Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Story of a Malnad Boy-65

My relations with the principal improved after Chandramouli Rao agreed to pay my hostel fee. Having been unburdened of the promise he had originally made to me, he started behaving extremely nice to me. He used to refer my name in all the functions held in the college and praise my performance and appreciate my unassuming nature.

One particular incident remains fresh in my memory. As usual my pocket used to be empty (the concept of purse was neither known nor found necessary) except on the Mondays, when I used return from my weekend visit to home. Either my mother or father would give me some petty money before I left home on the Monday morning. I would generally spend it by Wednesday night and would revert to my original empty pocket position thereafter.

On one such mid-week, the Principal had called the students for a meeting. At the meeting he asked all the students to contribute two rupees for creation of some fund. He asked all of us to pay by the next week. I could not visit my home that weekend. The Principal called the meeting again during the next week. It was found that except for me everybody else had contributed. He then asked me what my problem was. I told him, ‘manege hogalilla’ in Kannada (that I could not go home that weekend). He could not hear me properly and only heard it as ‘money illa’ (no money). He felt very bad as he thought that I did not have even two rupees to pay. Immediately after the meeting he called me to the office and sanctioned rupees twenty five to me from the poor boys’ fund. That was a windfall for me! I was very happy. I spent it judiciously over a period of time.

The general elections for the Parliament and State assembly were held in February 1967. The Assembly elections were interesting to us on two counts. I have written earlier that K N Veerappa Gowda, father of Ravindranath Tagore, my classmate, was the co-founder of our college.  He was selected as the Congress candidate for the MLA election from Sringeri.  He had a tough competition from H G Govinda Gowda of Koppa in the Congress party. (Govinda Gowda became an MLA many years later and earned a very good name as Education Minister).  As already mentioned by me, father of my classmate Shiva Shankar, M Mallappa, stood as an independent candidate from Birur constituency. Both the candidates won from their respective constituencies.

Among the opponents of Veerappa Gowda, was Srikanta Bhat from Jansangh and Gopaiah, an independent candidate. He later joined our college as a part-time lecturer to teach law.

It was clear from the beginning that Congress would win the elections. But it was Gopaiah who brought charm and entertainment to an otherwise dull election. Gopaiah had some notoriety in Sringeri and nobody was prepared to speak against him. But he appointed a young man by name Ganesh Raj as his election manager. It was this Ganesh Raj who brought the entertainment to the election scene. Ganesh Raj was a brilliant speaker in Kannada. His election speeches became so famous that we made it a daily practice to attend his speeches in the evening. He would attack the Congress party with such anecdotes and stories that we simply marveled at his oratory capacity. We even compared his oratory powers to that of venerable Mark Antony from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. But alas! While Ganesh Raj became a great hero for all of us, Gopaiah lost his security deposit in the election! While the whole of Sringeri population enjoyed the oratory powers of Ganesh Raj, when it came to voting, they religiously voted either for Congress or Jansangh! Long live Ganesh Raj, the greatest young orator I have ever seen!

By a strange coincidence, NBN and Krishnappaiah were assigned election duty in our village poling booth. NBN was the presiding officer. Since they were on election duty, I could not invite them home. But I managed to serve them my home food by carrying it in a tiffin box. Both of them appreciated the typical Malnad food. That occasion remains fresh in my memory.

At the home front, it was a struggle for my father to make both ends meet. My younger sister had to discontinue her studies after her middle school career was over. My immediate younger brother, Madhava, also required admission in high school. He was admitted to high school in Jayapura. We had a distant family relative in a nearby place called Kotibylu.  Madhava stayed with them till he completed his high school education. He used to come home in the weekends. Thus we three brothers somehow managed to continue our education with least assistance from our parents.

As I used to visit my home, every weekend, I knew how difficult it was for my father to look after the lands alone. He had to visit Koppa every weekend to earn extra income for our family’s survival. As he was sending the entire arecanut to the marketing society in Shimoga (MAMCOS), I could know the exact annual amount of sale proceeds of arecanut. It was hardly rupees one thousand. Most of it would go towards loan repayment. Once the amount was spent by the end of December, we would be left with nothing till October next year. We had to raise loans frequently to meet our maintenance and unforeseen needs.

I remember being sent to neighboring homes for borrowing petty amounts. Our immediate neighbor was Kittajjaiah whom I have referred to earlier. I was sent several occasions to him for loans. I had to first go on talking about my college with him as he was very much interested. It would become very difficult for me to cut the talk and come to the point. Even after somehow asking him for the money, he would not show whether he had heard me or not! But there was no point in losing the patience. After a good gap of time, he would get up and slowly go inside the house. He would take his own time to come back as he had to search for soiled notes in a dark room! He had made it a point to lend only soiled notes! He knew that a person in dire need of money could not ask for a better note. It was an opportunity for him to get rid of such notes. The waiting for his arrival back was very tough indeed. I would be immensely relieved after collecting the usual soiled note from him.

