Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 56

As compared to my daily routine at the hostel in Shimoga, the life in Sringeri was quite different. The hostel had in-house facilities and a disciplined life strictly monitored by the warden. Here in Sringeri I had to visit the mess in the morning for taking bath and the breakfast thereafter. Fortunately the mess was very close to my room. It was actually an Agrahara type of building with the Holla’s mess on one side and the Sanne Bhatta’s house on the other side. This was the same Sanne Bhatta whom I had referred to in my childhood days. His house was not new to me as our family used to stay there during Navarathri celebrations on certain occasions. He was a very old man now. The opening of the College was a blessing to him as his first son who was unemployed got appointed as a laboratory attender in the College. The second son who was our ‘enemy’ in our boyhood days had run away from home.

The Holla mess was in fact his residence cum mess. As such, we had to face some embarrassments at times. While taking our bath in the open bathing system prevalent in those days, we used to feel uneasy to see Holla’s elder daughter moving around for milking the cow and other purposes. Believe it or not, as village boys we used to be more shy than the girls in the town! But Holla was not taking any assistance from the ladies for cooking or serving the food. That was a big relief for us. He took assistance from only his sons and that too very rarely. He was hard working and the quality and taste of the food was quite good.

Holla got a boost to his business as all the college lecturers decided to take their food at his mess only. His prestige simply went up by a few notches. While we also felt honoured to have our food along with our lecturers, we were feeling a bit uneasy to treat them at par with us. That was the culture in which we were brought up! We used to have our lunch by 9.30 AM and leave for the College. The College was about two KMs away and all the students along with the lecturers used to cover the distance by walk only. Even most of the students from the villages preferred to walk the distance than traveling in bus. None of the students used any two-wheelers.

That the people of Sringeri town belonged to a different class of civilization, altogether, came to the notice of the lecturers within a couple of days. The Sringeri town was in fact nothing but a main street (Bharathi Street) extending from the location of Mutt and the temple up to a hillock leading to a junction of Koppa and Jayapura roads. The College building stood on the Jayapura road on the top of the hill. As the lecturers were staying near the Mutt, they had to walk through the entire street to reach the college. As all of them used to start at the same time, it was virtually a procession all the way. Most of them were quite young and used to be in their fine suits. The local population and the general visitors were accustomed to dress in the traditional dhotis and simple shirts. Majority of students had the same dresses.

It became a daily habit of the majority of the town folk, mainly ladies, to peep from the windows or from the partially opened doors to witness the procession of the lecturers! There used to be even competition between housewife’s to identify each lecturer by his name and by the subject he taught! The other subjects for mutual discussion were the aspects like who was taller, who was more handsome and who dressed well! In the matter of identification by names, the beloved wife of our Holla would generally win hands down!  She had the advantage to see them closely when they were having their food in the mess. She could collect details about them from students like us. She could even tell who was eating more and who were very poor eaters!

The lecturers were initially not aware of this daily review of their procession! But soon somebody told them that Sringeri town was now privileged to have daily utsavam!  When they realized that they had become a sort of daily exhibits on the road, they were not amused! It also came to their notice that certain families had even selected some of them as suitable grooms for their beloved daughters! To say that they were miserable on hearing this may be an understatement! That at least two lecturers later got married to two local girls, that too the students, is only the other side of the story!

But right at the time the lecturers were very furious at the town folk. Our English lecturer SriRam was in the forefront of this furious lot. He knew he was not particular about his dressing. He used to dress in a simple half-shirt and pant. Naturally his rating was very low in the minds of the town ladies! But he disliked the very conservative nature of the local population and gave vent to his feelings in all his classes. Naturally his was the first wicket to fall when the attrition started among the first batch of ten lecturers! I would come to it later.

It may be interesting to the reader to have a brief description of Sringeri town and its typical citizens of those days. For this I would like to take the reader through the town starting from the Mutt itself as the focal point. If one was to start his journey from the Mahadwaram of the Mutt, there was only a short road on the left side other than the main Bharathi Street. This road was leading to what was known as Sringeri bus stand. But it was only a ramshackle building with a small hotel. The hotel was very unclean and the bus stand was generally deserted as no passengers were to be found there. The local people preferred to pick up the busses in the centre of the town at a point called Katte Bagilu. Similarly all the passengers would get down at this point or in front of the Mutt. The bus stand was for the name sake.

