Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Story of a Malnad Boy-67 - The good Samaritans

With the arrival of the month of July, the rainy season started in our Malnad with all its fury. My brother AVL left for Bangalore. I had made a decision by that time. It was to avoid going to Chandramouli Rao again for collection of hostel fee. But I had to find an alternative. I had earlier mentioned that Srikantaiah, father of Jayaprakash, friend of my brother AVL, had suggested that I could very well stay at his house. I had not taken it seriously at that time.

I had visited Srikantaiah’s house several times with my brother. The family was really special. All the members were very enlightened, friendly and courteous. Srikantaiah believed in giving good education to his children. His first daughter Vijayalakshmi, a brilliant student, was studying MBBS in Hubli medical college. The first son, Jayaprakash was also a brilliant student. He had secured distinction in his PUC in Hubli and secured admission to the Bellary medical college.

I would mention only one instance about the greatness of this family. When Jayaprakash came to know that my brother AVL, his close friend, had financial difficulties in Bangalore, he made a commitment. It was to send a money-order for ten rupees to AVL every month from out of the money received by him from his father. He clearly told his father that he need not send any extra money to meet this commitment and it would be met from his normal remittances only. Srikantaiah was very proud to hear this from his son. Reader should note here that Srikantaiah had a middle-class income and it was not easy for him to support both his daughter and son for their higher studies. Believe it or not! Jayaprakash continued this monthly money-order business till my brother completed his graduation. It was quite a good amount in those day standards. Hats off to Jayaprakash and his generous father, the good Samaritans!

From the above instance I had realised that the offer of Srikantaiah for me was not just an offside remark, he was serious and actually meant it. I thought sincerely that if I stay with this family, I would never regret my decision later. So one fine morning I simply went and met Srikantaiah at his home. He enquired me about my studies. He also repeated his earlier statement that I could very well stay with his family in a room on the upstairs of his house. He was not aware that I had gone to him exactly with that purpose in mind. A gentleman to the core, he did not even allow me to make that request! I was filled with lot of gratitude for his repeated offer. I asked him whether he was serious, as this time I had come to him with that very purpose in mind. He almost shouted at me-“Krishnamurthy, do you think I am joking with you?” He called his wife and told her that I would stay with the family. He also asked her to get the room on upstairs cleaned up so that I could occupy it!

When I went back and told my parents that I would be staying with Srikantaiah’s family, they could not simply believe. It was always taken for granted that staying with other families was possible only if one had a close blood relationship. Even that was taken as a burden by many families and people were generally reluctant to this arrangement. But Srikantaiah had broken this tradition. I was known to him only as the brother of his son’s friend. He had a different blood group altogether! Ordinary mortals could not simply fathom his levels! So one fine morning I walked into the house of Srikantaiah with my baggage. Another chapter in my eventful student-career had begun.

The upstairs’ room was ready for my occupation. The younger children of Srikantaiah were eagerly awaiting me. The youngest of the lot, Jaggu (Jagadish), aged four years, was in the forefront! This kid volunteered to take me to my upstairs room. He led me to it holding my hands all the way! I saw a table and chair ready for my usage. It was the first time in my life that I was privileged to have this facility. In fact Jaggu told me that it was my ‘office’. This boy continued to refer to the room as my office during my stay of two years. He used to spend a good amount of time with me and knew all my friends who used to visit me frequently.

Whatever may be the greatness of Srikantaiah, ultimately it all depended on his beloved wife who had to bear the burden of a permanent guest in the house. I would only say that I was blessed to find another most lovable person in that wonderful lady of the house. In fact I would say that the role played by her was only next to my mother and two elder sisters!

I would like to mention another strange coincidence here. I have mentioned in the beginning of this episode that I wanted to avoid going to Chandramouli Rao again for my hostel fee. But believe it or not! I had landed at the house of his younger sister!  Chandramouli Rao was the son of first wife of his father who had died early.  His father’s second wife had two sons and a daughter. This daughter, Shreelakshmi, was married to Srikantaiah. As already mentioned by me earlier, the Hulgar family of Chandramouli Rao was a very big land owning super rich family in Sringeri. There were very few families in Malnad which could be compared to the stature of this family. Very few families owned cars in those days. Shreelakshmi was privileged to get a car at her door steps whenever she had to visit Hulgar, her parental home. In fact Chandramouli Rao’s elder son-Srikanta Rao- himself would come to take her to attend functions at home.

But Shreelakshmi was a very simple un-assuming lady. She was a dedicated housewife, a loving mother to her children and a great partner to her husband who would bring his friends home for lunch or dinner at odd hours with absolutely no advance information! I had seen some villagers taking advantage of Srikantaiah’s goodness and just accompanying him to his house to have lunch or dinner. It was very tough to handle such uninvited guests. But not for this great lady! She never exhibited her difficulties; not even a grumble from her. She was equally a willing partner to Srikantaiah in his role as a great host. She had absolutely no complaints against her husband! They were really made for each other! What a great couple! A rare species not any more in existence in the present days!

It seems Srikantaiah had seen some very bad days financially after the marriage. He had only one acre of arecanut plantation near the town. Although he was cultivating it himself, the income was insufficient to support his big family. But at some stage in his life he made an entry into life insurance business. He never looked back. Not that he was earning huge income; but he got a regular source of income. He had a nice and polished way of speaking to people which brought him business without much effort. He was also a very knowledgeable person and had firm views on several matters. He would not take any obligations from anybody under any circumstances. He attached great importance to his self respect. He rarely visited his in-laws’ place.

For some strange reasons the house where Srikantaiah stayed was called Halemane (Old House).  One reason possibly could be that it was as old as the Sringeri Mutt itself! When I say this, I am referring to the strategic location of the house and not to the building as such. It was the first house next to the ancient Mutt, at the commencement of the Bharathi Street-the one and the only main street of Sringeri. Srikantaiah’s forefathers probably built the first house in Sringeri as it is only next to the Mutt and appropriately called as Halemane!

Srikantaiah was the youngest among the four brothers. His eldest brother lived in the same building in a part of the main house which was also a full pledged set up. The main house was indeed very big where Srikantaiah’s family lived. The house actually belonged to Shivaswami-the immediate elder brother of Srikantaiah. Shivaswami was a Professor in the Manipal Engineering College. His sons were brilliant in studies and two of them had already landed in America at that time itself. Another elder brother, Krishnaswami lived in the nearby village. They had only one sister, a childless widow, who lived with Srikantaiah.

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 was also the secretary of the Sharada Co-Operative Society, which was in charge of rations in those days. There used to be acute scarcity of sugar in those days. The secretary had the privilege to use his discretion in its distribution of the surplus ration.

The close location of the house to the Mutt was a blessing for me. I used to visit the Mutt and the temple daily in the evening with my friends. We would first go to the river, wash our feet and hands, visit the temple and then again go back to the river to sit on the steps for quite a good time. We would find a lot of serenity sitting there. We used to invariably find Chandramouli Rao sitting on the lawns of the Vidya Shankar temple in a meditation mode. He was a regular visitor.

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


Narain said...

To have spent early boyhood in Sringeri is the greatest blessing of your eventful life! It is no surprise that Goddess Sharadha has blessed you with abundant knowledge and skills. I consider myself very fortunate to read this account of divine blessings!!

AVK Murthy said...

Thanks NN