I also used to meet another person by name Bhaskar Rao for hand loans. In this case the loan used to be against deposit of a gold ring. The problem here was not of soiled notes; but the secrecy involved in lending. Bhaskar Rao was living with his maternal uncle. He was doing this lending in strict secrecy. I had to ensure that I spoke to him in such a way that his uncle and others would not come to know the transaction! I would indicate the amount through the movement of my fingers and also convey him that I had brought a ring as deposit.  He would go inside and come back after some time. Then I had to collect money and hand over the ring to him in a hush-hush manner without attracting the attention of others. He used to collect interest at a very reasonable rate. I could call him an Apadbandava (one who helps you when in need)!

Coming back to Kittajjaiah, his family had moved to our village in the year I was born. As I have mentioned earlier, he never went for a re-marriage, even though he lost his wife immediately after delivering her first male child. The child was initially brought up by my father’s aunty - a widow called Gowramma.  Later Kittajjaiah brought him up single-handedly.

Kittajjaiah was a hard working person. I remember to have seen him working in his gardens. I remember how he almost lost his eye-sight in a minor accident. Pieces of arecanut fell on his eyes when he was looking up in the garden. He was treated by several doctors including the famous Dr. M C Modi. Ultimately his sight was only partially restored. He had to restrict himself to sitting idle at home. But he was a master in getting all the things done operating from his seat. There was a platform type of construction (called thitta in Kannada) in his house which would serve as his seat in the day and cot in the night. We used to call it Ajjaiana thitta. It was a typical construction and I have never seen such a thing anywhere else. You could see him either sitting or sleeping on this thitta through day and night. He was a great business manager and a financial controller. His only son would do all the physical activities at home including handling of bank accounts; but strictly under his father’s control. He was not authorised to spend a paise without his father’s consent. Kittajjaiah kept every thing under his remote control.

We were all aware that Kittajjaiah had lot of money. He would liberally spend money on the necessities; but would not waste single paise unnecessarily. He would ensure that he always paid the correct price for his purchases. We would always wonder how much money he must be having. But soon we could get a fairly good estimate of his money.

In those days only super rich men were supposed to have sugar-disease (the name of diabetics was unknown then). We were aware that only two big shots in our community had this disease. One was the Sahukar Subba Rao of Kavilkodige (already mentioned by me) and the other was the Sahukar GopalaKrishnaiah of Kesve village. They were the biggest landlords in our community. The disease had been appropriately named as rich-men’s disease.

Once when our Kittajjaiah was undergoing some eye treatment, the doctor found out that he was also a diabetic patient. When this news reached us, we were very happy for Kittajjaiah. We simply thought that he got a promotion in his status! In our opinion he was highly privileged to have this rich-men’s disease! We also concluded that the amount of money held by Kittajjaiah had reached the level of other two land lords! We simply envied him!

There was another reason for our envy. We had learnt from our mother that a diabetic patient should not eat rice. We had also seen that the two persons mentioned above were being served upma made of wheat-rava (uppittu) or chapathi. We had a great fascination for these two items in our younger days. We used to think that eating rice was a punishment as compared to these two items which were prepared at our houses only occasionally. In fact we had set a goal to become rich one day, get diabetics and then eat only rava-uppittu and chapathi. Oh! We simply envied the rich-men’s club for this privilege! Now our Kittajjaiah had also joined this excusive club!

One week-end when I had been to my house Kittajjaiah called me to his house. He gave me a letter written in English. He told me to read it and tell him its contents. The letter was from State Bank of Mysore in Tarikere. It stated that the Bank of Tarikere in which Kittajjaiah was holding shares had been taken over by the State Bank. The Bank was issuing its own shares; but as Kittajjaiah had only a few shares (odd lot) they would pay him cash. The Bank had sought his consent for sending a draft for the amount.

To be frank, even though I was studying in the college, I had only a vague idea about a company share at that time. But Kittajjaiah had a thorough knowledge about shares! He explained the concept to me! The reader should know that Kittajjaiah had not even studied class one! He told me that he was not going to allow the bank to deny the opportunity for him to possess the prestigious State Bank share. He asked me to draft a letter to the Bank accordingly!

My English was being tested and also found to be useful for the first time in my village! I went home and wrote a letter using my vocabulary to the best extent possible. I went back and explained to Kittajjaiah what I had written. He was fully satisfied. He affixed his left hand thumb impression on the letter and got it attested by his son. Two weeks later State bank sent a reply that they could not oblige as the holding was very small. I do not know what happened subsequently. I have written this incident only to highlight the knowledge level of Kittajjaiah.

The annual college day event was a great occasion for me that year. The principal spent ten minutes on the concluding day function to highlight my achievements and the laurels I had brought to the college. I was also awarded several prizes for my performance by all of my lecturers. The Sanskrit lecturer Venkannaiah presented me the complete works of Shakespeare. That was one of my valuable possessions for quite a long time. One eventful year in my educational career had come to an end.
------- (To be continued)

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