The first house on this side road was that of Chandramouli Rao as already mentioned by me. It was comparatively of good construction. Almost all other buildings in the town were not pucca buildings and there was no sanitary system. The roofs were also generally covered by nada- henchu (local inferior tiles). Even the Mangalore tiles were a luxury in those days. The other important house in this street was that of N S Chandrasekhar. He was a senior journalist and agent for Kannada Prabha and Indian Express newspapers. There was the house of a gentleman called Bala Ganapathi. He was a famous astrologer. The Municipality building was also located here. The only other mess of the town was situated here. That was the house of Kallu Devasthana (stone temple) Subba Rao.

Subba Rao had started the mess only at that time. Till then his was a strange occupation. Believe it or not! His sole profession till then was playing cards! In fact he was the only person one had heard in those days who could make a living out of this vice! At any time of the day or night you could find people engaged in playing cards at his house. Many of them were from nearby villages. But there were a few locals who had dedicated their lives for this deadly game! This scourge of card playing had destroyed several Malnad families in those days. While for all other family members Sringeri used to be a place of pilgrimage, for the family heads it was more of an entertainment club where they could lose their family’s hard earned money! My father was also a member of this group quite for some time. As such, the name of Subba Rao was also included in the hate-list prepared by our family. As for him it was his profession and he carried no guilt feeling! He cared a damn for the curses of several Malnad housewives whose husbands were spoiled by this deadly game!

Right at the front of the Mutt stood the building which housed the taluk office. The first house on the Bharathi Street belonged to the family of Halemane (old house) Srikantaiah and his brother. Later I had the privilege to stay in this house for two years. Srikantaiah was like a Chanakya in local political circles. He was once a member of town Municipality. However, at that time he had turned a king maker and was an expert in maneuvering the issues behind the curtains!  The contestants to the Municipality posts had to seek his advice invariably! He had a lovable personality and knew the importance of higher education for the reluctant young generation of Sringeri! He was an LIC agent and father of my elder brother’s (AVL) closest friend and classmate, Jayaprakash. I had visited his house earlier along with my brother. Hence the family was well known to me. His first daughter, Vijaya Lakshmi, was a brilliant student studying MBBS in Hubli Medical College. Jayaprakash was also sent to Hubli for his PUC. Somehow Srikantaiah did not want him to study in our College. Srikantaiah’s elder brother was a professor in the Manipal Engineering College.

One of the other important houses in the street was that of local High School Head Master. His eldest daughter Subhadra was our classmate and an art student. Earlier he used to be local VIP. With the opening of the College and arrival of the postgraduate lectures in to the town, the status of High School Head Master and other teachers had come down steeply in the eyes of locals. There was no way they could stop this erosion in their social standing!

The Sringeri taluk did not have a Magistrate court. Hence there were no practicing lawyers in the town. However, there were a good number of doctors. The senior most doctor was Dr. T K Bhat. He and Dr.H. Manjappa Gowda were the only two doctors with MBBS degree. The seniority of Bhat may be gauged from the fact that one of his sons was a Professor in the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore. When I met this great Professor four years later in the year 1969, he was on the verge of retirement!  That indicates the seniority of Dr. Bhat!

Dr.T K Bhat was basically a very nice gentleman. He and another doctor by name K P Bhat belonged to Saraswath Konkani community. K P Bhat had only LMP as qualification. But he also had a good practice, particulary, in the villages including our village. But with the age catching up on them both these doctors had lost practice. T K Bhat was more famous for the litigation he had entered in to with the local MLA.

The issue started like this. The MLA had constructed his bungalow on the top of a hill near the High School. He had dug a well and had plenty of water in it. Dr. Bhat had his bungalow and garden at the bottom of the hill on the other side of the road. The trouble started when Dr. Bhat began digging a well in his garden. While he got plenty of water without digging much, the water level in the MLA’s well started depleting within no time! This was the beginning of a never ending litigation between the two!

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


Narain said...

The name "Sringeri" sounds so divine. What a classic description of the town! So enjoyable!!

AVK Murthy said...

Thanks, NN.