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N. Mogasale (1947): Born in a small village Koliyoor in Kasargod district of Kerala, Narayana Mogasale studied Ayurvedic medicine in Udupi. Ever since 1965, he has lived and practiced Ayurvedic medicine in another small village Kanthavara, near Karkala. He is the founder of many social, cultural, and literary organisations like, ‘Kanthavara Young Farmer’s Association’, ‘Kanthavara Kannada Sangha’, and ‘Vardhamana Prashsthi Peeta’. He is also the prime force in the distribution of literary awards like “Mudanna Kavya Prashasthi’ (for Kannada poetry), ‘Suvarna Ranga Sanman’ (for theatre and cinema), and ‘Vardhamana Prashsthi’. He is the main force behind the construction of an auditorium, ‘Kannada Bhavana’, at a whopping cost of twenty - five lakhs rupees in Kanthavara. The Kanthavara Kannada Sangha has published over fifty scholarly works on the literature and culture of South Canara. Till date, besides many scholarly works on Ayurvedic medicine, he has published fourteen Novels, four anthologies of Fiction and eight anthologies of Poetry. He has also contributed columns on health issues in three newspapers for more then seven years. His novel “Nannadalladdu” (1977) and his anthology of poetry “Idalla, Idalla” won for him the Karnataka Sahitya Akademy awards and the State Government recognised his contribution to language, literature, and culture when it conferred on him the Rajyothsava life time achievement award in 2004. His novel Thotti and autobiography Bayala Betta are two of his works selected as texts of study, in the Universities. Quite a few of his works have already been translated into Malayalam, Hindi, Telegu, and English. His recently published novel Ullangane has received impressive reviews. i

Dr. D. R. Shashidhara is a reader in the Postgraduate Department of English, Mangalore University. He began his translation work with the publication of Kannada version of Bernard Maulmund’s short story, Hasiru Nona in 1971. His translation of William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, “Vennicina Varthaka” was published from Geeta Book House, Mysore, in 1986. He has done English translations of Medieval Kannada prose and poetry for the Central Sahitya Akademy, New Delhi. He has also done translation works for the Directorate of Kananda and Culture, Bangalore. He has published research articles in such journals as Contemporary India (New Delhi) and Haritham (Kottayam). ii


God’s Own Decree And Other Stories an English translation of Na. Mogasale's Seethapuradha Kathegalu, by D.R. Shashidhara.

GOD’S OWN DECREE AND

OTHER STORIES

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Na. Mogasale Translated by

D. R. Shashidhara

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immense enthusiasm and a never failing congenial smile, Prof. T. Scarlett Epstein, OBE, PEGS, UK, for her valuable comments on “God’s Own Decree”. My father and mother who are extending all kinds of support to me endlessly,

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am grateful to, Na. Mogasale for reposing trust in me and permitting me to choose and translate eight of his short stories, My teacher, Sri Madhava Kulkarni for introducing me to Na. Mogasale and almost forcing me to take-up the translation, Prof. C.N.Ramachandran for having so willingly and gladly written an excellent Foreword to my translation, The Registrar and the Editor of Aniketana for publishing “Illusion Past Illusion” and permitting me to include it in this collection, My colleague, Dr. Parinitha, for having read through the early drafts and suggested improvements, My colleague, Prof. Kishori Nayak for having patiently and meticulously weeded out the many slips and errors, Mrs. Gopi, our office typist, who incorporated the countless corrections with v

My wife Suma and young daughters Varsha and Harsha for uncomplainingly putting up with my incessant absences in the evenings and especially, Varsha, who was the ‘first reader’ of quite a few translations, My sister Rekha Datta, cousins, K.V. Narasimha Swamy, Sowmya Goutham, A.M. Keerthi and H.R. Chandramouli for having read the first versions and encouraged me, Mr. Kalloor Nagesh of Aakrithi Prints, Mangalore, for preparing the print layout of the text, Mr. Narayana Malkod, of ‘Sumukha Prakashana’, Bangalore, for taking the responsibility of publishing my translation. Mr. Mohana Sona for the excellent cover design and illustrations. Without their support and sustenance this work would not have been possible; I thank them all. D.R.Shashidhara vi


“The bygone days are all like that”, says Mogasale in one of his stories, “they have a tendency to turn into stories without our knowledge. What is more, despite our reluctance, we get siphoned into its vortex. Of course, this happens unawares.” Needless to say, all the stories included here have this tendency to absorb us. The bygone days are not that bygone either. They all refer back to a past whose ligatures with the immediate present cannot be severed. Perhaps, more significantly, the past that Mogasale speaks of shares a crucial bond with something else. The past Mogasale speaks of is inextricably bound with the land, the Tulunadu, the land of the Tulu people. And the Tulunadu is after all, Parushuramashrishti. According to the Puranas, Parushurama, the son of Sage Jamadagni and Renuka, is furious when he learns that a Kshatriya King Karthaviryarjuna has raided his father’s hermitage and killed his father. To avenge the villainous act he vows to eradicate, not just the king and his empire, but the entire Kshatriya

caste. He goes round India, many times over, annihilating every Kshatriya kingdom he crosses. After the carnage, to atone for the shedding of human blood, he looks for a virgin terrain to offer penance. He reaches the western coastal belt and requests the Samudraraja, the lord of the Sea, to retreat and clear the coastal line. Samudraraja, offers to make a present of as much of land as he could reclaim by throwing his battle-axe into the sea. The land thus created by Parushurama, is the land of the Tuluva. Today, in this land of Parushurama, Brahmins, Bunts and Muslims, Christians and the Dalits abound in all their liveliness. We need to speak a little about them here. Mogasale’s Seethapura spreads around Udupi, the centre of the Dvaitha school of thought. However, the Brahmins we meet here are all not Dvaithis. There are Advaithis like Narayana Yaji, Seetharama Hegde, and Thimmanna Bhatta, as well as Bheemasena Acharya and Hanumantha Acharya representing a very rare sect, the Shuddaadvaithia. One must hasten to add that what matters in these representations is not their affiliation to their own kind of faith but to a general understanding of human nature and human good. Neither Narayana Yaji nor Madhvaraya Bhatta hesitate to place the universal human above his religious understanding of life. For instance, Narayana Yaji holds that the “inner truths of the Shastras and Dharma are to be discovered with reference to

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NA. MOGASALE AND THE TERRAIN OF PARUSHURAMA

An Introduction to Seethapura


our own times. After all, they are there for our well-being and benefit, not the other way round”. And Madhvaraya Bhatta apparently manipulates the Aroodaprashna consultation to accommodate the civic needs of Seethapura. Seen from such a light, Thabrikere Tanthri of Kashiyathre is the only Brahmin who swears by his faith. Mogasale’s presentation of the Brahmin group is not limited to the religious alone. There are Brahmins like Kuppannaih Bhatta whose occupation as an hotelier has nothing to do with his caste. Similarly, Seetharamaiah and the narrator of “A Court Without A Lawyer” have nothing to do with their caste roles and function. A word of caution about the nature of religious/ caste representation is necessary here. The Brahmins, especially those of them that display their caste identities are quite different from those we find elsewhere in Kannada fiction. Not only are they not mean, decadent, introverted but also are they not theoretical and abstract. The Brahmins here are experts in such astrological procedures as the Aroodaprshna and Ashtamangalprashna and rituals like Mandala Pooja, Naga Darshans and such other temple worships. The Brahmins here, that is, are of an altogether different flavour. The most important fact of Mogasale’s Seethapura is that harmony, and not any religion or ‘ism’, reigns the place. Madhvaraya Bhatta readily recognises Shekabba’s genuine human concerns as Shekabba realises the purity of Madhvaraya Bhatta’s personality. Seetharamaiah

is all praise for the way in which his old student Hasanabba has looked after the Tulsi plant of his ancestral home! We also see how the lower and the upper castes exhibit exemplary behaviour in “The Lord’s Code of Conduct”. The rich harmonious texture of life seen here gains an additional complexity and richness, when we recall the contribution that the Bunt community has made to it. Even though it was said that Seethapura evolves around Udupi, these landlords are its real centre. Their centrality in the life of Seethapura needs no exaggeration. Subbaraya, Krishna Shetty, Thimmaraya Hegde and the like belong to the landed Bunt community. It is through them that the Bunt life gets represented. The Bunts as presented here are generous and regal despite their human weaknesses and follies. What prevails in Tulunadu is matriarchy as evident from Krishna Shettys’ ruminations in “The Lord’s Code of Conduct”. This, perhaps, explains the strong personalities women possess in Seethapura. It needs to be noted that women, be it the Christian Naththala Bai or the Bunt Prema or Thimmaraya Hegde’s mistress Girijamma, all display a verve and vitality of their own. The vibrancy of harmonious existence is the hall-mark of Mogasale’s stories. Or as he would modestly put it, it is the hall-mark of the life and culture of Parushuramashrishti.

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D. R. Shashidhara


FOREWORD Dr. Mogasale is a major novelist-poet-columnist in Kannada; and the present work contains eight of his significant short stories in translation. Narrated in a leisurely pace, these stories, authentically but sensitively, document the ethos of a society in coastal Karnataka, struggling to come to terms with the contradictory pulls of tradition and modernity. The society of coastal Karnataka, in which these stories are located, is a rich fabric of variegated patterns and colours –what with many communities (Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Byari), many languages (Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, English, etc.), and varied traditions from Dwaita to Bhootaradhane, co-existing peacefully for many centuries. However, this society, also, is not immune to the present-day pressures of changing societal and familial structures: Serfs of yesterday are landowners today, women are no longer muted in their suffering, old religious beliefs are being eroded, and sons do not always tread the path of their fathers, resulting in conflicts and anguish. The stories of this collection present such a society that is about to come off at the seams. But, these stories also reveal, what prevails in the end is the ‘Innate Goodness’ of Man, which can transcend traditional-religious-gender barriers: a Brahmin and a Muslim think alike and come together for the common good of the society (“ Lord’s Own Decree”); a father and his son, though they do not see eye to eye with each other, can understand each other xi

and patch up their differences (“ The Hinge”); a Brahmin landlord donates the money meant for his pilgrimage to help a Christian woman rebuild her house (“ Kashiyatre”); and an old feudal lord’s son can respect and help former-tenants-turned-landlords (“ The Lord’s Code of Conduct”). In short, the writer believes that ultimately what matters is Man and ‘this world’; ‘Dharma’ (of every hue) is for Man and not Man for Dharma. Translating into English a culturally ‘thick’ Indian text is always a challenging task, especially so with this text which freely uses, besides Kannada, Tulu, Havyaka and Byari words and concepts. However, when I began to read the translations, I was really surprised –happily. The translator has found an admirable golden mean between the opposing pulls of ‘fidelity to the Text’ and ‘intelligibility to the Reader’; the translated text sounds authentic, without sacrificing either facility of expression or readability in English. Of course, I would have translated a few more terms into English, such as ‘Nagaradhane’ (Serpent-worship), ‘Godana’ (Gift of a Cow), ‘Kashiyatre’ (Pilgrimage to Kashi), ‘aurdhwadaihika’ (Post-death rituals), and such terms; and, as a translator, I would have liked to have as short a glossary as possible. But, these are highly debatable – and debated—points; hence, let me not elaborate them here. I heartily congratulate the translator, Dr. Shashidhar, on having made available to non-Kannada readers stories that are noted for their humane concerns, very relevant for today’s fragmented society.

Dr. C. N. Ramachandran xii


CONTENTS

God’s Own Decree / 1 Godana / 21 Illusion Past Illusion / 41 Seed Within Seed / 61 The Lord’s Code of Conduct / 84 A Court Without A Lawyer / 102 Kashiyathre / 122 The Hinge / 141

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In keeping with his daily custom, Vasantha Shetty arrived punctually at six o’clock in Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s hotel. “Kuppannaiah Bhatta, is it true that the Naga Deity has finally agreed to change his trail for the benefit of Dalits?” Vasantha Shetty eagerly enquired of Kuppannaiah Bhatta. On his part, Kuppannaiah Bhatta was looking forward to gather the most recent tidings from Vasantha Shetty. So he asked, “What is it, what did you say?” Vasantha Shetty’s explanations failed to satisfy him. Kuppannaiah Bhatta was as unashamedly eager to have all the gossip at once as one beleaguered by eczema is to scratch his groin even in public. He normally waited anxiously for his customers, but cursed their inflow today. Anyhow, he could not ignore them

altogether. They were his daily need. Hence, while serving them, he watched keenly for additional information. Nothing came forth though. His customers, by the way, were mostly construction or plantation labourers. Neither the events of national importance nor the happenings in their own village bothered them. All they looked forward to was that hot sip of tea which drove away their fatigue. A few of them were tempted to be there by Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s spicy, hot fries. “Two packets of arrack and a few bites of Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s fries is the most expedient cure for all body aches” – was the unanimous opinion of all the arrack mongers. Kuppannaiah Bhatta felt let down when none except Vasantha Shetty said anything about the Naga trail. He knew it would appear as a box-item in the next day’s newspaper. No guarantee even that it would not echo in the state legislative assembly. The news was really that big. However, what was wrong with the people of Seethapura? The people here were as insipid as the streets. ‘I am the only exception’, he thought, but immediately corrected himself. ‘Srinivasa, the retired teacher, Ranga Rao, the medical officer at the PHCU, and many others are as concerned as I am with social issues. However, how come, the doctor and the teacher, who are regularly here by five thirty, are not yet to be seen today?’ He was getting agitated beyond control. Usually Kuppannaiah Bhatta draws the shutters down at seven every evening. Of course, none in the village holds question him if he were to pull it down earlier. But, for those reaching Seethapura by the last bus, his hotel served sometimes as the bus station and at other times as a public cloakroom. Strangers to Seethapura may be bewildered by such a proposition. However, it is an inevitability here. In

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Seethapura, the houses are miles apart. They are like distant islets. Those who come by the last bus are reluctant to trudge two to three miles to reach their homes. They also find it hard to carry head loads of necessities purchased from the market or their own luggage at that late hour. For them, the hotel serves as a cloakroom for that night, and often for a couple of days even. Kuppannaiah Bhatta is not offended. He does not suffer any loss either. In fact, he has something to gain (This, of course, he doesn’t admit). Those leaving Seethapura or those arriving in Seethapura do not leave the bus station without entering his hotel. Their number ranges from twenty to twenty five a day. Kuppannaiah Bhatta understands their preferences very well. Hence, the moment they step in he is ready with the special dishes of the day. Not just that, he is aware of all the individual needs of his customers. Who needs a strong coffee, who one without any sugar or who relishes only tea _ is all on his fingertips. Serving them he makes sure of himself, “This was what you needed, isn’t it?” That is why even those that backbite him with such cynical comments as, “this Bhatta is really a Marwadi” or “the standards have gone down” have not stopped coming to his hotel. There is one more reason though; news and gossip available in Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s hotel is not to be had anywhere else! No one, in fact, worries about the collection and broadcast of spicy stories as much as Kuppannaiah Bhatta. His abilities have earned him great accolades. Even Srinivasa, the schoolteacher, teasingly says, “Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s news is more authentic than those that appear in the papers.” Rangappa, a grim chap compared to the teacher, seriously proclaims: “If only our Kuppannaiah Bhatta was trained in Journalism, he would have been the prime investigative reporter of a big paper.” Kuppannaiah Bhatta is not the one

to turn down these compliments. Neither is he the one to simply smile and keep quiet. He would eagerly proceed to justify himself saying, “Didn’t my predictions come true?” This is what pleases and entertains his customers most. Quite often, these discussions are more attractive than his tea or snacks. Kuppannaiah Bhatta was never as disturbed as today. There is an easy explanation for this. In many contentious issues, he would find himself arguing either for or against them. Sometimes, he is the victor and sometimes he is the vanquished hero. In every instance, however, he maintains, ‘what got defeated was the argument and not me!’ However, in the present crisis concerning the Naga trail, he has come to gradually realize, that quite unknown to himself, he has gained a centrality. Nonetheless, if he could sort out the issue, skirting the needless mud slinging games of the petty politicians, then the whole village would heave a sigh of relief. His mind is nestled in this dream anthill. To visualise how Valmiki, and not the serpent, sprung out of the anthill, is his present concern. The desk near which Kuppannaiah Bhatta sits should have been his cash counter. However, all his cash is safely deposited in the wide pocket of his baggy underwear tied beneath his dhoti. The clock on the wall struck seven. The last bus from Karkala arrived in Car Street. As if keen on indicating the bus being stationed there for the night, the driver pulled its gear to neutral and noisily switched it off. In fact, all his actions coincided with the clock striking seven. Kuppannaiah Bhatta has so often wondered, ‘How punctual this driver is.’ He climbed down the steps and stood in the porch to see if anyone was approaching his hotel. He made sure that there was none. Kuppannaiah Bhatta who used to rue the lean day was immensely

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pleased today. Like a lad in his teens, (he is forty eight now) he leaped into the hotel and ordered the cleaner boy to complete his job. He pulled out the day’s collection from his under pocket and then arranged the currency notes into tiny bundles according to their denominations of five, ten or hundred. To be certain of the day’s collection he counted the money twice or thrice. Then he set apart the sum he owed to Balu Bhatta for the provisions purchased earlier in the day. He called out to the boy, “Everything is over, pull the shutters down.” The boy locked the door and handed over the keys. Immediately dropping the keys into his pocket and without looking either way, he began his homeward march.

