Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy - 52

Mathematics had always been one subject for me which I have enjoyed doing. Generally I used to score in nineties in this subject. But I don’t know what exactly happened to me on that particular day when I saw several thrinamas on my way to the examination hall. I developed weakness in my knees all of a sudden!  And indeed my apprehensions were right. I found the question paper not only tough; some questions were even out of syllabus! For the first time in my career I found myself unable to solve all the problems. Looking back now I feel that the thrinamas had really no role to play in my predicament. But at that juncture I took them to be the root cause of my trouble!

I did well in my remaining papers. It was time for me to tell goodbye to my School. Looking back, I feel this School had contributed much for my career. The solid foundation the teachers laid here for my education was to come handy later in my College career. It was my brother who got me here in spite of all the adversities. I remain indebted to him for life!

As for the hostel I developed a feeling that I may never come back there. The free seat was available for my taking. The nominal charge per month was just nothing for any student. But not for me! Given my family financial position it was going to be tough to even pay that. I had reached a stage where I had decided that I should no more depend on the mercy of others for my education. At least I was not going to beg anybody for that!

There were several takeaways from my hostel life. I had come out of the shell of protected life in my sister’s home. I could understand the role of money in one’s life. The community life gave me lot of exposure to different cultures. It also gave me strength to handle my affairs independently. My association with senior college students added value to my knowledge levels. With a strict hostel administration to oversee us I could learn how to lead a disciplined life. The exposure to sports and other extra curricular activities also widened my perspective.

I was back at my home for my summer holidays along with my brother Puttanna. As in the previous year, we had a tight schedule to finish off various tasks at home. My father had sent the entire arecanut produced at our garden to the Arecanut Marketing Society (MAMCOS) at Shimoga. That year our gross revenue from the proceeds was around rupees one thousand. He had somehow managed to make both ends meet. We two brothers helped him one of his new ventures. The construction work of bridge for Sitha River was going on. There was a large camp of Tamil labourers at the site. They were crazy to eat the bananas grown in our Malnad. Twice in a week we used to visit this camp to sell ripe bananas which we used to collect from our gardens. This activity became a major source of income for us.

That year we had to attend to one strenuous job. In an earlier episode I have written about the work of collecting arecanut leaves (Soge) for covering the roof of our house. This year we found the quantity from our garden insufficient. The youngest brother of Belavinakodige family was living in a place called Bhuvana Kote. He permitted us to collect the same from his gardens. For going to this place we had to climb a steep hill first. Thereafter we had to climb down the hill on the other side to reach the house. The gardens were further deep down in a valley. From here we had to lift the arecanut leaves (tied in to a bunch) on our heads back to the top of the hill. Thereafter we had to climb down the hill to reach our home. The whole journey used to be on a narrow path called Kaalu–daari (footpath). Our father and we two brothers completed this entire manual job on our own. Today when I think of the hard work we did I really feel proud. We had to do all these jobs to avoid paying labour charges.

Thimme Shetty Conthratu!
There was only one particular work which we could not do. That was the annual feeding of manure, green leaves and fresh soil to the arecanut gardens. In our Malnad this activity is called thotada –besaya. For this purpose, the land is divided in to three equal units. Every year only one such portion is taken up for feeding. This activity is generally entrusted to only labour contractors.

Generally these contractors were coming from South Kanara district with a number of labourers at their command. But I should mention the name of one contractor who had at his command only one labourer. He was called Thimme Shetty. The only labourer at the command of Thimme Shetty was none other than Thimme Shetty himself. His was a one-man army. His terms of contract were quite different from the other professional contractors. In fact his brand of contracts was more specially known as Thimme Shetty Conthratu!

The basic term of this Conthratu was that he was to be treated as a non-paying guest at the house of the family with whom he was entering the Conthratu. He was to be provided the same food as if he was a member of the house. This cost was to be kept in mind while fixing his conthratu. Basically Thimme Shetty was a polished handsome man. He would never wear dirty clothes unlike our usual village labourers. He had a special dress stitched for usage while he was doing the manual labour. He would neatly wash them during week ends. He could manage to do any part of his contracted work singly even when the same required two persons in the normal course.

