friends. But while attempting to save the third he himself lost his life.

This was one of the most tragic events we ever heard in our younger days. There was lot of sympathy for the bereaved family from the entire population. For Shankar Rao family the event was difficult to forget for many years.

One fine morning my father received a message from Shankar Rao asking me to meet him. I was not at all aware of the struggle going on for mobilizing students for admission to Sringeri College. Till then I had only heard of Vishwanathapura and never had the opportunity to visit it. Traditionally the Hebbar and Shivalli sub-sects had no social relations between them. There used to be no inter sub-sect marriages also. Our intermingling was limited to the public activities fields only. As such I was curious to visit the house of Shankar Rao to see their way of life.

I have already mentioned about the larger than life personality of Shankar Rao. To be frank, the villagers were generally in awe of him as a person. My case was no different. On that morning I left from my house and traveled in the direction of Tunga River bank after crossing a deep forest and a big paddy field on my way. I could see the Agrahara from a long distance from the paddy field. Inside the Agrahara to the right side of the gate I found the residence of Shankar Rao. I was asked to sit down and was served the coffee. Shankar Rao was in his Pooja room and I could hear him engaged in loud Manthra Patanam. At the centre of the Agrahara there was a temple. The ambience of the entire locality was such that I felt myself in a different world all together.

After about half an hour Shankar Rao came outside and spoke to me in his baritone voice. Straight away he told me that he could not understand how a merited student like me could sit at home! I didn’t know how to react to him. I just kept quiet. He then told me that the Sringeri College was in need of students like me. I had to tell him my financial difficulties at that stage. He then asked me to come to his home again on the weekend. I was to carry my marks card and TC. He also told me that I should stay in his house for the overnight. He wanted me to accompany him to Sringeri next day.

I visited his house again on the weekend as told by him. His family treated me as an important guest at home with all niceties. He was a highly religious person. He spent a good time in the evening Pooja. Later I found him hearing Carnatic music till late night over Radio.

In the morning together we reached Sringeri town after crossing the Tunga River. There we visited the Hulgar House very close to the Sharada Temple. This house was owned by Chandramouli Rao family. The College Office had been set up there on a temporary basis. None of the family members of Chandramouli Rao was available at that time. Shankar Rao introduced me to the Principal of the new college. His name was Dr. K B Rama Krishna Rao.

 After some time we came out of the office. Shankar Rao handed over some receipts to me. He also told me that I could go home and come back to his house on the month end. That was to attend the inaugural function of the College.

I started on my way back home. Hardly had I walked a few steps, when a Fiat car came from behind and stopped by my side. A young and handsome man came out and spoke to me. He introduced himself as Srikanta Rao, son of Chandramouli Rao. He simply told me that the Sringeri College was in need of students like me! He also invited me to the inaugural function of the College on the month end. Suddenly I had turned out to be a VIP! I had moved to a different world all together!

Once he left, I took out the receipts and went through them. In all they totalled up to a sum of rupees three hundred fifty. I could not believe that any one person could pay such a big sum for the admission of a student who was totally unrelated to him, by blood or in any other way! It was actually the entire annual fee of the College paid in lump sum. I was quite aware that even super rich persons found it very difficult to part with even five rupees for the welfare of others. But here was a person who was doing it without any publicity of any kind! This in spite of there being absolutely no request from the recipient!

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

1 comment:

Narain said...

Hats off to the noble person!