If anybody had seen him then, he would have thought that something untoward had happened in his home. Such was his hurry. Even in this excited state Kuppannaiah Bhatta recalled the payment he had to make to Balu Bhatta. For a moment, he felt that he had left the money behind in his hotel. He stopped abruptly, inserted his hand into his pocket and made sure that the money was very much there. He always settled the account of the day’s credit purchases by the evening. That day, for the first time in his life, he had forgotten to do so. He felt like retracing his steps to the grocery shop. However, he recalled, Balu Bhatta’s shop would be too crowded during that hour. All the workers, drunk to their noses would have thronged his shop. No one would budge and make way for him. Even Balu Bhatta wouldn’t be accommodative. On seeing him, he would never say, “It’s okay, hand over the payment.” He would have to

wait endlessly and repeatedly request him, “Ohe, Balu Bhatta, will you attend to me for a while and look into my accounts?” Even then he would have remarked, “What’s the great hurry today?” However, today was quite different for Kuppannaiah Bhatta. He intended to finish his errands and reach Madhvaraya Bhatta’s house before half past eight. Otherwise, if Madhvaraya Bhatta, clutching his nose with his fingertips, settled down for his regular Japa session, then he had had it! He would not stir until over ten. After that, would he let him go without dinner? Discussions would be possible only after that. By then, it that might cross eleven in the night. It was dangerous to walk alone at those late hours. They say tiger prowls have begun again. Moreover, he needed his wife’s preliminary sanction to visit Madhvaraya Bhatta. By the time Kuppannaiah Bhatta thought over all this, he had crossed the lane that lay behind Sankappa Shetty’s house. ‘Still a mile to go! Can one call this a road? I should ask Sankappa Shetty to either repair it with mud fillings or hand it over to the Panchayat. But, would he listen to me? Even if he were agreeable, would the Panchayat consent to take over the maintenance of this path? ‘How can we spend so much money on the maintenance of a path meant for the use of eight or ten households? If we do, then where do we find the money for the rest of the public works?’ the members would complain. Nonetheless, they say Shekabba is the best of the lot. What if he is a Byari? The people of Seethapura are claiming that ‘He is several thousand times better than our previous Presidents.’ In fact, Kuppannaiah Bhatta has heard such comments with his own expanding ears. [He claims that he has seen one whose ears were mobile like those of a cow!]

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—3— Actually, Shekabba is not native to Seethapura. He hails from Warkadi, near Manjeshwar in Kerala. (One of Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s relatives still lives in Warkadi). Shekabba’s father came to Seethapura when Marappa Shetty’s uncle was still alive. Then he joined Marappa Shetty’s forest produce trade as some kind of an overseer. Marappa Shetty found him trustworthy and forced him to settle down in Seethapura. At that time, this Shekabba was a mere boy. He was an urchin of hardly five or six and one that could not even pull up his slipping knickers! He grew up playing kutti-donne on the streets of Seethapura. He succeeded in his elementary classes and passed SSLC from the Karkala Board High School. Eventually, he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts! That was no mean achievement for a Byarikutty! The prevalent opinion was that the Byaris are fit only for petty trades or for meddling with nuts and bolts as makeshift ‘mechanics.’ Otherwise, they fly off to Kuwait or Dubai to become truck drivers. It was also thought that that was all they were fit for! However, Shekabba proved them all wrong. After his graduation, he did not fly off; he stayed put! This was the greatest surprise for Kuppannaiah Bhatta. In fact, Shekabba’s brother-in-law had sought his help to bring him back to his senses: “Kuppannaiah Bhatta, at least you should advice him. I have got it all fixed for him in Kuwait. Yet he says he won’t come…”After a cup of coffee he even presented Kuppannaiah Bhatta with a pack of cigarettes. Although Kuppannaiah Bhatta was not a smoker, he was impressed by the size and majesty of the pack. Therefore, not willing to part with it, he pushed it inside his counter. Later, he offered those cigarettes to smokers like Gregory Crasta, Shantharama Shetty and Venkatadas. Their appreciation had quite

surprised him, “Remind Abubakkar to bring a few extra packs when he returns next.” Kuppannaiah Bhatta had felt like cursing them, but he could not afford to do so. Recalling all this, he smiled faintly. Kuppannaiah Bhatta crossed the fence built across Baadu Poojary’s paddy fields. Shekabba disregarded his brother-in-law’s advice and stayed on. Not only that, he began his trade of cinnamon leaves. This had surprised Kuppannaiah Bhatta, ‘Can there be a trade of cinnamon leaves? Who buys them any way?’ he had wondered. In fact, citizens of Seethapura, including Kuppannaiah Bhatta, were busy ridiculing him, ‘He has gone crazy getting his Bachelor’s degree!’ Shekabba had remained calm despite such comments. He had busied himself with the collection of cinnamon leaves. With the help of few young boys he collected cinnamon leaves from the surrounding forests. He spread them out in his porch, much like arecanuts, to dry up in the sun. Then, he stuffed them in to scores of gunny bags. Thus, lorry loads of cinnamon filled bags came to be transported to Gujarat. Kuppannaiah Bhatta was aware of it all and thought quite dismissively. ‘May be, he earns profit enough to cover his coffee expenses.’ However, when, within a year Shekabba purchased a new Bullet motorbike paying forty five thousand rupees and had it parked in the porch of his hotel he could not believe his eyes! For sometime he entertained a notion that Shekabba was up to some smuggling tricks. However, one day the Forester and the Ranger, who were investigating illegal felling of trees, entered his hotel for coffee. They were all praise for Shekabba’s honest practices. Ever since then Kuppannaiah Bhatta has stiffly silenced all those who tried to malign Shekabba or his trade. However, can the public be quietened so easily? After

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all the citizens of Seethapura are a chunk of the Indian populace! They drafted anonymous complaints against him: ‘Shekabba is hand in glove with the forest officials; he has evaded tax payments. The state coffer is poorer by millions of rupees….‘ ‘He is smuggling sandalwood in the guise of cinnamon trade.’ They rallied themselves to clap their hands in celebration of his arrest. However, none of the accusations could be proved. No evidence of anything illegal or immoral in his trading was unearthed. Soon after that, Shekabba had bought a new car. His critics changed their tunes overnight: “Our lads have a lot to learn from this Byari. Look at him. Not hankering to be a doctor, an engineer, or even a government officer, he has made his fortune! That too, by dealing in forest trash! We should all bow to him with respect.” A few others rued their own lack of business acumen: “A brainy chap indeed! Wish it had occurred to us before!” Shekabba was unruffled. Addressing every one he met as “Sister” or “Brother”, he behaved like a perfect saint. He approached all the landed men and requested them to cultivate cinnamon plants, “Don’t worry, I will buy all the leaves you can grow.” While some termed his plans crazy, others realised that they had nothing to lose. So, they purchased a hybrid variety of cinnamon saplings and began to cultivate them. Thus, even before they could realize, cinnamon scent permeated all over Seethapura. Around the same time a rumour began to spread: ‘Dambe Moole Govindabhatta has decided to move out of Seethapura and live with his son in Mumbai. He has decided to dispose off his four-acre arecanut plantation, ten acres of hilly land, and the Kumki land adjacent to it (Though the land belonged to the state, he claimed that he had got all the necessary official clearance to call it his own!).’

Those who could afford to buy it displayed their indifference to purchase. They said, “Who cares to buy lands when the labour is so expensive?” Before many could realise what was happening, there was another rumour: “Shekabba has purchased all the lands at a competitive price.” Thus, the jealous had more to envy now. Shekabba was already preparing his lands for cinnamon cultivation. He planted more than a thousand saplings. Not just that; he provided employment for more than a score of labourers during the rainy season. This resulted in an increase in Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s milk procurement too! Consequently, there was a price rise in Balu Bhatta’s groceries that Kuppannaiah Bhatta purchased! In the meanwhile, Panchayat elections were announced. Shekabba, smartly dressed in his spotlessly white dhoti and white shirt, was happily moving around in his Maruthi car. Members of the Jana Hitha Party (JHP) were quick to mark and book him as their candidate. Shekabba emerged victorious in the polls as well. The Jana Mitra Party (JMP), the traditional rivals of the Jana Hitha Party, won two seats more than they had in the previous year. Yet, in the eleven member strong Panchayat, JHP having secured a majority of six seats, was declared as the ruling party. Moreover, as five of its six members staked their claims for the Presidentship, Shekabba was chosen as the compromise candidate! This did not make him arrogant at all. Nothing, his dress, his car, his trade, his manners or even his smile changed! By this time, Shekabba was well known all over the district. Until now he had not sought social recognition. This was his first step. Then memberships of Rotary club, Jaycees etc., followed one after another. The state leaders of his party were now eager to cultivate his friendship. By brushing his

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shoulders with all of them Shekabba had effectively spread the cinnamon scent all over the place. Thus, he came to occupy prestigious positions outside Seethapura as well. When Shekabba was thus in control of the village administration, the honourable Government of Karnataka introduced a scheme of ensuring cleanliness in the villages. It envisaged a scheme of providing lavatories for all the houses in the village. Shekabba took up the scheme with all his energy and commissioned the construction of more then three hundred lavatories. Then a brain wave struck him: not a single house in his village should go without a lavatory! This should happen within his tenure of Presidentship. That was his vow. To realise his dream he garnered help from both Governmental and non-Governmental sources. He did not leave out the rich and influential individuals either.

Shekabba, however, was faced with a problem: None of the thirteen families living in the Ambedkar colony were willing to construct a lavatory. Naranga, one of the residents of the colony, was an elected member of the Panchayat. Although he readily agreed to Shekabba’s forceful suggestion in the meetings, he never acted upon it. People living in the colony were normally quite demanding. They would fight for all civic amenities that the Panchayat provided. Shekabba failed to fathom their indifference to this particular project and became anxious. Therefore, he decided to personally look into it. One day, he went to the colony and made enquiries in all the houses. The responses he gathered surprised him. Narasajji told him, “Look here my son, I am seventy now, still I haven’t

seen a lavatory! I am preparing myself for my grave and I do not have any desire left to see one now.” Puttanna confessed his difficulty, “Sitting in the lavatory I cannot defecate!” Young Seetha had all the desire in the world for a lavatory, but she was afraid of her husband’s censures! So, each had his excuse. Shekabba grew suspicious: Is the JMP up to some mischief? Instead of voicing his suspicion, he coaxed Naranga to join him on his long drive. While on the drive, he quizzed Naranga. His replies flabbergasted him: A Naga trail runs through the colony. Any thought of constructing a lavatory meant for human defecation there, is a heinous sin. They were all scared of incurring the Naga Deity’s wrath! Shekabba was alarmed. If he were to dismiss it as superstitious belief then he would be branded an ‘anti-Hindu.’ That, by itself, did not worry him; neither was he apprehensive of losing his President’s postition. All that, he would not have minded. But if it were to lead to a communal riot… Shekabba’s wisdom woke him up: ‘If he weren’t careful now, Seethapura could be up in flames! If he did not display the shrewedness needed to pull out a strand of hair stuck in a lump of butter, then everything would be lost. The Naga Deity is not be enraged when dogs, pigs, buffaloes, cows and oxen defecate on the regular paths of live cobras, but if human beings defecate there, then God forbid…!’ Shekabba could not see how he could convince them that defecation was an act carried out in absolute privacy. In addition, from the point of hygiene, construction of lavatories was the prime need of modern India. He tried to hoodwink Naranga, ‘None, without a lavatory, can be a member of the Panchayat’, - so says the Law. You are a Dalit and as such are entitled to a six months grace period. On the expiry of which, even you will have to build one, otherwise you will cease to be a member.”

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—4—


Naranga and Shekabba were members of the same party, yet he said, “Come what may, I will not have the lavatory. If the law says so, then let my membership cease!” Shekabba had shot his sole arrow; obviously, he could not shoot it twice. Therefore, he shrugged his shoulders and kept quiet. Within a couple of days, the news reached Thimmappaiah of the JMP. He contacted Naranga and said, “Why don’t you send in your resignation and join our party? I will see that you are elected again. Staying clear of the Naga Trail, we will plan a new Ambedkar colony.” Naranga felt that to be a better proposition. By the next day, ‘Naga Trail of the Ambedkar Colony’ was the only topic of discussion in Seethapura. ‘The very conception is wrong …the Naga Trail is a superstition, it is a myth. Birds, animals and even men in ignorance have defecated at those places. What evil has resulted from it?’ If that was one argument, there was another as well. ‘Up the Ghats, these things are unheard of. Nothing happens there even if you strike dead a Naga. But that is not true in the case of Parushurama Shrishti. Naga is the prime Deity here. Nagaradhane is a totally different matter and this is no superstition. Beginning from the Chief Minister and including great cricket stars, many undertake a pilgrimage to Subramanya. If it were to be a matter of superstition, would they have done so?” Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s hotel or the shade of the Peepul tree opposite it provides the stage for these debates. The extended mud platform of Balu Bhatta’s shop can accommodate only two men and hence is not fit for such discussions. In Sinappa’s tailoring shop and Anappa’s arrack outlet, there was no scope for discussion at all. There, only scared whispers were heard: “Naga Deity’s truth cannot be

contended; a lavatory in the Naga Trail is a heinous sin.” The conference continued in Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s hotel for four more days without interruption. While some were busy in endlessly drinking tea or coffee, others consumed whatever was available to eat. None could match the ruckus raised by JMP’s Thimmappaiah and JHP’s Shankaraiah. Coming to blows with each other, they successfully damaged a bench and broke a few coffee glasses into pieces. On the next day, seeing Shankaraiah and Thimmappaiah entering his hotel, Kuppannaiah Bhatta lightheartedly complained, “It looks as if the Nagadosha has struck me.” Shankaraiah dismissed it equally light-heartedly saying “Forget it Kuppannaiah Bhatta, your bench was praying to be dismantled.” Thimmappaiah was much more candid, “Why do you blame it on the Naga Deity? Hasn’t your profit doubled in the last three, four days? You have been more than compensated.” The foremost fallout of all these parleys was the discovery that Madhvaraya Bhatta was the first person to speak of the Naga trail. Madhvaraya Bhatta’s accomplishment and reach are not to be underestimated. Forget the common people from in and around the district, politicians aspiring for ministerial berths have sought his directions to propitiate the planets and fulfil their ambitions! With the help of his eminent guidance, innumerable Brahmakalasha Mahothasvas and Ashtamangalaprashnas have been successfully carried out. Who could dare to contradict him? Thus, Madhvaraya Bhatta became a tougher nut to crack than the Naga’s wrath for both JMP and JHP. The ruling and opposition members of the Panchayat first met separately and then jointly to sort out the issue; but no solution ensued. Finally, they decided to adjourn with a resolution to decide upon the Agenda for the next meeting

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in the forthcoming meeting itself! At this point Kuppannaiah Bhatta, who was serving them tea and snacks, came out with a suggestion: “If you are willing to consider, I have a suggestion to make.” Shekabba, aware of the complexities involved, had not opened his mouth throughout the day’s meeting. He now spoke, “Solutions from all sides are welcome.” A few of the members wondered at Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s audacity. A few others grew curious. On his part, hitherto, Kuppannaiah Bhatta was never in such a central position. Hence he began with a sense of hesitation and pleasure, “Gods are not there to be feared alone; they are our protectors and hence amicable to our love and prayers as well. I have heard that there are instances when the Naga Deity has changed his trail on the request of his devotees. However, this is possible only through a Nagadarshana conducted by a Nagapathri. They even say a solution is possible through the Aroodaprshna as well.” “Great!” Thimmappaiah exclaimed, “How simple and obvious this is! It had not occurred to us at all.” Through his exclamations he was really attempting to coerce the other members to agree to Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s solution. The members, left without alternatives, meekly consented. Shekabba, nonetheless, remained silent. His party members tried to convince him and get his acceptance. Naranga happily agreed to the proposition. By this ruse, not only could he save his membership but even retain the Naga Deity’s good will. Unfortunately, by then, the Panchayat meeting was formally adjourned and they could not pass any resolution of acceptance. They could only ‘informally agree.’ Agree they did on one thing: If, moved by our prayers the Naga Deity consents to change his Trail, then lavatories will be

constructed in the present site of the Ambedkar colony. Failing which, the colony will be shifted to a different location and the lavatories shall be constructed there. It is the practice of the Panchayat to bear the coffeesnacks bill on such occasions. However, today Thimmappaiah offered to pay. He handed over a five-hundred rupee note to Kuppannaiah Bhatta and said, “Adjust it against your losses and give me the change.” In fact, that did not please him. He was looking forward to an overwhelming appreciation of his ‘idea.’ Nevertheless, he also knew that they would never acknowledge it; they would never say ‘the solution was made possible by Kuppannaiah Bhatta alone.’ The leaders of both the parties agreed to meet Madhvaraya Bhatta and request him to choose an auspicious day for the Aroodaprshna. Shekabba tried to excuse himself saying, “I won’t come with you, but I will abide by the decision you take there” The members did not agree and they compelled him, “That is impossible; you should be with us.” Shekabba had to consent.