Thimme Shetty was a bachelor. He would take daily bath which was again a rarity for the normal labourers. He was in possession of a torch which was his trademark. He would never forget to carry it in the night. He would do hard work on all days till Sunday. He would take an off-day on Sunday. It was difficult to recognize him once he dressed himself. He would look like a film hero. Once dressed in spotless white clothes, he would leave for the town (Jayapura, Koppa or Sringeri) depending on which place had a good film in the Theatre. He would return in the late night carrying his torch. He would be blissfully whistling the latest film song. That would herald his arrival back at the place of Conthratu.

Generally the ladies at the house did not like his Conthratu. They found it difficult to cook and serve him. But the advantage was  - he would not be required to be given a seer ( a measuring vessel) of rice per day  unlike other labourers. Some families found the arrangement cheaper. Besides Thimme Shetty was a thorough gentleman. For small landholders his Conthratu was ideal. His services came as a nice package. That year we entrusted our thotada –besaya to Thimme Shetty under a Conthratu.

I wish to mention here that I had been to my village about five years back. I visited the house of one Baalehithlu family. I could remember that this family used to engage Thimme Shetty frequently by entering in to Conthratu with him. I casually asked them what had happened to Thimme Shetty ultimately. I had not seen him for more than thirty years. Believe it or not! They told me to my utter disbelief that right at that time he was engaged in a Conthratu with them! That day being a Sunday he was off to Koppa for seeing a film! They told me to visit them on Monday to meet him. They also told me that he had grown old now. I simply told them ‘no’. I didn’t like to see an aged Thimme Shetty. I wanted him to continue to be young and handsome in my vision always! That was the last time I heard of him. He remains evergreen in my memory!

It was the end of May. I went to Hokkalike to visit the houses of my sisters. I stayed there for a week. On the day of return I was to catch the bus at a place called Gadikal. While waiting for the bus somebody told me that the SSLC results have been published in the newspapers of that day. With great difficulty I collected a copy of news paper. I could find that I had secured first class in the examination. 

I reached my home late in the evening. My parents already knew my results. My brother also had been successful. Both of us had reached a stage in our life because of the efforts of our eldest brother. We received a letter from him congratulating both of us.

I visited Shimoga and collected my marks-card and TC. I had scored excellent marks. Arunachalam and my other well wishers asked me about my plan for studies in future. I simply told them that my family could not afford to send me to College. All of them quoted a Kannada proverb which roughly meant “if one has the teeth, he has no groundnuts to eat; if one has groundnuts he doesn’t have teeth to bite!”

There was no way I could study any further. In those days the clerical vacancies in Post offices were being strictly filled up on the basis of merit in SSLC examination. As I had not completed the age of eighteen I was not eligible at that time. I simply told my parents that I would assist at home for one year. I was left with no more ambitions. The spirits had burnt out!

My elder brother Puttanna had other plans. He was very particular that he should study in the College. He tried his best in that direction. Fortunately for him our cousin Subrahmanya with whom he was staying told him that he would help him to study in Bangalore. He took it as a challenge and left one fine morning for Bangalore with just bus fare in his pockets.

My Student Career at Cross Roads

Even though I had taken a firm decision to discontinue my studies, I had tough time once my brother left for Bangalore. The people in my village were surprised to see me carrying bananas and betel leaves for Koppa market with my father. They could not believe that a merit student like me could discontinue studies so nonchalantly! But when I told them my financial difficulties they just kept quiet. It became a great worrying matter for my parents.

One particular evening I was engaged in feeding the water to the gardens from one of the tanks. Once the entire water in the large tank had flown out and fed to the garden I had to go back to the tank to plug the outlet from inside for refilling. After plugging the outlet I just stood in the tank thinking about my fate. The sun was just setting in the evening. Suddenly I felt that I was also at the evening of my student career! I remembered how my brother had strived hard to bring me up in my educational career. But right at that time my career was in crossroads. My brother was no more with me. A sense of grief and dejection overtook me. I just forgot my surroundings. Everything appeared to have come to a standstill for me!

Just then I heard my father calling me loudly. I suddenly woke up. I found the water level raising fast. It had already come up to my waist level!
------- (To be continued)-------

1 comment:

Govinda Rao said...

South Kanara District being located in coastal area, climate is humid and perspiring. Taking daily bath is a habit in the coastal belt. Generally, Brahmins take bath in the morning and labourers in the evening. In extreme summer many take cold water bath both in the morning and evening.

B. G. Rao