Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Story of a Malnad Boy-70

I could not sleep that night peacefully. I was aware that I could not go against the wishes of the Principal. He was highly respected by one and all. Indeed I had to fight it out with a formidable personality. Nobody would support me if I complained against him. At the same time I knew there was no meaning in my investing in the 7-year bonds.

My brother (AVL) had arrived in Sringeri on vacation. I discussed the matter with him. Together we decided to meet the Principal at his residence. His residence was actually the third building from Srikantaiah’s house. We went and met him at his home. AVL explained to him clearly how I was not in a position to invest in the bonds. While the Principal gave a patient hearing, he again repeated that he expected me to reciprocate the gesture of the Academy. We returned without succeeding in our mission.

That night I decided that it was better for me to discuss the matter with Srikantaiah. In the morning I spoke to him about my predicament. He simply could not believe what I was telling. Rather he was furious and asked me how anybody could ask a student to invest his scholarship money in a 7-year bond.

Here I should mention some personality traits of Srikantaiah. He was a kind of ‘rebel’ in the eyes of the college management. There were two reasons. The First and the foremost was that he had refused to admit his son (Jayaprakash) in the first batch of the college. He preferred to send him to Hubli without minding the additional expenses involved. The second was - he never toed the line of Chandramouli Rao, even though he was his brother-in-law. At the same time he had a sphere of influence in the Sringeri town. He commanded a type of respect unequalled by others. But he was an ‘enigma’ in the eyes of many including the college management.

The best feature of his personality was that he would be always jovial and had a solution for every problem. He would always be in high spirits and viewed every situation in an optimistic manner. Whenever I went to him with a problem, he invariably made me return with a feeling that there was no problem in the first place! His very attitude was such that the solution would unfold on its own!

Coming back to my problem, Srikantaiah suggested me a simple solution. He told me to go back to the Principal and tell him that I had discussed the matter with him. He also asked me to tell the Principal that he (Srikantaiah) would meet him personally to sort out the issue.

In the evening I again went and met the Principal at his residence. I simply told him that I had a discussion with Srikantaiah and he would be meeting him shortly to discuss the matter. The moment I told this, the whole attitude of the Principal took a sudden U-turn. I could make out that he was deeply agitated. Apparently he thought that the issue could boomerang on him if it was taken up by Srikantaiah. He immediately asked me to forget the whole matter and concentrate on my studies. He told me that he had only made a suggestion to benefit me in the long run! He felt that Srikantaiah need not be dragged unnecessarily into the issue. He asked me to convey his regards to Srikantaiah!  When I went back and told Srikantaiah about the ‘best wishes’ of the Principal he simply laughed. It seems he was aware of end result in advance! Thus ended the issue of my long-term investment in 7-year bonds!

This incident left a very bad taste in my mouth. From then on, the relations between me and the Principal remained cold. However, I thought that he would in no way harm me. But he did have his revenge against me in the end in a very subtle way. I would come to it at the appropriate time.

I should mention here about the investment bond business of the Manipal Academy.  I have earlier mentioned about Dr. T M A Pai, the founder of the Academy and the Manipal Group of Institutions. It was Mr. Pai who originated the concept of capitation fee in India. He was a great entrepreneur and single-handedly built the great institutions. He not only founded the institutions, but also ensured that they were administered efficiently. All the institutions had very good faculty and excellent laboratory facilities.

Obviously the funding of the projects was always one of the top priorities for Mr. Pai. During his regular visits to the institutions he would canvass for investments in the bonds. I do not actually remember in which company’s name the bonds were being issued. It appears that the heads of the various Academy institutions were instructed to collect subscriptions to these bonds. The obvious first target was the faculty. It had become a practice to announce the names of investors of these bonds at the end of the functions attended by Mr. Pai. Most of the names used to be that of the lecturers. We had a hunch that the faculty was indirectly pressurized for these investments. Of course nobody came out with any complaints.

I have already mentioned about the motherly attitude of Mrs. Srikantaiah. She always treated me as a member of the family. Even when she was ill, she would ensure that I was served the food regularly. I have made a mention earlier that Srikantaiah’s widowed elder sister also stayed with the family. She was addressed as ‘Atthemma’ (mother-in-law) by the family members. She was a typical lady and played the mother-in-law’s role to the perfection as far as I was concerned. She was creating minor problems to me by some constant irritations. I had to face tough time whenever Srikantaiah’s wife was not on duty. Actually Atthemma had excellent health; but would never do any household duties or assist her brother’s wife. But the great lady never complained. Atthemma was very much afraid of Srikantaiah as he would tolerate no non-sense. So she would talk very nicely in his presence. Somehow I used to manage the things without complaining against her.

I have already mentioned that many villagers misused the hospitality of Srikantaiah. I remember particularly one such person by name Gopalaiah. He lived in an interior village near the place of origin of river Tunga and had a distant relationship with Srikantaiah family. Whenever he visited Sringeri (he was a frequent visitor) he made it a point to have his lunch at Srikantaiah’s house. Of course Srikantaiah’s wife never minded. But Atthemma did not like it a bit! She could not understand why this gentleman could not go to a hotel as he was well off.  She expected him at least to bring some vegetables grown in his village home as compensation. I think she had some justification in thinking that way.

But Gopalaiah never bothered to think in that fashion. Immediately on arrival at Sringeri he would visit the house to give a hint that he would later come for lunch after finishing his work in the town. Many times Atthemma would send him away by telling that Srikantaiah was not in town!  But he would search him all over the town and ultimately locate him. He would get back in the company of Srikantaiah and have his lunch as usual! He would look at Atthemma before leaving, as if to tell her that he had won the contest! He used to invariably succeed in his free lunch mission! I have never seen a person so persistent and successful in his mission in spite of such formidable opposition in the form of Atthemma!

Many years later I had an occasion to meet Atthemma in Bangalore. She had been shifted permanently to the hospital bed in the Nursing home owned by Srikantaiah’s family members in Rajajinagar. I had been there to meet Srikantaiah’s son Dr.Jayaprakash and daughter Dr.Vijayalakshmi. I sat alone with the aged lady recollecting the days I had spent in Srikantaiah’s Sringeri home. She suddenly held my hands and started weeping. She began telling me how she had harassed me at the house. She also appreciated my patience and told me that she repented her actions and I should forget the same. With tears in my eyes I told her that I never carried any ill will towards her. That was the last time I met her. Within a short time I heard that she passed away.

The annual examinations for my second year B.Sc were held in the month of March as usual. My only mission was to secure cent per cent marks in Mathematics. Luckily I could solve all the problems correctly. I thought I would secure full marks as expected.

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

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