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-5By the time Kuppannaiah Bhatta reached his house his wife, Jalajamma, was plucking jasmine flowers from the plants grown all around their house. Looking at the pace with which he entered the porch and noticing that he was back home unusually early, she felt a little uneasy. She was busy chewing her tambula and was in no mood to spit it out. Hence, she just cried, “Oh” to express her anxiety and surprise. Neither did Kuppannaiah Bhatta have any time for


explanations. He hurriedly said, “I am off to meet Madhvaraya Bhatta. Don’t ask me why. I will tell you everything once I am back.” He handed over the bag he was carrying to her and sped towards the gate. Jalajamma spat out the tambula and raced close behind him and complained “What’s the urgency? You did not even step inside.” Without even turning back to look at her Kuppannaiah Bhatta replied, “I’ll be back by dinner time” and rushed out. He reached the paddy fields near Maratha, he walked past the Raktheshwari palke, crossed the Angadimaru bettu even. In fact, he reached Madhvaraya Bhatta’s Padippere house almost unawares. He realised that he was sweating profusely. His shirt was completely drenched with sweat. He removed his shawl patted himself dry and fanned himself a bit with it. He rubbed his chest and armpits repeatedly to swab off the sweat. He stepped inside the porch and immediately stopped dead. He could clearly overhear Thimmappaiah discussing something with Madhvaraya Bhatta. He stood where he was and listened. “You say the Naga Deity has agreed to change his Trail. I have my suspicions. I know it is possible to make such requests through the Nagapathri. I never knew it was also possible through Aroodaprshna. I am not questioning your wisdom or authority. I am just curious to know how is it possible to do so with the help of Aroodaprshna astrology.” “Well, if you believe in the existence of God then everything, including, Aroodaprshna astrology, is true. If you do not believe in one then the other ceases to exist. That astrology can tell us greater truths than the Nagapathri, is my firm faith. Moreover, if predictions concerning Nagadosha can be made with the help of astrology, can’t solutions be offered through it? That it does, is my experience.” “You were the first one to point out the Nagadosha in

the Ambedkar colony; now you yourself say that Naga Deity has agreed to vacate his path. I have a lot of respect for you. Even I am a believer. But, for a moment, look at the whole thing from, say Shekabba’s point of view. He already has the opinion that Hinduism is a makebelieve religion. If not Shekabba, men of his community, keep teasing us that with us trees and plants are all Gods and Deities. If what you say comes to pass, then it is the end of it. Eventually, it seems to me, we ourselves have reduced the prestige of our Dharma.” “You should not say so Thimmappaiah. I hold that Dharma does not manifest itself only through the exterior aspects of our actions; it has an internal residence in all our actions. I have lived with this faith. I also hold that if an adherent of one Dharma ridicules the Dharma of the others, then he adheres to no Dharma at all” Silence prevailed for sometime. Hence, Kuppannaiah Bhatta decided to step inside. Just then, the conversation resumed again. He decided to stay right there and continue to listen. “If only I knew that the Aroodaprshna would provide us with such an answer, then I would have preferred a solution through Nagapathri. I was sure you would declare the Naga Deity’s refusal to vacate his path.” Kuppannaiah Bhatta could not hear Madhvaraya Bhatta’s reply. He was unable to guess whether Madhvaraya Bhatta was angry or not. He thought he might have gone into an inner room. So, he cleared his throat noisily to draw the attention of those inside. Madhvaraya Bhatta was silently staring at Thimmappaiah when Kuppannaiah Bhatta entered the veranda. He welcomed Kuppannaiah Bhatta the moment he saw him, “Please come in.” Thimmappaiah was either upset with Madhvaraya Bhatta or had concluded that there

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was nothing more to talk and so left the place. Kuppannaiah Bhatta, sitting opposite Madhvaraya Bhatta asked him, “What did he say? He looked as if he was greatly upset.” Kuppannaiah Bhatta thus tried to indicate that he had come prepared for a thorough discussion of the whole topic. Madhvaraya Bhatta remained silent for a while and then began, “Shekabba was here yesterday. To say the truth, Shekabba is a real adherent of Dharma. He said, ‘I do not believe in your God. I don’t have much faith in your astrology even. However, I do believe in the existence of God. May be we call him by different names. But if God exists, he should have equal love for all. To me you are one like him’ .” Madhvaraya Bhatta, overcome with emotion, became silent for a while, and then continued, “He told me that he was unwilling to stay as the president if the Naga Deity refused to oblige. Later Thimmappaiah came here, with a cloth bundle. He then requested me to say that the Naga Deity was refusing to clear the place; he wanted me to say so even if the Aroodaprshna were to provide a solution. He wanted me to expressly say that the Naga Deity was absolutely unwilling. He asked me ‘Can’t we do at least this much for our Deities?’” Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s curiosity was doubled, “What did you tell them? To Shekabba and Thimmappaiah?” he asked. “I did not say anything. Not even that God would take care of everything.” Madhvaraya Bhatta continued, “After the Aroodaprshna and in the presence of God I opened the bundle that Thimmappaiah had left here. There were five thousand rupees in it. I handed over the entire bundle, even as it was, to Shekabba. I requested him to accept it as my donation for the Panchayat. I also told him he was free to spend it in any manner he thought fit.”

Kuppannaiah Bhatta was speechless. This was not the first time he was meeting Madhvaraya Bhatta. He knew Madhvaraya Bhatta was thoroughly committed to Dharma. He was familiar with all such praises as ‘He was a scholar par excellence, he was a Satwik to the core.’ He had also realised that they were all true. Yet, if Madhvaraya Bhatta could exclaim that Shekabba was an adherent of the true Dharma, then Madhvaraya Bhatta was really God-like, he concluded. He wanted to ask, ‘Did the Naga Deity really agree to change his trail in the Aroodaprshna or …’ but he realised that it would amount to questioning the God himself and kept quiet. By then Madhvaraya Bhatta had stood up. He said to Kuppannaiah Bhatta, “You may leave after your dinner.” Before he could say anything, Madhvaraya Bhatta had left to perform his Sandyavandane. After dinner, when he was about to leave, Kuppannaiah Bhatta recalled that he had left his torch at his home. He asked Madhvaraya Bhatta, “I need a torch to lead me to my house.” “What is the bother in that? See how many torches made of coconut jute are piled up there for people like you! These torches can scare the tigers away!” Saying so, he lighted one and handed it to him. Walking in the path lit by the torch Kuppannaiah Bhatta felt as if he was being followed. He turned around but there was only his shadow. However, the shadow, he somehow felt, was not his; but was Madhvaraya Bhatta’s. Try as he might, he could not figure out why Madhvaraya Bhatta’s shadow was following him.

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***


It is impossible to meet anyone unacquainted with Parikarmi Venkataramana in Seethapura. Some time ago, Purohit Narayana Yaji was in Puttur in connection with the Vaikuntasamaradhane of late Seetharama Hegde. It was then that Narayana Yaji met Venkataramana. At that time, Venkataramana was staying in a rented house in Olunkumarie. It is true that Narayana Yaji had asked him in a playful mood, “Venkataramana will you join me and come to Seethapura?” Actually, Venkataramana was too smart a fellow for the Parikarmi’s job. Perhaps, he was unlucky to go without proper education or guidance at the crucial age. However, by then, he had trained himself for the Parikarmi’s duties

with no aid or help from anyone. This had guaranteed him an open invitation to all Vaidika ceremonies performed in any household anywhere near Puttur. He was a great help especially during the lunch-time. Without any one needing to tell him, he would neatly spread out the plantain leaves at the exact second. After the lunch, he never displayed any hesitation or embarrassment while gathering and disposing the dirty leaves strewn and smeared with the leftover food. Struck by his agility, Narayana Yaji had asked Venkataramana to join him. Venkataramana, however, had taken the invitation literally and prepared himself to leave bag and baggage within no time! Narayana Yaji was quite bewildered and worried for sometime. For one thing, he had not expected Parikarmi Venkataramana to agree so readily. And for another, by inviting him, he had taken upon himself the responsibility of looking after Venkataramana’s needs! However, Narayana Yaji’s clientele was vast. He was the household Purohit for a number of houses beginning from Seethapura and extending up to Baindur in the North and Eshwaramangla in the South. Hence, not a day went by without he being engaged by one or the other house for the Vaidika ceremony. For such a Yaji, an agile assistant, who could pick and provide all the ritual requirements unerringly, was always a necessity. Earlier to this, Narayana Yaji was quite disappointed with a number of Parikarmis like Golimajalu Mahabala and Bailuthota Keshava. So, when he had met Venkataramana he had felt as if he had tripped over the flowery creeper he was searching for. He had thought that Venkataramana would bloom into a great Parikarmi. With a sense of great enthusiasm, Narayana Yaji thus welcomed Venkataramana to Seethapura. Yet, to take care of all his needs endlessly was impossible. First,

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GODANA


Venkataramana needed a house of his own and next, a wife to look after him and his house. These thoughts began to bother Narayana Yaji. Narayana Yaji is not the one to keep aside issues; he always addressed them as soon as they cropped up. He is endowed with the will and the energy necessary to execute his thoughts. His personality is such that whenever he is invited to participate in any public function, say in Vittla, Puttur, Kolur or Kantahtvara, he is the first individual to be reverentially invited and offered a seat. Not only this, beginning from his forefathers’ times, the Yaji’s have collated and recorded in a ledger all the information concerning their patrons. So, Narayana Yaji also has an impeccable knowledge of the roads, frequency and availability of the buses and such other crucial details. He is even an advance over his forefathers. He has a cellular phone, a pocket diary a motorbike and a Maruthi car as well—all, with a view to increase his efficiency. Unfortunately, though, he cannot personally attend to all the needs of all of his patrons. Therefore, he has trained and organised a handful of disciples to look after these exegeses. He keeps directing them to their day’s duties: “You attend to the Sathyanarayana Pooja in that house” and “You take care of the annual death rites in that house.” While assigning his disciples Narayana Yaji carefully ensures that the prestige, the status and convenience of his patron remains unaffected. Yet some of them insist, ‘We don’t want any of your assistants; you should be present there.’ On such occasions, Narayana Yaji is caught in a fix. In addition, he is burdened with such responsibilities as resolving the petty disputes among his own disciples and their families, the supervisory functions relating to his Guru Mutt’s polices and programmes, and the honorary Presidentships of a couple of Temple Restoration Committees, etc. That is why, when he is in good spirits he jests with his

wife, “Leave alone chatting with you, I don’t have time to scratch my bum”! His stature is highlighted here not to glorify his personality, but to illustrate the personal interest and care he took in shaping Venkataramana’s life. Within a fortnight of his arrival, Narayana Yaji chose a vacant house about a furlong away from his own residence for him. Then he got it whitewashed, replaced the broken clay tiles of the roof and made it leak proof. He purchased, for Venkataramana, vessels and kitchen utensils and got them arranged in the new house. Whenever he proceeded on his purohit duties he took Venkataramana along with him. At all such places, he never forgot to place a request on his behalf with either the master of the house or with anyone of significance. Everywhere he requested, “Please tell me if you have a suitable bride in mind for our Parikarmi Venkataramana.” By such perseverant hunts, he succeeded in selecting Balekodi Govindabhatta’s daughter for him. Parikarmi Venkataramana came to be married within a year of his arrival in Seethapura. Thus, sheltered and protected by Narayana Yaji, the orphaned lad Venkataramana felt the lack of parental care and love no more. Every year Narayana Yaji, while officiating as a Purohit, receives at least five to six milch cows as dana. He never disposes any of them for money. By passing on one such cow to Venkataramana, he ensured that milk and curds were never scarce in his house. He used to tell Venkataramana, “Keep this cow with you as long as it provides you with milk; when the milk dries up, you can leave it in my cowshed and have a new cow from there.” In fact, Narayana Yaji has no count of such milch cows in his cowshed; it is only his wife who knows these particulars. Yet, even for her there is no necessity to keep track of such bovine truths like, which

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young calf broke lose its tether to suckle its mothers udders, which cow calved, or which went dry and when…For, in their house, milk and curds always overflowed. However, all this relates to his past; nowadays Narayana Yaji does not accept Godana that readily. He points towards one of the accompanying Vaidiks and says, “Give it to him; I do not need it.” He has his reasons for saying so. His wife, owing to age, finds it hard to manage the cowshed. It is also not as easy as it was earlier to keep and rear the cows. Cow feeds have become expensive. Moreover, ever since the establishment of a milk dairy in Seethapura, the demand for high yielding hybrid cow has increased. Hence, a gift of indigenous cow has become rare. In the meanwhile, in response to the call of his Gurupeeta’s head, Sri Sri Raghaveshwara Bharathi Swamiji, to establish an ‘indigenous-cow bank’, he is keeping a pair of cows and a bull (as a mate to the cows) with him. At present, there are no milch cows in Parikarmi Venkataramana’s house. As soon as the number of cows in Narayana Yaji’s cowshed had begun to decrease, Venkataramana thought of purchasing a cow. By then the milk dairy was also established. So, his wife suggested that they could buy a hybrid Jersey cow. She argued that as it yielded more milk than they would need, they could sell the surplus to the dairy. Accordingly, he brought home a Jersey cow. Unfortunately, when Venkataramana’s only daughter was recuperating after her first delivery in his house, the cow died after a single day’s sickness. Venkataramana was aghast. Narayana Yaji could not bear to look at him. Offering a loan to Venkataramana he said, “Buy a new cow. I will lend you whatever money you need.” His wife advised him: ‘First, committing ourselves to a loan of more than ten thousand rupees and then clearing it is no joke; it would be simpler to

buy milk from the dairy.’ He felt his wife was right again and so kept quiet. Yet he was entertaining a desire within himself: ‘if only our Narayana Yaji comes to be offered Godana once more, I could request him to direct it to me.’ Of course, Venkataramana could take the liberty of placing such a request for he was that intimate with Narayana Yaji. At times, however, his conscience used to prick him: ‘Godana is presented only when a rich man dies, therefore is it right on my part to wish for …’ Thus when, like a draught struck farmer awaiting the onset of the monsoons, Venkataramana was anxiously nurturing his dream, Narayana Yaji received the news of a rich man’s death. Kotigadde Thimmanna Bhatta who was ailing for more than two months in the Kankanadi Hospital, Mangalore, died on the eighteenth day in the month of Ashada. Narayana Yaji was already engaged to conduct an annual death rite in Sarkudale Sathyanarayan Bhatta’s house. Therefore, he sent words that he could not be personally present for the funeral and the rituals thereof, and would send Nethharakere Eshwara Shasthri in his stead. However, both Vasudeva and Mahabala, the two surviving sons of Thimmanna Bhatta, refused to accept any deputies. They insisted on Narayana Yaji’s presence and Narayana Yaji could not say no. Actually, to take care of the rituals related to a funeral, let alone a pundit like Narayana Yaji, even one like Eshwara Shasthri is not necessary; Parikarmi Venkataramana could manage the whole thing. Eshwara Shasthri, by the way, is himself a pundit, a Ghanapati, in fact. Moreover, by this time Venkataramana was a full-fledged Purohit! However, Vasudeva and Mahabala did not like to lose a possible future opportunity of claiming that ‘If a nondescript Purohit were to attend to our father’s funeral rites, his soul would not have rested in peace!’ Thimmanna Bhatta

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was one of the most prominent personalities of Seethapura. He was the region’s Gurikara. His arecanut yield exceeded thirty to forty Khandige. He was an active supporter of the Indigenous Cow Bank movement launched by the Sri Ramachandrapura Mutt. Such a distinguished individual could not be cremated as if he were a commoner! They also wanted to conduct the Aurdhvadaihika rituals on a scale hitherto unheard of. In fact, these ideas were on their minds even before Thimmanna Bhatta had actually died. But, Narayana Yaji recalled what Thimmanna Bhatta had told him when he had met him last. That was in connection with the partition of his property. With tears rolling down his cheeks he had said, “Children like mine should not be born to anyone.” Yet, when after his death they jointly requested him like genuine siblings, he could not say no. By that afternoon, the news reached Venkataramana and by evening it had spread across the tables of Kuppannaih Bhatta’s hotel! ‘It was the month of Ashada. Horrendous rains! Really, horrendous rains! As if buckets of water were poured down from the skies! Yet by the time Thimmanna Bhatta’s dead body was placed on the funeral pyre it had come to a dead stop!’ in these terms Kuppannaiah Bhatta was describing the day’s wonder to all his customers till evening. As usual, he pulled his shutters down at seven. He went to Balu Bhatta’s shop and bought matchsticks and vegetables for his domestic use. He was about to begin his homeward walk. Just then, he saw Parikarmi Venkataramana coming towards him. They used to meet quite regularly, at least four times a week. Yet, whenever they met they began their conversation by saying, “Oh, how rarely do I see you!” Thus, they began even today. Kuppannaiah Bhatta teased Venkataramana, “They say it’s

going to be one of its kind. I hear Thimmanna Bhatta’s death ceremony is going to be a grand grand affair! You seem to have got lucky!” Venkataramana remarked, “Not really so, his sons are perfect misers; while one wouldn’t part with the spiked rind of a jackfruit, the other wouldn’t part with its sticky rachis!” Kuppannaiah Bhatta recalled that Venkataramana always carried a snuffbox with him. He was not addicted to snuff but whenever he met a connoisseur like Venkataramana, he did not miss the opportunity of snatching a pinch of it. So he requested him, “Let me have a pinch of your snuff.” Sniffing it with satisfaction he remarked, “Did you get this stuff form Karkala? It is not bad, yet it is no match to Mangalore’s Krishna snuff.” He thus certified Krishna snuff and then asked him, “How is your daughter recuperating after her first delivery?” “She is fine, she is fine indeed.” Venkataramana replied, “You know that I had a Jersey cow; its yield was really good. If only it was still with us, looking after my daughter would have been so easy. Unfortunately, the poor one failed to survive a single day’s sickness and died.” “Is it so? I was not aware of it. Whatever the rest might say there is no match for the milk of a home bred cow; the dairy milk is milk only by name.” After saying so, he proceeded to explain why he never purchased dairy milk for his hotel. Venkataramana agreed with him fully and explained his dilemma, “If you happen to hear about the availability of an inexpensive local variety of cow, please let me know. You always get to know such thing faster than anyone else. If it is really affordable, I would like to buy one; my wife, of course, would not want me to commit myself to a loan, but…” “Let me see, I will make enquiries” he promised, and elaborated on the merits of indigenous cows. Then he suggested, “I have a premonition that Thimmanna Bhatta’s

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sons would definitely offer Godana during the Vaikuntasamaradhane. In which case you can approach Narayana Yaji with a request and get it yourself.” “I have my fears; if they do so, then I shall definitely request him. He is a God-like creature. Milk from his cowshed has nurtured me for these past ten, fifteen years. Of late our Narayana Yaji is not keen on accepting Godana. Moreover, these days only hybrid cows are offered and you know that rearing them is no joke! Okay, I have to go to Balu Bhatta’s shop” saying so Venkataramana took his leave. Four days went by. Venkataramana and Narayana Yaji were preparing to leave their house in connection with their Purohit duties. In fact, they were about to step into the front yard when they sighted Thimmanna Bhatta’s elder son, Vasudeva hurriedly walking towards them. Narayana Yaji had thrown a shawl over his shoulder and was stepping into his slippers. He called out to his wife, “Look for my umbrella, will you?” Venkataramana answered, “I have it here with me. But see Vasudeva is coming to meet you. May be, he has something to discuss with you.” Narayana Yaji was in a real hurry. He had to plod three miles to reach Santhemoolae Gopala Bhatta’s house and then perform the Shiva Pooja there. ‘However’, he thought, ‘when Vasudeva has come here to meet me it would be improper to say, ‘not now, we will meet tomorrow.’ In addition, he must have come here to discuss the danas that are to be offered in connection with the Aurdhvadaihika rituals. Hence, he did not step down to the front yard but stood on the steps leading to it. By then, Vasudeva had entered the yard. Venkataramana went out and welcomed Vasudeva. Addressing him he said, “Narayana Yaji is all set to leave for Santhemoolae. I only stopped him.” Then, along with Vasudeva, he re-entered the veranda.

At first Vasudeva did not bother to explain the purpose of his visit; he elaborately described whom all he had met on his way and how he had been delayed by them all. Narayana Yaji grew impatient and said rather curtly, “None of that now. Come to the point quickly. I have to be in Santhemoolae before ten.” “Alright, then. You know how dear a disciple my father was to you. He was even an intimate friend of yours. I do not know anything about what Shastras and what sanctions are involved in the performance of the Aparakriya rituals. Your guidance should take care of everything without allowing for lapses of any kind. It would be a great help if you could draw up a list of all the necessary items to be procured in connection with the rituals.” “Don’t worry. We will conduct it in the most appropriate way. The list can be drawn up any moment. You need not come personally; you can send one of your labourers…” with this, he stood up to indicate that the consultation was over and he was leaving. “Alright then”, he replied stepping down and following Narayana Yaji, “but in order to appease my departed father’s soul, I have a great desire to offer Godana. Could you please include that in your list as well?” “Is it so? Everything will be as you say. I won’t have any objections.” “You are well aware of my father’s involvement with the Cow Bank. My brother may take objection to it on the pretext of the vast expense. You should not concede his objections.” “Why would he say no to Godana? Even though you have divided your father’s property among yourselves and are living separately now, you agreed to share the funeral expenses. This was decided by all of us on the day of cremation

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itself. Why entertain suspicions now?” “I was simply suggesting, that’s all.” “Nothing of that kind right now. If there is any eventuality you are worried of then I am there to take care of it.” After that, Vasudeva took his leave and left. “Let’s hurry up Venkataramana” said Narayana Yaji and picked up the pace. By six o’ clock in the evening he was back home. The strain of having walked three miles in the morning and another three in the evening or the one too many Jalebies that he had consumed during the afternoon lunch, was now telling on him. He proceeded to recline a little on the wooden cot kept in the veranda. Whenever Narayana Yaji was thus relaxing it was Venkataramana’s responsibility to provide him with two glasses of warm water. He rushed into the kitchen to request Narayana Yaji’s wife to warm up the water. Then he observed someone walking across the cowshed. He peeped out of the kitchen window and saw Thimmanna Bhatta’s younger son surreptitiously watching the cows. He called out loudly, “Who is there in the cowshed? Is it you, Mahabala Bhatta?” “Yeah, it’s me. I was taking a look at these cows… I am coming in.” So saying he crossed the front yard and slowly entered the veranda. Sipping the hot water Narayana Yaji looked at him questioningly. “I heard that my brother was here to request for a list of the items needed for the Aparakriya rituals. I wanted to know his opinion about Godana. I also wanted to take home the list if it was ready” “What is your opinion? You want to do away with Godana, is it?” “No no, not like that at all! In fact, I am for it even if he

is averse. I am here to say so only.” Narayana Yaji’s suspicions were roused: ‘How come these brothers are so keen on Godana? Is something amiss? But then both of them are eager to offer the cow. So, it cannot be that. Yet…’ By temperament, Narayana Yaji is not a nosy character. He would never pry into matters that did not concern him directly. He had no desire whatsoever to indulge in any kind of tittle-tattle about any of his acquaintances. However, he recalled, Thimmanna Bhatta’s request to somehow mend his sons. At that time, they were fiercely fighting with each other over their shares in the property. Finally, Narayana Yaji, with the help of four or five elders of Seethapura, was successful in distributing the property in a manner acceptable to both. He had even thought that it was Thimmanna Bhatta’s luck that they had agreed on something at least! Six months later, Thimmanna Bhatta had come to his house with a letter and a request, “Please preserve this letter safely with you. After my death and after the Vaikuntasamaradhane is all over, only then will you open this. But until then, even per chance, you should not open it.” Honouring the request, Narayana Yaji had kept it safe. Even when he was quite curious about its contents, he never had a desire to open it. For a moment, he was tempted to read it today, ‘What if I look into it after this Mahabala leaves?’ Immediately he shook his desire off, ‘No, I should not fail to keep my word.’ Then, he handed over the list he had prepared to Mahabala and sent him away. As prescribed by the Shastras and under the guidance of Narayana Yaji, the post funeral rites began punctually from the tenth day after Thimmanna Bhatta’s death. Parikarmi Venkataramana was extremely busy. Yet, he found time to sneak in to the cowsheds of Vasudeva and

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Mahabala. Once there he examined the cows wondering which of them would be the chosen one. The brothers were living in adjacent houses with a shared front yard. In fact, Thimmanna Bhatta had these houses built for his sons in his lifetime itself. He used to live for two years in his elder son Vasudeva’s house, the house in which his forefathers had lived. The next couple of years he spent with his younger son, Mahabala. Thimmanna Bhatta’s arecanut plantations were huge and so was his cowshed; it was always teemed with cows and calves. Strange but, in neither of the cowsheds of one of the staunchest propagators of the merits of the indigenous cow and Gomootra medication, a single cow of that variety, was to be seen! The udder of the indigenous cows is small and the nipples are as little as the little finger! Therefore, to milk them one needs to slog for hours. ‘Who has that kind of leisure’ was the complaint of Thimmanna Bhatta’s daughters-in-law. Their husbands could not but agree with them. In such a situation, Thimmanna Bhatta could only muse and lament, ‘When the Swamiji’s words are not honoured in this house, what else can anybody do?’ He could never command or force them to keep such cows. Venkataramana viewed the Austin Jersey cows in the two sheds to his hearts content. A few of them, he was informed by the workers there, had calved four to five months ago. In the cowshed belonging to Mahabala, there was one cow with black and white patches all over it. It measured up to Venkataramana’s shoulders. That particular cow, he was told, had calved just about a month and half ago. Angar Naika, who looked after it said, “This is the first time it has calved; right now it yields about fourteen litres of milk. It is likely to increase in the coming days.” Listening to him Venkataramana thought that if at all one had a cow, then

he should have such a one. His curiosity about the cow the brothers might choose for Godana was getting the better of him. The Shastras prescribe that the cow selected for Godana should have a forty-five day old calf. From that view, it was the perfect choice. However, would any one be willing to part with it? He asked Angar Naika, “Have your masters purchased a new cow for Godana?” After all Angara Naika was a cowherd and one could not expect him to know such details. So he said, “I do not know anything of that.” Actually, Parikarmi Venkataramana did not want to ask whether ‘that’ could be the cow; yet almost without his knowledge the question slipped out of him. Angara Naika was horrified, “No! The Master’s wife holds it as dear as her life! That’s impossible.” Venkataramana was disappointed. The next moment, however, he wondered whether it was right on his part to nurture such desires. Godana is offered along with the other Danas and on the same day. ‘Let it be a cow of any variety, it will have to be offered today.’ Thinking so, Venkataramana went to Narayana Yaji’s house early in the morning. Narayana Yaji was busy in performing his Nityakarma. As soon as he saw him, Narayana Yaji asked, “Why have you come so early? You should have come here after your Nityakarma. Then we could have started directly.” “I am here with a request; you should not say no”, he replied. Narayana Yaji smiled. ‘What could this Venkataramana ask for? Nothing more than some money and I have never said no to him. Moreover, his demands are never ending…’ After thinking so he said “Okay say it, why are you so hesitant?” Crushing the fingers of his left hand with his right hand Venkataramana began, “Without any request from my side you have provided me with milch cows these past fifteen

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years. You also know that my daughter is here with me after her first delivery. It is also true that you offered me a loan to buy a milch cow. But I did not accept it. Today I am here to request for the cow you would receive as Godana and I am willing to pay for it…” Narayana Yaji was furious, “Venkataramana, tell me when have I sold a cow that I had received as a Dana. Is your understanding of me so meagre?” With utter humility Venkataramana spoke at length: “No. I have understood you perfectly well. I know that you would never do such a thing. However, I know that in the past you have often returned, on request, a cow that was offered to you as Dana. I know that whenever some of them have said that they would be grateful to you if you could return the cow, you have always obliged. You have graciously accepted a nominal price set by the donor himself in lieu of the cow.” Narayana Yaji was all smiles. He explained his position in detail: “The Shastras forbid the sale of articles and livestock accepted as Dana. Yet, whenever I was convinced that the donor’s need for the cow given as Dana was genuine and urgent, I have returned it. As I wanted them to retain the merit of their dana, I have accepted a token payment. Even to you I have never sold a cow or offered it as Dana. When I was convinced that your need was genuine and urgent, I have allowed you to have all the benefits a cow can provide. After their milk had dried up, I have got all of them back. This action might appear to be contrary to the dictates of the Shastras. The inner truths of the Shastras and Dharma are to be discovered with reference to our own times. After all, they are there for our well-being and benefit, not the other way round.” Venkataramana was left without speech. With folded

hands he just stood there. Narayana Yaji’s compassion was stirred. “Don’t worry. Let’s see what can be done. Get back soon”, with these words, he sent him back. Thimmanna Bhatta’s Aparakriyas were conducted on a grand scale. His sons did not leave anything to be desired in offering the danas. Venkataramana was invited to accept a seat in the Dvadashardane. However, his eagerness centred on the cow selected for Godana. When Narayana Yaji ordered for the cow to be presented, he literally craned his neck. Vasudeva glanced meaningfully at Mahabala’s face. He in turn called a worker and said, “Get that Austin cow along with its calf.” When they were brought there Narayana Yaji was taken aback. “You want to offer this cow for Godana?” he asked them in utter disbelief. The brothers pretended to be nonchalant and just mumbled ‘Yes.’ Narayana Yaji was about to ask them, ‘May be you can afford to offer it but how can poor fellows like us afford to look after it.’ He also wondered whether it was right to offer a hybrid cow as Dana when the Swamiji was proclaiming that the indigenous variety was best suited for such purposes. He did not air any of his doubts but simply said, “Alright then…” and proceeded with the rituals. By then, the news that an elephantine Austin cow was selected for Godana warmed up the invitees assembled in the front yard. The invitees attending the Vaikuntasamaradhane were all gathered in a makeshift pendal raised in tin sheets. They were all driven by a desire to look at the cow. They moved towards the area of ritual performance. Generally, the invitees are not interested in any of these rituals. Nowadays, curiosity about the offered danas, its monetary value, and its recipients is on the wane. Even then, the present occasion became an exception in no time. Various comments were immediately aired: “They

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have conducted Thimmanna Bhatta’s Vaikuntasamaradhane in a manner to be emulated.” “Oh yes, surely so. After all they are our region’s Gurikars.” “All act according to their whim and wealth, why should we glorify some and ridicule others.” However, Venkataramana’s preoccupations were of a different kind, “Would Narayana Yaji be in a position to keep this cow? Alternately, would I be justified if I were to request …”! One of the invited relatives was eager to know the specific reasons for the choice of the cow from Vasudeva. However, it was his younger brother Mahabala who provided the explanation: “When this was still a young calf it fell ill and was suffering its death throngs. Then, my father nursed it back to life. At that time itself he stipulated to us; ‘If at all you are desirous of offering Godana after my death, and if the young calf matures and calves by then, then you should offer this cow alone.’” Vasudeva endorsed the explanation by a nod of his head. The next day Narayana Yaji, satisfied with the performance of the Aparakriya, blessed the household by distributing Mantrakshate. By the way, Narayana Yaji was never in the habit of carrying home the Danas given to him. He never even checked what was offered to him. It was again his wife’s duty to unpack and arrange the several items once the donors delivered the bundles to their house. Then she would call her husband and tell him what was given. At such times, if Parikarmi Venkataramana happened to be there he would instruct his wife, ‘Hand over the rice and coconuts to our Venkataramana.’ He often turned over the cereals, clothes and vessels to him. The brothers were anxiously waiting for Narayana Yaji to say, ‘Whoever desires to keep the cow can have it.’ But when he left without a word on it, they were worried. Right

at that moment Venkataramana said, “We require a tempo to transport the cow to Narayana Yaji’s house.” For those who were waiting to hear Narayana Yaji’s sanction to retain the cow with them, Venkataramana’s words sent a shock wave. Mahabala began to doubt that the cow, after all, might not be returned. He ran out to reach Narayana Yaji who was about to cross over the front yard. He hurriedly said, “Please tell the worth of the cow, I will pay it.” Before he could conclude Vasudeva was there with his request, “I indicated my willingness for Godana with the sole intention of buying it back from you.” Narayana Yaji was surprised. He said sternly, “Even before I can come to a decision about the cow you are compelling me to return it. What is your idea of a Dana then?” Mahabala tried to pacify him, “We have heard it said that you often exchanged the cow for some money. That gave us the confidence to speak of it with you.” Vasudeva added, “Before his death my father had asked me to choose that particular cow from Mahabala’s cowshed. He had even asked me to buy it back from you.” Narayana Yaji mused, ‘If only I knew the conditions on which Godana was offered I could have refused to accept it. I could have told them to give it to Venkataramana.’ He then said to them, “Both of you come to my house tomorrow; I will let you know my decision then” and left. Mahabala rushed towards Venkataramana. He drew him to a corner and sought his help, “Please tell Narayana Yaji that I am prepared to pay fifteen thousand rupees for it. I would not be losing anything. After all Vasudeva has to pay his share of it.” A moment later he added, “My wife has decided to buy it at any price, she is unwilling to part with a cow that grew up in our cowshed.” “Yes, I will definitely tell him so,” Venkataramana promised. However, before he could

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leave, Vasudeva accosted him, “Listening to this Mahabala my father has cheated me of my rightful share in the property. I kept quiet then because of my respect for Narayana Yaji. By right the cow belongs to me.” The next day the brothers went to Narayana Yaji’s house. All their anxieties were writ large on their faces. “Why are you both so morose? Be happy that you have repaid the Pitrurina with immense affection.” He sat quietly for a moment .He then went inside and came back with the letter that Thimmanna Bhatta had left in his safe keeping. Handing them the letter he said, “This is written in your father’s own hand; Please go through it.” The brothers went pale. Then Vasudeva requested Narayana Yaji to read it. Narayana Yaji opened the letter and read it. It was in fact a short note, hardly of ten lines. As Narayana Yaji began reading it, the brothers keenly watched his face to note the change of expressions. Just when their curiosity was getting beyond control Narayana Yaji spoke, “Your father requests me not to show this letter to you. Therefore, I do not have any right to transgress his commands. You can guess what kind of an opinion your father has expressed here. Therefore, I do not like to allude to it. By the way, I have decided not to return the cow that I received as Godana; and your father’s wish is also the same.” The brothers realised that there was no scope for them to say anything. After a while Mahabala asked, “Shall I take my leave now?’ Vasudeva was wondering inwardly as to the possibility of taking a second chance after his brother’s departure. Just then, Venkataramana arrived. As if he was waiting for him Narayana Yaji said, “You go along with him and bring the cow given as Godana. You can carry as much milk as you want from

here tomorrow onwards. I have also decided not to accept Godana henceforth. If someone is bent upon it, they can give a silver statuette of a cow as Godana. That shall suffice, do you understand me?” Venkataramana wanted to ask whether that would be in accordance with the Shastras. But he recalled that Narayana Yaji had once said, “Whatever is acceptable to our inner selves is Dharma.’ Hence, he could not say anything more than “Yes.”

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***


Bheemasena Acharya waited impatiently on the steps of Balu Bhatta’s grocery shop in Seethapura’s Car Street. Last Monday, he had purchased groceries on credit to perform his father’s annual death rites. Today, he was anxious to settle his dues. Balu Bhatta, busy in appeasing his noisy customers, was quite oblivious to Bheemasena Acharya’s presence. ‘This Balu Bhatta’s fate is always the same, come when you will’, muttering so and rather annoyed Bheemasena Acharya called out “Ohe, Balu Bhatta” so loudly as to catch the attention

of all those gathered. Recognising Bheemasena Acharya by his shout, Balu Bhatta offered his prostrations twice, “Namaskara, Namaskara” and pretended to be angry with his customers, “Please leave some way, why do you always cluster like ants?” He then fetched a plastic chair kept inside the shop for the comfort of valued customers like Bheemasena Acharya, and offered it with humility, “Please be seated here.” He placed the chair on the extended mud platform of his shop. By then, however, a similar chair was already there and a person unknown to Bheemasena Acharya occupied it. Pushing, pulling and positioning his chair properly, Bheemasena Acharya finally settled down. Balu Bhatta, apportioning his attention between his customers and Bheemasena Acharya, said, “The man sitting next to you is Rajagopalaiah, from Bangalore. He is new even to me. In fact, he is here to meet your brother Hanumantha Acharya.” “Is that so?” Bheemasena Acharya responded tempering his annoyance with curiosity. He then tried to size up the newcomer. One in trousers and half shirt, lean and fair, face -travel worn, a stubble -perhaps two days old, sleepless eyes… While Bheemasena Acharya’s gaze was still lingering on him, the stranger folded his hands and said “Namaskara.” Though Bheemasena Acharya reciprocated the greeting he could not help wondering, ‘Why should this fellow come to meet Hanumantha Acharya?’ Freeing himself of his customers a little and interrupting Bheemasena Acharya’s guesswork Balu Bhatta said, “Rajagopalaiah, I forgot to introduce Bheemasena Acharya to you. He is Hanumantha Acharya’s elder uncle’s son- and so his elder brother. He is a scholar too, in fact a substantially bigger scholar than your Hanumantha Acharya. You people from Bangalore may not know this, but he is even more close to all the Mutts of Udupi.”

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ILLUSION PAST ILLUSION


It pleased him, Bheemasena Acharya, when he was thus declared as his brother’s better. Nevertheless, there was a lack somewhere. Oh, how could one expect a shopkeeper who always gawked at the pointer of the weighing scale to grasp his real worth! Then, turning a little towards the newcomer he enquired, “Are you aware of the Sode Mutt?” Unable to grasp the reason for such an odd question Rajagopalaiah asked in turn “Aren’t you referring to the Mutt headed by Vadhiraja?” “That alone! If not that, which one else? That very Sode Mutt has conferred upon me the title of the ‘Scholar of the Sode Mutt.’ As to my brother, let alone the Sode Mutt, none of the Eight Mutts of Udupi has conferred anything upon him. Isn’t that so Balu Bhatta?” Seeking Balu Bhatta’s approval Bheemasena Acharaya turned towards him. Sitting in his shop busy as a beehive, Balu Bhatta had no time to either elaborate on such decorations or further boost Bheemasena Acharya’s ego. However, Bheemasena Acharya was loud mouthed. His word was always the last, whenever or wherever the Brahmins of Seethapura assembled. Right, when he was wrong, and absolutely so, when he was right— that was his reputation! Moreover, it was his pride that his argument concerning the calculation of the eleventh day of the lunar calendar was accepted by four of the Eight Mutts of Udupi. [Based on astrological interpretations there is a difference of opinion in deciding on the Eleventh day of the lunar calendar among the eight Mutts of Udupi]. Let alone Balu Bhatta, all the Brahmins of Seethapura knew that Hanumantha Acharya would never bother about such disputes. Moreover, Balu Bhatta firmly believed that it was better to weigh the groceries in his shop than to indulge in hermeneutical debates over such slokas as ‘vade vade jayathe tathvabodhah.’ He had no desire to get entangled in the sticky

web of Bheemasena Acharya’s speech and die like a fly. He usually consented to everything Bheemasena Acharya said, “Oh yes, that’s so, that is so.” Bheemasena Acharya was also aware of this. Therefore, he concluded that there was no point in dragging the shopkeeper into the conversation and began to address Rajagopalaiah directly, “All that is right, but how is it that you have come so far to meet Hanumantha Acharya?” Rajagopalaiah explained his reasons in detail: “I am a disciple of Vallabhachraya. I have taken upon myself to translate all his works into Kannada. When I was working on the translations, a few doubts cropped up. All of my efforts to clarify them with the scholars of Advaitha and Dvaitha in Bangalore ended up in creating more confusion. It was then that Narasimha Acharya of the Uttaradi Mutt advised me, ‘Look here Rajagopalaiah, you can get proper guidance and clarifications from Hanumantha Acharya of Seethapura alone. Besides, one of the original Mutts founded by Vallabhacharya is also in Seethapura. I have even heard that they have preserved an original palm-text there. I think your solution lie in Seethapura.’ So I am here to meet your brother.” Actually, Bheemasena Acharya also belonged to the Vallabhacharya Mutt. But was it necessary or even proper to disclose all those details there? That’s why he said, “Nowadays it is very difficult to find the likes of you. I have a feeling that hermeneutics and metaphysics will all die with us. Please wait for a second and let me finish my business with this Balu Bhatta first” with this he held out the money and the bill to the shopkeeper. The outstretched hand didn’t quite reach Balu Bhatta; he had to seek the help of a customer who was standing in between them. He counted the money to see whether it cleared the dues and then pushed it inside the cash counter and said, “I am really worried about finding someone to take

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Rajagopalaiah to your brother’s house. Usually someone or the other from near your brother’s house will be here and so I thought I could entrust him with this responsibility. Today, however, none from that quarter has turned up till now.” Almost immediately an idea occurred to Bheemasena Acharya, “Balu Bhatta, listen to me for a while…He is a Brahmin come from a distant place. He and I belong to the same Original Mutt and moreover, he has come to see my own brother! So, if he is willing, he can come with me to my house, finish his bath, complete his morning ablutions and rituals and then, if he so likes, have his breakfast or lunch and then go to my brother’s place. If we don’t offer even this much of hospitality, what’s the use of being alive?” Though Bheemasena Acharya was replying to Balu Bhatta he was really trying to woo Rajagopalaiah. Balu Bhatta, continuing his trade said, “That’s right. If he agrees to your suggestion, my responsibility of finding an escort is also over.” Rajagopalaiah was visibly embarrassed, “No, No, why should I be a bother to him? There is still a lot of time for someone to come and I am prepared to wait.” By this time Bheemasena Acharya had decided for Rajagopalaiah as well; he muttered in a gruff voice, “You shouldn’t think so. May be I am a stranger to you but I am no stranger to Hanumantha Acharya! What would he think of me when he comes to know? Please get up, we will go.” He clasped Rajagopalaiah’s arms and literally pulled him out of the chair. Stepping into his house, Bheemasena Acharya called out to his wife as if he had brought home a blood-relative, “Look here, and see who has come with me!” All this further embarrassed Rajagopalaiah. Then Bheemasena Acharya himself led him to the lavatory, the bathroom and thus played the guide to his guest. He dipped his fingers a little in the hot water cauldron and said, “You have hot water here, and the

cold water runs through that tap. Don’t be inhibited, feel free and complete all your morning ablutions and rituals. We will worry about the rest once you are through all this.” He walked out of the bathroom to the veranda and stretching on the floor and leaning against the wooden pillar, he unfolded the day’s newspaper. Rajagopalaiah completed his morning rituals, had his breakfast and then walked out to the veranda to join Bheemasena Acharya who was still busy with his paper. “Thanks for your hospitality and help. I am really happy. I need one more help from you… if you could find someone to take me to your brother’s house…” he spoke rather hesitantly. Smiling at him Bheemasena Acharya looked up at him and said, “What help and what hospitality are you talking of? Shouldn’t we, as human beings, do even this much? Do not speak of all those things. As to your going, even if you want to, I will not let you go now. Have your lunch, have your siesta, and then you may leave. Then, I won’t keep you either, that is even if you wish, is that clear?’ “No, no, it would be better if I go now. I have a lot to discuss with Hanumantha Acharya and I plan to leave for Bangalore tomorrow morning.” Acharya’s wife intervened in the discussion and said, “How is it possible for you to leave now? I have counted you for the afternoon lunch while cooking the rice.” Rajagopalaiah had no option now. He kept quiet and sat down. Noticing that a smile of satisfaction played on his face Bheemasena Acharya folded the newspaper and asked, “Now tell me your story.” After listening to him completely he began to speak: “At first, I thought you were a pure Dvaithi. Now it appears that like me, you are a Shuddaadvaithi. Nowadays, you can almost say, there are no more people like us. Why,

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none has even heard of Vallabhacharya, the founder of this Mutt. People here talk only of Sankaraachraya, Madhvaachraya and Ramanujachraya. Our ancestors were neither Dvaithis nor Advaithis and therefore felt lost here. Some of them declared their allegiance to the Udupi Mutts while the rest accepted the Sringeri Mutt. You can almost say my grandfather’s grandfather, though a Shuddaadvaithi, accepting the Udupi Mutts, became a Dvaithi! Whereas, my brother refused to change his allegiance and has remained a steadfast champion of Shuddaadvaitha. All his discourses are based on Vallabhaachraya’s metaphysics only. Some discover the principles of Advaitha in them while some others the principles of Dvaitha! Such an astute logician is my brother! He has inherited all the wisdom of my great grandfather.” “That is as true as you say. Haven’t I listened to him myself? I never miss his discourse whenever there is one. By the way, I have heard it from your brother that Varadacharya the Second, Vallabhachrya’s direct disciple of the third generation, has founded a Mutt here. He also mentioned that besides the writings of Varadacharya, Vallabhacharya’s interpretations of the Upanishads are available there. At present, I am editing his treatise ‘Tathvacinthanam.’ A masterpiece indeed! Well, I want to press the original palm leaf text to my eyes in reverence. In fact, I have come here for this reason alone.” Bheemasena Acharya went silent. After a while he slowly began, “Well, I am one of those who has studied that treatise. It was also I who taught it to Hanumantha Acharya. But now I have decided not to talk of it anymore,” saying so Bheemasena Acharya heaved a long sigh and relapsed into silence. Rajagopalaiah was quick to notice the curious change that came over his face. He tried to prod him to talk again, “You were about to say something but held back. From the

moment we met you have treated me as if I was one of your own family. If you have a sorrow or an anxiety, you should share it with me. I promise absolute confidentiality. Moreover, whatever you may say most likely concerns this place and the people here. What would the people of Bangalore have anything to do with such matters?” “I clearly see how fair you are in your speech. But, what I have to say concerns my brother whom you venerate as much as you venerate Vallabhah Acharya himself. After listening to me, I fear, you may decide to return without meeting him. In which case I would be unjust not only to you but to the Great one who founded our Mutt as well. That’s why I am a little hesitant.” While he was saying all this, Bheemasena Acharya was closely watching the changing expressions on Rajagopalaiah’s face. Rajagopalaiah was visibly agitated and scared. He was also getting curious as to what Bheemasena Acharya may say. For all that Bheemasena Acharya might say, there could be another side to it, Hanumantha Acharya’s side that is. After all, truth is double faced. This was what Rajagopalaiah had learnt from his study of Vallabhacharya’s philosophy. After pondering so, he was about to goad Bheemasena Acharya to begin again. But by then Bheemasena Acharya had already begun: The import of my talk is immense if you think so and is totally insignificant if you so think. Even you know that matters relating to Dharma are all so subtle and complex. It is like walking along the sharp edge of a sword. If anything, it is more so when it concerns your own blood relatives.” Thus Bheemasena Acharya laboured to formally introduce the topic of his talk. “The Original Mutt and all the other subsequent Mutts founded by our Vallabhacharya are all in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. This, even you know. Our Hanumantha Acharya,

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when invited by his Mumbai devotees who were overawed by his discourses in Bangalore and Mysore, mentioned in his speech that there was yet another Mutt established by the Great one and it was in Seethapura. Not just this, he revealed to his audience that a hand written palm-leaf text, written in the Seer’s own hand, was also in Seethapura. The moment Raghuvallabha Acharya, the direct disciple of the ninth generation, heard it he invited Hanumantha Acharya to Mumbai and showered felicitations on him. He then visited the Seethapura Mutt, gave a call to propagate Shuddaadvaitha, initiated the restoration works of the precincts of the Mutt, and then created a local administrative committee to take care of all these works. He appointed our Hanumantha Acharya as the Chairman of the committee. He himself made arrangements to preserve the handwritten text. Well, I have to concede our Hanumantha Acharya was the main force behind all these activities. But what happened was, as the saying goes, ‘Amateurish attempts to mould Ganapathi in clay end up with the moulds of his father (Shiva).’ He again stopped abruptly as if unable to decide whether to continue or end his narrative. He kept gazing at Rajagopalaiah. Rajagopalaiah could not hold back his curiosity any longer, “A great achievement indeed! Why do you stop in the middle? Please complete your narration.” “It is only this. Till now, our Hanumantha Acharya’s fame was confined to our state. But now it spread across the borders of Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Well, let it spread. Who is going to complain? We are also proud of him. Our dead forefathers will also be delighted. But, the very thing responsible for the fame of Seethapura Mutt – Vallabhacharya’s hand written text— that itself is missing now! I do not say stolen…We will simply describe it as

‘missing.’ A great treatise it was. I owe all my wisdom to it. Why me alone, the entire wisdom of my grandfather was its gift. That such an ancient text was caused to disappear by the publicity given to it by my own brother! What a pity! Wasn’t all this unwanted for our Hanumantha Acharya? You decide for yourself.” Rajagopalaiah couldn’t figure out whether Bheemasena Acharya was under a fit of passion or was simply excited. Even he became slightly anxious and apprehensive. He enquired of Bheemasena Acharya, “Weren’t any attempts made to trace the text?” Bheemasena Acharya smiled meaningfully and continued, “You are asking me to locate a black cat in a dark room. Now, you please tell me. How is it possible for a stranger to filch it when the whole library is under my brother’s control?” “Then?” “That’s what I also want to know. No one in Seethapura, except him and me, enters the library. No one would come anywhere near it even if you held out invitations. In fact, you are the first outsider to come here. “About six months back, bewitched by our Hanumantha Acharya’s achievement and fame, four to six Germans were here. They stayed with him for a fortnight in his own house as his disciples. All the while they were busy plying between his house and the library. When, a month after their departure I went looking for ‘Tathvacinthanam’ it was not there! I thought maybe it was in his house and kept quiet. A few days later, I did not enter the precincts of the Mutt but went straight to his house and asked him. He told me that the palm-text was very much in the library and took me there. Both of us searched for it. When we failed to find it there he merely said, ‘Maybe it is in the house.’ Yet another

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enquiry, a couple of days later got the reply that ‘It was not even there!’ Then I wrote to the Swamiji and all the other members of the committee about what had happened. Now all of them know what kind of a fellow this Hanumantha Acharya is.” After listening to Bheemasena Acharya, Rajagopalaiah was totally crestfallen. If he couldn’t even see what he had so reverentially desired to touch and hold, then what was the point in visiting Hanumantha Acharya? He was really sad. Rajagopalaiah was aware of plagiarism and such other unfair literary practices. He suddenly recalled what his litterateur-friend used to say, ‘Trust the tale, never the Teller’ and felt terribly sorry. However, some hope and confidence were still left in him. He thought Hanumantha Acharya wouldn’t stoop that low. Hence, he said with a sense of certainty, “Who would gain anything by stealing such a treatise? Except for a few like us, men of our times aren’t even aware of the Vedas and Upanishads.” Bheemasena Acharya gave a broad, meaningful smile and said, “Look here Rajagopalaiah, you are from the big city. Don’t you understand even this much? The German’s interest in these ancient texts is matched only by their own interest in ancient idols and statues. They are ready to throw away lakhs and lakhs of rupees for anything like that. That’s where my suspicions lie.” “Hasn’t the Mutt initiated anything?” “Oh yes! They have made their beginning. But they also find it difficult to point fingers at anyone. All the formalities of an official enquiry are over. Hanumantha Acharya pretends to be totally ignorant. Who is there to accuse him directly? If any one, then it should be me. But, have I seen anything with my own eyes? No! Moreover, when it is

something that concerns the reputation of my own Vamsha how is it possible? Even God wouldn’t pardon me if I made such accusation. To be a witness to all this at my age is what is eating my heart out.” Ending so, he began idly rotating his sacred thread round his naked torso. Rajagopalaiah lost all faith in speech. He asked Bheemasena Acharya, “Shall I lie down for a while?” “Oh yes! Why not?” Bheemasena Acharya replied and quickly brought a mat, spread it out and placed the pillows with all courtesy. At the time of lunch, Bheemasena Acharya was not inclined for any conversation. Rajagopalaiah too was not interested, so the lunch was quickly over with just “oh this is enough”, “just a little more of that.” But Bheemasena Acharya’s wife was trying to serve Rajagopalaiah with great enthusiasm, “The wise say a guest is like God and that is true. You have come from such a long distance too. But look at me, I have only rice and rasam to serve you with, nothing special at all…” But for Rajagopalaiah curries and chutneys made of brinjal, green mango and some leafy vegetables were all divine preparations. The dishes were all new to him. “No, really I am not embarrassed; some more of this, could you?” Pointing to the unknown dishes and curries, getting second servings, ascertaining the names of the dishes, trying to commit those names to his memory, he cleared the plantain leaf to a polish. Bheemasena Acharya’s wife was immensely pleased. After tea at four o’ clock he was wondering whether it was now necessary to meet Hanumantha Acharya. Then, Bheemasena Acharya came to his help, “Believing in what I said if you don’t meet Hanumantha Acharya it wouldn’t be proper at all. Moreover, he is not keeping well. You are his admirer come from such a distant place. If you so wish

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you can stay there to-night, otherwise you can come back here, and leave in the morning.” Rajagopalaiah felt it was the right thing to do. He also felt that Bheemasena Acharya was a rare human being and a sense of immense respect for Bheemasena Acharya welled up in his heart. He immediately expressed his consent, “I will do as you say”, bowed to him and started. Bheemasena Acharya took him along the bushy path that began from the backyard of his house. He reached the border of the rice field of Punkedadi and pointing his fingers gave elaborate instructions: “Do you see the coconut plantation over there? The house that is partly visible beyond that plantation is Hanumantha Acharya’s house. It was there my grandfather and great-grandfather were all born. (He provided a brief sketch of his genealogy at this point) My only request to you is this: please don’t discuss anything of what I have told you. Please don’t forget to step inside my house for a while on your way back.” So pleading he took his leave and turned back towards his home. When Rajagopalaiah entered the compound of Hanumantha Acharya’s house, he was asleep in his easychair. By looking at the open book resting on his chest, Rajagopalaiah could clearly see that he had slipped into sleep while reading the book. There was no sound either to indicate the presence of anyone inside the house. Rajagopalaiah climbed a couple of steps and entered the open veranda. He went near the main door of the house and peeping in, cleared his throat noisily in an attempt to draw the attention of those inside it. His coughs did not elicit any echoes from within. He decided to sit in one of the six chairs spread out in the veranda and coughed louder still in the hope of waking up the sleeping Hanumantha Acharya. Well, he succeeded in generating a noisy cough but the noise failed to drive away

the sleeper’s sleep! He was thus forced to go very near the easy chair and call him by his name. Just then, an elderly woman stepped out of the house calling aloud, “Who is it?” Almost simultaneously, rubbing his eyes, Hanumantha Acharya woke up. Shaking off his sleep Hanumantha Acharya looked at the man before him. He was surprised to see Rajagopalaiah standing there with folded hands, “Oh you are already here, is it?” he made a flustered enquiry. “Please be seated, I will be with you in an instant.” He hurried inside to the bathroom to wash his face. He came back almost immediately and sitting in the chair next to Rajagopalaiah’s and said, “The letter intimating your visit had reached me. But these days a sense of renunciation hangs over me, as if I have no desire for anything. You could almost say a state like that of a Sanyasi.” He was quite unwilling to continue his talk. All that Bheemasena Acharya had said flashed across Rajagopalaiah’s mind and he did not know how to react. Moreover, all his respect and dreams of meeting the revered Hanumantha Acharya had completely vanished by what Bheemasena Acharya had told him. Yet, not wanting to fail in courtesy, he tried to console Hanumantha Acharya, “I have never heard such words of despondency from you. Your vitality is such that it inspires the desire to live even among the renouncers.” Hanumantha Acharya did not respond. He smiled faintly and kept quiet. Rajagopalaiah was feeling completely lost. Thankfully, Hanumantha Acharya’s wife interposed, “What would you like to quench your thirst with, shall it be tea or coffee?” “Either of them is okay. Please don’t trouble yourself over it, anything convenient to you will do.” Both the men remained silent until Hanumantha Acharya’s wife

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Yashodamma, served the tea. When she offered the tumbler to her husband he asked, “Oh, this is for me, is it?” However, inspite of his wife’s entreaties, he dumbly held the tumbler and did not even taste it. He turned towards Rajagopalaiah and asked, “You are Rajagopalaiah, aren’t you? When did you come from Bangalore?” Looking at him Rajagopalaiah felt that the Hanumantha Acharya was in an awfully disturbed state of mind. If he, who spoke as if roasted corn spluttered, whose face was filled with radiant smiles, he who always expressed his love for his friends by clasping them to him or by throwing his arms over their shoulders, was now in such a sorry state, then his must be a soul burdened with guilt! Unable to handle the situation he felt quite shy and therefore addressed Yashodamma directly, “Since how long has he been so?” Instantaneously, tears filled Yashodamma’s eyes. Sobbing and fighting back the tears she began, “I do not know you at all. But see how deeply you are moved by my husband’s state! You know how fighting fit he was! But see how ill he now looks! He behaves as if he were an infant! He has not lost his memory or anything. Yet, if he begins to speak he rambles endlessly, otherwise he is totally dumb. Sometimes I have to coax him to have his food as I now coaxed him to drink the tea. I don’t know what has come over him!” Rajagopalaiah tried to calm her down, “You should have consulted a doctor. Some ailment must be bothering him. You should not leave it so.” Yashodamma poured out her helplessness, “What you say is true. Then, shouldn’t he listen to us and be willing to see the doctor? If you suggest it to him he asks, ‘What the hell is wrong with me?’ He says everything is an illusion. He says ‘One fine morning the illusions will all clear by itself.’ God knows when that dawn arrives.” Picking up the empty

tumblers, she went in. Hanumantha Acharya, who was quietly listening to all that was being said, got up from his chair and slowly moved towards the easy-chair. Even as he was sliding into it he chanted, “Indriyobhyah parahyaartha arthebyacha parmmanah manasasthu parabhuddhirbudhheraathma mahan parah.” Then he began the exposition: “These are the tenth mantras from the third section of Katopanishat. What these mantras mean is that the sense organs are a greater reality than the objects of sense-desires and the mind is greater than the senses, intellect is greater than mind, the entity greater than the intellect is the soul. Even in Geetha, whenever the issues of the greatness of man or the experiential awareness of the soul are discussed, human intellect is reckoned first. Gradually transcending the senses and then the mind, and finally by a surrender to the intellect we become aware of the soul. That is, mastering balance of mind, neutrality of emotions, acquiring freedom from frailty and attachment, and finally gaining the ability to go beyond the literal meaning of the Shastras constitutes the Adhyathma way of life. Till now I was under the impression that I was living according to the principles of Adhyathma. I had also believed that I had known everything. I was freely expounding the meaning of the Shastras to enlighten the public. To tell you the truth I even believed that I was free of frailties and attachments and was really unmoved by human passions. But now I have my doubts. What I had earlier thought as freedom from attachment was not, after all, true. This is, in fact, the real and true awareness of the soul. Rajagopalaiah, I am now free of attachment. This is not a test set by God, but genuine realisation. Why then should I bother about hermeneutical discussions about the Brahman, interpretative endeavours, discourses and all that?” Hanumantha Acharya, who had

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suddenly stood up in the middle of his speech, now collapsed into his easy chair and closed his eyes as if he had slipped into a meditative trance and became silent. Just then, Yashodamma entered the veranda and said, “Maybe, you are frightened by his state. You have come from such a distant place because of your admiration for him. Many from hereabouts have also visited us to enquire after his health. His reply to all his well wishers is the same. I am really exhausted by his replies. Do not think his airy talk halts here. If you sit with him for a while more he will begin saying, ‘I want to become a Sanyasi.’ If you ask him ‘how can he, a married man with wife and children, take the vows of a Sanyasi?’ he asks back, ‘Didn’t Vallabhacharya take the vows so?’ He points at Raghavendra Swami as one more instance.” Fighting her depression she continued, “I have a daughter. She is living happily with her husband in Mumbai. My son is a software engineer drawing a fat salary in America. We aren’t in need of anything. He is not at all concerned about money. When this is the truth if people accuse him of selling the original copy of Vallabhacharya’s treatise to foreigners in greed, how should he tolerate it?” Rajagopalaiah, pretending total ignorance and indicating some curiosity, exclaimed, “Is that so? Will you please explain it to me?” Yashodamma, inspired by a sense of pity for the man who had come from such a distance, felt like revealing everything. She recounted how the Seethapura Mutt was revived by Hanumantha Acharya’s inspiring discourses and then added, “Except my husband, his brother Bheemasena Acharya was the only one to use the library regularly. Others wouldn’t come anywhere near it even if you invited them. It is true that some foreigners were here. It is also true that they stayed here for a while. But did he have any desire of

making money by selling the treatise? He had none. Further, when some people, his own friends in fact, tried suggesting that possibly Bheemasena Acharya, unable to stomach his brother’s achievement and renown, could have hidden the text with a view to disgrace his name, he almost assaulted those who had come to defend him! ‘Elder brother is God’s equal. He is also my first Guru. He would never do anything of this kind’, so saying, he took them to task! After that his friends have given up visiting us.” Rajagopalaiah felt that maybe what Yashodamma said was also true. He silently approved it, ‘Could be true, could be true.’ Yet, he also felt that he had no reason to involve himself in all this unwanted bother especially when there was no chance of his purpose being served. So he said, “Please excuse me Mother, I will come back again once your husband recovers. Please permit me to take leave.” As if shaken up from his meditative trance Hanumantha Acharya suddenly shouted, “No Rajagopalaiah, no. It is not proper for you to come and go just like that. I am all right. Tonight, you stay here. I shall clarify all your doubts tomorrow.” During dinner Hanumantha Acharya, holding a morsel of food in his hand told his wife, “Look here Yashodamma, I have heard everything you told Rajagopalaiah. You shouldn’t have told him anything. But alright, whatever you have already said you have said, but don’t tell him anything about what the Anjana diviner revealed.” Little late that night, while providing a bedroll for Rajagopalaiah, Yashodamma noticed that her husband had already walked into his bedroom. She then whispered in Rajagopalaiah’s ears, “Regarding you as my own brother I am telling this to you. If I am telling you what I have been forbidden to tell you, it’s because I have a hope that in this

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telling lies the solution to our woes.” Rajagopalaiah, getting curious enquired, “What is it Mother? I am ready to listen to anything you might say. Not only that, I am willing to help you in whatever manner you want. I would be as delighted by Hanumantha Acharya’s recovery as you.” “It is about what the Anjana diviner revealed. People like you may find it hard to believe. My husband dismisses it as totally unworthy of credence.” She paused here to explain the methods adopted by the Anjana diviner in detail and then continued, “It was a young boy of eight who acted as the medium of the diviner. How unbelievably sharp he was! How well he pointed out the hiding place of the text!” “Where did he say it was?” “Where else? In his brother Bheemasena Acharya’s house!” “Is that so? But how could he say so precisely?” “I do not know how. He has never been to that house at all. But he described it as precisely as if he had seen it with his own eyes. He told in exactly which room, and there, in which cupboard. But is my husband the one to accept anything? ‘All lies, nothing but a pack of lies! My brother can never do so. God’s curse be on him if any one dares to enquire my brother’, he shouted. Who would then go to enquire or check?” Rajagopalaiah was speechless. He had not told them about his stay in Bheemasena Acharya’s house till then. He wanted to do so. But somewhere deep within, he felt a resistance to do so. He also did not know any means of consoling Yashodamma. The next morning, Hanumantha Acharya did not indicate any interest in talking to him. Rajagopalaiah also felt that it was futile to stay there any longer and left the

place immediately. On his way back he sighted Bheemasena Acharya waiting for him in the middle of the road. Bheemasena Acharya, who seemed to be expecting him all the while there, asked, “How is he now, our Hanumantha Acharya?” After an elaborate description of his present condition, and after explaining how sorry he was, Rajagopalaiah said, “Yashodamma has employed the Anjana diviner to locate the text. It seems it is now known where the text is. They say they would reveal what the diviner divulged once the Swamiji reaches Seethapura.” He stopped and without referring to anything else, left. A fortnight later Rajagopalaiah received a letter from Hanumantha Acharya. The letter read: Namaskara to Rajagopalaiah, I was not in the best of spirits when you visited me here. You are also aware of some of the reasons for my low spirits through my wife’s explanations. But I am much better now. The glad news is this: my own brother has successfully found out that the missing treatise was not in the library but in another room within the precincts of the Mutt! It is with me now. Do you perceive the greatness of God? What kind of an ordeal had he pushed me into? I was not hurt because I was accused. The text was lost, that’s what pained me most. Why did the treatise spread its web of illusion? I don’t know. But it did get back. How so? Even this, I don’t know. Everything happens by Divine design. Please make it convenient to be with us. Eagerly awaiting your arrival. Yours truly, Hanumantha Acharya

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***


After nearly two years, Nagaveni had come to her paternal aunt Bhageerathamma’s house in Sri Lakshminarasimha lane, near the market area of Udupi. She was eager to get back to Seethapura and so sought her aunt’s permission, “I have to leave today.” Bhageerathamma, refusing to consent said, “You have been longing to taste the Chowki lunch since so many years. It has not been

possible until today. Now, your uncle is the Parupatthedara and hence looks after the Chowki lunch arrangements. I suggest you attend the lunch in the afternoon. Then come home and sleep over the exhaustion by evening. We could also gossip a bit at night and then you can leave tomorrow morning. By doing so, you won’t lose anything.” True, Nagaveni was quite crazy about the Chowki lunch. If Udupi derives half of its fame from the presence of Lord Krishna then, the other half, it derives from its delectable lunches. Thousands and thousands of devotees attend the free lunch provided by the Mutts belonging to the temple. However, to go to the Chowki hall and savour the lunch prepared for the Swamiji would indeed be divine! It is really impossible to count the variety of dishes and curries served there. They say that when Mrs Indira Gandhi, then PM, was in Udupi she was served the Chowki lunch. The Prime minister had then declared that such delicious food was not to be had anywhere else in the world! (The rumour, though, is that she had never even entered the Chowki area and either the Chowki lunch or something similar to it was served to her elsewhere). The fame of the Chowki lunch does not entirely rest on the delicacies served there. It is a matter of prestige to be invited to it. Only those devotees who have offered special worships like, Sapthothsava, Brahmarathothsava, or those who have made handsome donations to the Mutts are the really lucky ones. It is also possible to get invited if one happens to be quite close to the Mutt in charge of the temple rituals and worships. Sometimes, it is perceived as an act of conferring recognition and honour on the rare scholar. Thus, it is a matter of great concern and discretion to draw up a list of the invitees every day. That is why a need was felt to entrust the Parupatthedara with this onerous responsibility. Luckily, this time around, Nagaveni’s paternal uncle, Gopala

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THE SEED WITHIN THE SEED 1


Acharya, was the Parupatthedara. Nagaveni felt that concealed in the affectionate invitation of her aunt there was a desire for the recognition of her husband’s exalted position. So what? If you do not display what you have then where is the fun in possessing anything? Moreover, her Uncle was very dear to her. She herself was a witness to his generosity. When her marriage was fixed and her father was in dire straits, her uncle had pressed a bundle of currency notes into his hands saying, “Don’t worry. This is not lent on interest.” By then, Gopala Acharya had completed his morning pooja and was in a hurry to have his breakfast. Serving the breakfast, Bhageerathamma asked him, “Can I come along with Nagaveni for the Chowki lunch today”? Gopala Acharya was quite engrossed in soaking a piece of Rava idli in the juice of the green-mango pickle and then dropping it delicately onto his palate. He was also complaining that the Rava idli was excessively salty. However, he didn’t object, “Yes, bring her along. In fact I wanted to invite her myself.” He finished the breakfast and went inside his room to remove his cotton dhoti and wrap himself in a silver-brocaded silk dhoti. He threw over his bare shoulder a lengthy silk cloth folded over many times and stepped out. Near the open veranda he sighted Nagaveni and warned her, “You will have to be there by eleven o’ clock sharp.” He then rushed towards the temple. Bhageerathamma got busy in running through her domestic chores. When Nagaveni offered to assist her she said, “You have your bath and get ready. I will be through all this in a jiffy.” By the time Nagaveni finished her bath Bhageerathamma was also ready. They had only to decide about the sari they were to wear. Nagaveni let her aunt choose the sari she was to wear. Bhageerathamma suggested,

“You wear my maroon coloured sari.” When Nagaveni stepped out fully dressed Bhageerathamma exclaimed, “Quiz me if all those gathered there do not throw enquiring glances at you.” After Lord Krishna’s darshan, the aunt and niece received the prasada and moved towards the Chowki lunch hall. Standing near the entrance, Gopala Acharya was busy welcoming the guests of the day. On sighting the two he taunted them, “Why are you so slow? The Krishna-Pooja is all over.” Nagaveni responded teasingly, “Do I have your permission to enter?” “Don’t be childish, get in fast” he said. Bhageerathamma remarked to her husband, “See, how pretty your niece looks.” When her husband quipped, “Oh yes! Much prettier than you, surely!” Bhageerathamma cursed herself for having drawn his attention towards Nagaveni. Is there a need to make any comments about the Chowki lunch? The ‘Chowki lunch’ offers the very definition of splendour and sumptuousness. Looking at the salads, sauces, preparations of dhal, curries, papads and deep fried saltedgreen chillies seasoned with sour curds…in fact, an endless variety of mouth watering preparations spread all over the huge plantain leaf Nagaveni was completely lost. She simply could not decide as to what she should eat first and what later. Baffled by the multiplicity of the dishes she felt as if her belly was full before she had tasted anything. She cursed herself for having greedily swallowed the regular rice and rasam as they were very tasty. Even before she could satisfactorily censure herself, the approaching cooks were in a hurry to serve her with five varieties of sweets, sweetened rice cooked in pure ghee, and a number of deep fried hot and spicy dishes! When Nagaveni looked at the untouched food left in her plantain leaf, she was deeply disappointed that she could not really do justice to the lunch. Hence she

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remarked, “Dear aunt, one really needs a training course to savour the Chowki lunch!” Bhageerathamma smiled. Seated on the floor as she was, she was busy in tasting all the servings a little and then pushing the rest on to a corner of the leaf. She then joked, “Why not? Who is preventing you from training yourself with the Chowki lunches? Although the Swamiji is in control of the temple rituals and worships, it is your uncle who regulates the Chowki lunch. You are welcome to train yourself.” By then curds arrived and closely behind it the watery buttermilk! The cook was serving buttermilk at a high speed. Nonetheless, he was on a sharp look-out to see if any of his acquaintances were present there. Perceiving the cook approaching her, Nagaveni made a cup of her right palm and waited for him to pour buttermilk into it. Recognizing her eagerness to drink it, the cook stood there for a while, carefully poured it out, and then moved on. Not only did he serve her in a leisurely manner but even enquired if she wanted some more of it on his way back. Looking at the Brahmin-cook serving the buttermilk, Nagaveni had a feeling that his was a familiar face and she had met him somewhere. She also reasoned out that it was because he must have also known her that he was so considerate in serving her. She expressed her doubt to her aunt, “I have seen him somewhere… Where exactly I do not recall…” Bhageerathamma idly smiled and tried to brush away her doubt, “These Brahmin-cooks are a common sight; you must have seen him somewhere around here.” Nagaveni felt that it was a distinct possibility but she was not convinced. Suddenly, she recalled him and blurted out, “Isn’t he Chankanna from our Seethapura?” Just then Chankanna approached them for the third time and asked, “Shall I pour out a little more? When did you come to Udupi?

Will you be here for a couple of days?” “No, I am leaving tomorrow,” Nagaveni replied and continued, “I met your wife the day before yesterday at Subbaraya’s house. How come you were not to be seen there?” Chankanna had not stopped to listen to her; he was already a score of paces away. Nagaveni briefed her aunt about Chankanna, “Chankanna hasn’t come to Seethapura for more than six months. Seethapura is rife with Chankanna stories. It seems when his wife Yamuna was attending the Sathyanarayana Pooja at Subbaraya’s place, some-one enquired of her, ‘Is it true that your husband has gone to Udupi without telling you anything?’ You should have seen the poor girls face then! She could not utter a word and she was about to weep! Later, when Subbaraya took her to the Pooja room and, through his wife, gifted her a very nice sari she was not pleased at all! The ways of these men, it’s so impossible to gauge!” By then, the lunch was over and all the guests chanted in chorus, “Govindaa, Govindaa” and rose to wash their hands. Nagaveni and Bhageerathamma also rose and holding their food-smeared hands above their waist and guarding themselves against touching anyone with them, moved out carefully towards the wash. When they were near the Vasanthamahal porch Chankanna met them and apologetically explained, “I heard you calling me, but I had to serve so many that I could not just stop then.” He stood with his hands on his waist as if expressing his eagerness to listen to them. Nagaveni had not expected this. What did she have to tell him? On the other hand, to say, whatever he had done was improper, did she, younger as she was to him by twenty years, have any rights? Pondering over all this she looked at her aunt for some help. Alas the aunt, occasioned by over

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 66


eating she was finding it hard to breathe properly! Her soul was advising her to reach home quickly and stretch comfortably on the mat! She was also upset with Nagaveni playing the busybody. She snapped at Nagaveni, “Blurt out whatever you want to, Nagaveni. But before you do, consider why you should poke your nose in the affairs of your elders.” Before Nagaveni could attempt a cover-up by saying, ‘Nothing really’, Chankanna said, “Don’t worry, you need not be bothered by the difference in our age, you can straight away say whatever you want to.” “It’s really nothing. You too know how finicky my husband is in these matters. If he comes to know that I have discussed such matters as these with you, he would get terribly angry. All right, the whole of Seethapura is talking about how you have deserted your wife. I just wanted to talk about it.” “Oh that, what is there to discuss? Well, I did not find her to be congenial and so I left her. Anyway, let us not discuss it any further here. Tell me where you are staying. I shall come there and explain everything to you.” Bhageerathamma did not like the proposition at all. She did not want Chankanna to get to her home and reel off his conjugal miseries. She was quite annoyed with Nagaveni for inviting unnecessary trouble. However Chankanna was trying to plead with her, “Sister Nagaveni has taken a kindly interest in my family worries. Considering her compassion at least you should allow me to come.” Bhageerathamma felt courtesy bound to grant his request and she let him have her address. “Okay then, I will be at your place by four, four-thirty in the afternoon. Excuse me now, I will have to attend to the second batch of guests” he said so and left them. Noticing her aunt’s reluctance to speak on their way

back Nagaveni could easily sense that she was really upset. She expressed her remorse, “I wish I had never been to the Chowki lunch.” Only then did Bhageerathamma try to console her, “Why do you mess up the Chowki lunch with Chankanna’s troubles? I am only worried about your uncle’s short temper. I am scared of your uncle flying off in a rage when he listens to this Chankanna’s sagas.” The aunt and the niece had grand plans of a luxurious sleep after the Chowki lunch. With the threat of Chankanna pouncing on them looming large, they had to abandon their dreams. They could only sit on the floor with their legs stretched out and their backs resting against the wooden pillars of the hall. It was then that Bhageerathamma was inspired to talk about the ‘Three Star Hotel’ that her nephew, Ramachandra, had set up in Hyderabad. Bhageerathamma was exceptionally fond of Ramachandra, the second son of her aunt. However, ten years ago the lad was a regular truant and quite a chimp. That is why her aunt had sought Bhageerathamma’s help in his schooling. Unable to refuse, Bhageerathamma meekly consented. Keen on executing her scheme, the aunt arrived along with Ramachandra at Bhageerathamma’s house in May. Looking at the child, Bhageerathamma was quite apprehensive about managing the child. At night, while in bed, she tried to voice her fears to her husband, “You know what?” Gopala Acharya retorted, “Don’t I know what? Isn’t everything plainly visible?” and pushed her away. He covered himself completely with a blanket and fell asleep. But when, within a month Ramachandra had begun running all round his legs crying “Uncle, Uncle”, like a kitten pestering for milk, Gopala Acharya had changed his opinion: ‘After all, he is such a fine lad!’ That night, he had pulled his wife close to himself and patted her, “You have done well, indeed!”

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Later, Ramachandra obtained a graduate’s degree in commerce from the M.G.M College, Udupi. In fact, as the topper of his college, he won the appreciation of all his teachers. When he decided to go to Hyderabad, the childless Bhageerathamma could not bear the separation. Before taking his leave, Ramachandra touched her feet and sought her blessings. Swallowing her sorrow, Bhageerathamma softly caressed his head twice and prayed, “May the God look after you well.” Gopala Acharya was also deeply disturbed from the moment he knew of Ramachandra’s departure. Two days before Ramachandra left, Gopala Acharya was so worked up that he felt he might break down and weep when the actual moment arrived. But, that would be an insult to his manliness! Therefore, he lied to his wife that he was not feeling well and would go and get some medicine. Once out in the market area he stood near the “Mitra Samaja Hotel” and pretended to be waiting for ‘someone’! For this charismatic young bachelor called Ramachandra, Bhageerathamma and Gopala Acharya had grand plans. They geared themselves up to forge a marriage alliance with Nagaveni’s sister Akshata. Bhageerathamma, in particular, was all set to try her best and somehow win Nagaveni’s consent that night. She now feared that Chankanna might upset Nagaveni’s mood with his talk and spoil all her dreams. Then she tried to calm herself by arguing that after all there was nothing to link Chankanna with Ramachandra’s marriage. She got up and went inside the kitchen. She poured out three glasses of water in to a vessel, added a few spoons of tea- powder and was about to set it for boiling on the stove. Just at that juncture, she heard somebody walking inside the front yard. She peeped out of the kitchen window to check if her husband had come home. However, it was only Chankanna. By then, Chankanna

having finished wiping his feet clean on the door mat was announcing his arrival, “Ohe, I am already here!” Without waiting to be called in, he had stepped inside the veranda. Bhageerathamma asked him to be seated from the kitchen itself. “Are you busy getting the tea ready? Please do not prepare any for me. I do not want it.” Saying so, he sat on a bench in the veranda and exclaimed “Krishna, Krishna.” Just then, Gopala Acharya walked in. On seeing Chankanna he enquired, “How did you find out my house?” Without waiting for an answer, he went inside, changed over to his cotton dhoti and came out holding the betel nut tray. He pushed the tray towards Chankanna said, “Have some, if you like.” When Chankanna began chewing the betel leaf and nut Gopala Acharya wondered: ‘Why is he here? How did he get to know my wife? Has she sought his help to find a bride for our Ramachandra?” He was annoyed with his wife but could not express it. Simmering with irritation, he carelessly smeared the betel leaf with excess of lime and began to chew it. “Damn it! I have nearly scalded my tongue,” he exclaimed and rushed out to spit the tambula. Meanwhile Chankanna was getting worried. He felt the whole exercise of his visit was threatening to go a waste. How are this Nagaveni, her aunt and above all this Acharya related to him? What does he gain by a discussion of his problems with these people? What does he lose if these people, or for that matter, the whole of Seethapura were to ridicule him? Yet, if he did not explain the purpose of his visit, Gopala Acharya may misconstrue him. Alternately, for all he knew, this Bhageerathamma may challenge him to say whatever he had promised to. Overall, he felt quite jittery. By then Gopala Acharya was back. Looking at Chankanna who was still busy in chewing the tambula he began addressing him, “How come you are gracing us by

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your visit?” “I am a little unsure as to the propriety of what I wanted to discuss. I am caught in a dilemma concerning Dharma. You alone can help me.” Gopala Acharya grew suspicious: ‘Maybe he wants a loan. Why should I unnecessarily get involved in this mess?’ He decided to stay clear of it and said openly: “What is the use of discussing matters of Dharma with me? In such matters, the Swamiji alone can offer proper guidance. It would be better for you to consult him” “You are right. I wanted to meet him also. Unfortunately, I could not figure out any means of discussing these matters with him. Hence I request you to place yourself in his position and offer a solution…” Now, Gopala Acharya really panicked: ‘Look at this Brahmin, he is comparing me with the Swamiji! Forget matters of Dharma, I cannot offer solutions relating to secular issues even. In addition, if it involves money and finance then, it is all the more impossible.’ He commenced cautiously: “You should not say so Chankanna. How can I ever be the Swamiji’s equal? The Swamiji is the Mukhyaprana.” Only then did the realisation dawn on Chankanna; he was attempting to say one thing and Gopala Acharya was construing something else! He was quick to offer the corrective: “You seem to have mixed up everything. I was not equating you with the Swamiji. The matter I had in mind concerns my family affairs” ‘So this fellow has a problem with his wife’ concluded Gopala Acharya. ‘However, is it proper to talk about these matters in the presence of my wife and niece?’ he wondered. Hence he said, “Chankanna aren’t you aware that such things are not to be discussed in the living quarters of a householder?”

At this point Bhageerathamma entered the veranda with the tea tumblers. She hurried to explain Chankanna’s position, “He is not able express himself properly. The matter, as he puts it, is just this. He has come away to Udupi leaving behind his wife in Seethapura. He has not been there during these six months. He has not enquired after her well-being either. May be, they have had a tiff over something or the other. That’s why he is spinning this lengthy yarn.” She handed over the tea tumbler to her husband. Offering another tumbler to Chankanna she said, “As you did not want any tea, I have got just about a sip for you, please have it.” Chankanna accepted it without any more objections. He tasted it and certified that it was ‘extraordinary.’ He then began his narrative.

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2 At the very mention of any town , say Seethapura, all the prominent men living there are recalled to mind. Likewise, the very thought of tasty food, either in Seethapura or anywhere around it, invokes Chankanna’s name. People who make it known that Chankanna is in charge of the cooking in any Upanayana, marriage, or the annual festival of any temple, have had it! They should be on guard to accommodate the uninvited ‘extra guests’! However, a common complaint reigns against him: ‘True, he is a great cook, but he is unpredictable too.’ While he is focussed and keeps the proportion of tamarind extract and salt right, then no cook, even of Udupi, can match his culinary skill! On the other hand, when he cooks under a bout of absentmindedness, the curry is too spicy, or the boiled vegetable is


cooked without salt or the sweet smells of the firewood smoke! If there is a complaint that the food was badly spoilt Chankanna is not embarrassed at all. He nonchalantly replies, “What you say is most true. Even I thought so. However, the taste of the food is not within my control; it depends largely on the mental state of the cook, doesn’t it?” Hence, many, not willing to bet on the cook’s ‘mental state’, decide not to hire him. If someone were to draw Chankanna’s attention to his waning popularity he snaps back, “That’s fine with me. Did I take birth with a vow to die a cook?”` Nevertheless, for Subbaraya of the Banana plantations, Chankanna’s cooking was always beyond censure. Even Chankanna is without a clue for this adulation. May be, even Subbaraya lacks an explanation. Subbaraya is no mean figure either in Seethapura. He has arecanut plantations that yield more than twenty five Khandiges, paddy fields that fetch him well over fifty bags of paddy as the landlord’s share. A shrewd landlord is he. Just before the implementation of the Land Reforms Act, he either bought back his land from the tenants or threatened them away. For all his wealth, he had one great sorrow- he was childless. His father, Naranppaiah, had a great desire to be called a grandfather. Therefore, he had arranged his son’s marriage quite early, that is, even before Subbaraya had turned twenty-five. However, Subbaraya’s wife failed to fulfil her father-in –law’s desire during his lifetime. Then the husband and the wife went on a pilgrimage to Subramanya to perform Ashleshabali; consumed the kasaya and lehya prescribed by the famous Ayurvedic expert of Kasargod Kunje Pundit, and took the advice of all the Allopathic specialists– in short, they did everything they could possibly do to have a child of their own. The pregnancy, however, was not to be effected that

easily. At last, by the accumulated merit of all his past existences Subbaraya was fortunate enough to be called a father. Thereby, his dead ancestors too discovered a means of deliverance! Sadly, delivering the child, the mother died a painful death. From that day, many a bride of Seethapura has thought: ‘If childbirths are that hard, it is better to stay away from marriage forever.’ Now Subbaraya, the widower, had none apart from his aged mother to live with. His worry was this: ‘Forget conjugal bliss, shouldn’t there be some one to cook three square meals a day and take care of my hungry belly’? Chankanna entered Subbaraya’s house at this critical moment and assured him of all help, “If, within a month, you propose to marry again, then don’t worry. I will manage your kitchen until then.” To get married within a month is not a joke, neither are the brides to be had ‘readymade.’ Nonetheless, Subbaraya did not lose heart; he began his search in earnest. Embarrassed as he was to be looking for wife at his age, he couldn’t help pleading his own case: “This is how it all happened. Looking at my wife’s suffering during her labour hours, I have really developed an aversion towards marriage. After the delivery, she was given ten bottles of blood! Yet, the bleeding wouldn’t stop!” He also wanted his listeners to realise that he had spent a lot of money and how deeply he was hurt. But, all this to no avail! Not one, but three months elapsed without Subbaraya finding a bride. By then Chankanna was getting disgusted with himself ‘See, what I have done with myself? I used to cook for hundreds and thousands of men. Now, here I am looking after the needs of just three people, three, that is including me!’ Around the same time, his well-wishers began to advise him: ‘Are you mad or what? For how long would you

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continue to stay a bachelor? Look around and find a girl for yourself.’ Chankanna realised that they were right. ‘I should also get married. It is high time that I set up a family of my own.’ One fine morning, without informing Subbaraya, he ran away from Seethapura. Marriage thus became inevitable for Subbaraya. The bride hunt was now conducted on a war footing. Nowadays, no educated girl is willing to marry someone living in a remote village like Seethapura, even if he were to be as rich as Subbaraya! In addition, Subbaraya was a widower! ‘Who would consent to marry a man of forty and already on the threshold of old age?’ was the comment that Subbaraya had to overhear and swallow. At such a time as this, one fine morning, Chankanna materialised in Subbaraya’s veranda. Before Subbaraya could dismiss him saying, ‘Get lost! Do not show me your face’ Chankanna was inside the kitchen. Once there, he pulled the ladle away from the aged mother’s hand and began spreading the dosa batter on the well-heated pan. All the curses that Subbaraya wanted to shower on the cook’s head dissolved inside his gullet along with the dosa that Chankanna had prepared. Chankanna began slowly, “I have selected an excellent girl. She is so fair that you should wipe your hands clean before you even touch her.” Subbaraya tried a joke on him, “Are you sure you haven’t hit upon a charred stump?” The cook quipped back, “Do you think I have gone blind to err so?’ The mother and son then said in chorus, “Any kind of girl is acceptable to us.” Chankanna finished his lunch and finished his siesta. He continued from where he had left, “By the way, you have to provide me with a living quarters.” Subbaraya questioned him, “Where is the need for a separate living quarters for you? You can continue to stay with us.”

“Are you joking? What would people say if I continued to stay with you even after marriage?” “What are you trying to suggest?” “The girl I have found is meant for me; not for you.” ‘Smart fellow’, Subbaraya had to concede. A year ago Subbaraya had forced one of his tenants to vacate his house. That house lay vacant and was now given to Chankanna. Very soon, Chankanna’s marriage was over and his young wife Yamuna entered Seethapura as one of its proud daughters-in -law. Subbaraya was still unable to find a suitable bride for himself. Moreover, Chankanna had begun complaining, “My wife doesn’t like me to be your domestic cook.” “Don’t worry. I will pay you as much as you would earn elsewhere.” “It is not the question of money at all, but shouldn’t I listen to my wife… at least sometimes.” “Yes, you are right there, one cannot disagree with you there” Then Subbaraya’s friends began advising him differently: “Why don’t you stop this bride hunting? Why not find a girl through one of those marriage bureaus?” At last, he succeeded in choosing a bride within the next three months. She was educated and good-looking too. After all, he thought, the wait was worth it. Thus, Subbaraya finally married Yashodamma, the daughter of Hassan’s Venkataramanaiah. Though Yashodamma entered Subbaraya’s household, she refused to step inside the kitchen “Don’t expect me to drudge it out in the kitchen. You can look for a cook!” “Where do I find a cook?” the husband tried to argue, “I shall manage to eat whatever you can cook” “I am not here to cook your food. Your mother is finicky

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about ritual purity and all that. Moreover, I am not the one to sit in segregation during my monthly periods” Thus, Subbaraya was compelled to seek Chankanna’s help again: “Either you or if you cannot, then your wife should attend to the cooking on those days, at least. You know that I cannot be rid of all these regulations concerning ritual purity when my mother is still alive.” Chankanna’s wife was not agreeable to this. So, ‘on those days’, Chankanna had to manage Subbaraya’s kitchen on the sly. In the meantime, the mother passed away. Yashodamma conceived a child. All this resulted in releasing Chankanna from Subbaraya’s kitchen chores. By the way, Yashodamma, who was all appreciation for Chankanna’s cooking, quickly learnt many of his recipes. He was impressed by her interest in the culinary art, and got into a habit of visiting her often. On the other hand, Subbaraya cultivated the habit of visiting Chankanna’s house whenever he went to supervise his plantation works. He cautiously got familiar with Chankanna’s wife. He made it a practice to go to her house and enquire with her, “Yamuna, is everything fine with you?” Now, Chankanna is the father of two daughters. He accepts all cooking assignments. People of Seethapura have noticed the change and are complimenting: ‘Chankanna is no longer as he was. He is prompt in his job. After all, he has a family to take care of. Is it an easy task to make provisions for the marriage of one’s daughters? No amount of earning is sufficient these days. All credit for having straightened him must go to Yamuna. A true Amazon indeed! They say she is two years his elder but someone in Udupi drew up a false horoscope and tethered her to Chankanna. But, so what? Look at her trim figure; she is fit to be passed off as a young

bride!’ Nothing untrue about it at all. Chankanna had to turn over all his earnings to his wife. If he needed any cash for any expense, sundry or otherwise, he had to apply to her. Whenever Yamuna kept some change in his hands and said, “This will suffice”, he dared not say “No!” What caused a rift between such a Chankanna and his wife was a gift from Yashodamma. One fine day, Chankanna carried home a brand new silk sari that Yashodamma had not even unpacked and placed it in her hands. The surprised wife asked him, “What is this? Why this expensive silk sari now?” He replied, “It seems the other day Subbaraya was in Mysore on one of his business trips. While returning, he brought home two silk saris paying two thousand rupees each. Sister Yashodamma does not fancy maroon colour saris. Therefore, she refused to keep it. I don’t know what then transpired between the husband and wife. Today, while I was crossing their house, sister Yashodamma called me and gave it to me saying, ‘This is for your wife, some kind of a memento for your timely helps’ .” “I am not the one to believe that Subbaraya is unaware of his wife’s dislike for the maroon sari. That too after a year’s married life with her! I will have none of this. You have been paid for your services. In addition, if he so wanted, he could have presented you with a trouser or a shirt.” Having said so, she actually threw the sari onto a distant table. Chankanna tried to pacify her: “No, no! You should neither say nor do so Yamuna, Subbaraya holds us very close to his heart. He has given it with lots of love. You have a liking for this colour too.” “Oh yes! Yashodamma has no desire for a maroon sari and she never wears anything of that colour is something your Subbaraya knows too well. And knowing it too well

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3

only has this dear friend of yours purchased it. You know why? He wants to present it to me! If you cannot see this far even, what kind of a man are you? If you have any compunctions in returning it, then flare it up in the bathroomfire” Chankanna was stunned. He tried to win her over by cajoling her. Then Yamuna began her story, “What do you know of my difficulties? Whenever you are away on your cooking assignments, that dear friend of yours is here without fail. Not just that, either! He stares at me as if he had all the desire in the world to swallow me raw! Thank God, I am steadfast! Only because of which am I still inviolate. But how about you?” “What about me?” “What else about you? What else remains to be committed by you? Aren’t you enjoying your amorous games with that Subbaraya’s wife? Only after witnessing all that does your Subbaraya come cringing here. I hear wife swapping is the latest fashion in the cities; he wants to introduce it here. I would rather jump into a well and drown, than be your wife.” Chankanna was fuming, “Look here Yamuna, I am not the one to indulge in such practices. Neither am I in need of them. Even God would turn furious if you utter such words about Subbaraya.” “No I won’t believe in anyone except me. How to believe that there is no seed within the seed?” “Do as you please” retorted Chankanna. He thrust all his clothes into a bag and declared, “I won’t come back till you realise my worth,” and stepped out of his house. Yet, deep in his heart was a desire that she call him back. Only, Yamuna sat staring at the blazing fire with her smouldering eyes and did not budge.

After listening to Chankanna’s story Gopala Acharya was speechless for a while. With a sense of helplessness he began, “You should not have acted so rashly. Difference of opinion between husband and wife is quite common in married life. You should learn to sort them out there and then. Instead of which you have approached me. Tell me how can an outsider like me help you?” Chankanna also grew silent for a moment. Sitting in a room inside the house, Nagaveni and Bhageerathamma were also shocked. Bhageerathamma was angry that a girl as chaste as Yamuna was suffering untold miseries. Nagaveni was seconding Yamuna’s assessment of Subbaraya: “Chankanna may not believe it but I have it from my husband that Subbaraya is quite a lecherous fellow.” Gopala Acharya found encouragement from Yamuna’s speech. He addressed Chankanna directly, “Tell me this Chankanna, do you want to be with your wife and children or not?” “Do I want to be with them? I am a mortal fed on salt and spice. But, how do I bear the humiliation of presenting myself before her and saying, ‘Lo, I am back.’ Isn’t the Ego sense, like Kama, the seed within the seed?” Gopala Acharya felt like bursting into laughter. ‘Look at this cook’s rhetorical repertory!’ he wondered initially. After a moment, however, he realised: ‘Man is held to be a symbol of masculinity. Don’t the majority of husbands believe that only by a display of their machismo, their masculinity is recognised by their wives? Come to think of it, am I totally free of such antics?’ He asked Chankanna, “What do you want me to do now?” With all humility Chankanna unfolded his request,

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“How am I to be sure that she would accept me if I were to go there all by myself? My heart’s wish is this: if you or Mother Bhageerathamma could meet her and put some sense into her head…” Gopala Acharya threw up his arms saying, “Count me out of it! How can I free myself of the Chowki responsibilities?” After a while, he asked his wife if she was willing to go with him. Bhageerathamma felt it was necessary to set Chankanna’s house in order. Hence she said, “A girl related to my sister’s husband is given in marriage to Seethapura. I do not know to whom she is married and where exactly she lives. If I went there, I could enquire after her well-being…” Seizing the opportunity the niece began pestering her aunt, “Come along with me aunt. My husband will also be glad. You need not meet Yamuna with Chankanna. I shall send my husband with you to her house as well as to the other girl’s house.” Immensely pleased with the day’s work, Chankanna left. The next day Nagaveni, her husband and Bhageerathamma surprised Yamuna by presenting themselves in her house. Yamuna was familiar with Nagaveni alone. Before she could make any enquiries about them, Bhageerathamma volunteered all the information. “Oh, you are Gopala Acharya’s wife then! Where have I met you before? Yes, I remember now. I should be thankful to your husband for my marriage. No bridegroom in Udupi was willing to marry me as I was dark and not that young. Your husband came to my rescue then. He doctored my horoscope to prove me younger by four years. My father, the Chowki cook Dasanna, used to recall his help with great fondness and gratitude until his last day. But, despite the marriage, I know no happiness.” Seeing tears well up in Yamuna’s eyes,

Bhageerathamma also felt like crying. Controlling her tears she comforted Yamuna, “Don’t worry, nothing beyond mending has happened. Your husband is a god-like creature. He is now the Chowki cook. My husband never tires of praising him. If you doubt me, you can check with Nagaveni.” Yamuna cheered up a little. In a low voice she enquired, “How is he? Does he at least retain any memory of our existence?” After briefing her about Chankanna’s visit to her house Bhageerathamma said, “Oh God. Cooking does not preoccupy him any longer; he is drowned in your memories. Why should you be waiting for his return? Can’t you come with me to Udupi?” Yamuna also felt that it was the best thing to do. The next day, Bhageerathamma enquired with Nagaveni’s husband, Ramakanth, the whereabouts of the girl from Hassan. To her surprise, she learnt that ‘the girl’ was none other than Yashodamma! She lost all interest, “Oh, she is of that house, is it? Leave it out, we won’t go there.” Ramakantha was not inclined to drop the visit. Hence, he said, “No, we will go. The girl’s husband is a nice man. Even she is a sweet lady. Moreover, you say they are related to you. We will call on them.” Thus, Bhageerathamma met Yashodamma also. She was impressed with Yashodamma’s housekeeping skills, ‘See, how well she has kept her house, that too in a village!” Yashodamma treated her guests with great courtesy and respect. Yamuna went to Udupi with Bhageerathamma. She attended the Chowki lunch as well. Seeing her, Chankanna was overwhelmed with a desire to clasp her. But, realising where he was, he gently held her hand and said, “It’s only six months since I left you, still it seems as if I have not seen

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you for years.” That night, Gopala Acharya praised his wife, “Eventually, you have done a good deed and earned some merit by saving a family.” At first, Bhageerathamma just grumbled something and then added, “I will earn the merit only when you find some accommodation for Chankanna’s family in Udupi.” Smiling, Gopala Acharya said, “That means you do not trust Chankanna.” “No, not so,” she replied half-heartedly and kept quiet. She silently recalled Yashodamma’s amorous adventures before her marriage. Then she thought that it was not impossible for Yashodamma to be drawn towards Chankanna. After all, Chankanna was ten times Subbaraya’s better! At the same time, Gopala Acharya was lost in his own thoughts: ‘Maybe she is afraid that if Chankanna continues to live in Seethapura, Subbaraya would devour Yamuna.’ Hence, he assured her, “Let me see, if I can help…” ***

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THE LORD’S CODE OF CONDUCT 1 At about six in the evening, Punchadi Bhoja, Maidotti Sesa, Gyandotti Venkappa and Punkedadi Thimmappa were all gathered in Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s hotel for their evening tea. When their eyes fell on a dog-tired Krishna Shetty entering the hotel, they were appalled. Obviously, he had left his house early in the morning. Krishna Shetty did not utter a word. He simply collapsed on the bench and began to wipe off the sweat flowing in streams all over his face, neck and armpits. Punkedadi Thimmappa looked enquiringly at his mates. Only Gyandotti Venkappa spoke, “I don’t have a clue, we will have to ask him.” As if it was the cue he was waiting for, Punchadi God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 84


Bhoja asked Krishna Shetty, “What is wrong with you Krishna Shetty? You look awfully exhausted.” “I will have some tea first; explanations can wait”, he answered languidly. His tone only heightened their unease. There were good reasons for their anxiety, though. Krishna Shetty, like them, was a member of a rural development project, ‘Sirigindi’, organised by Dharmasthla. On rare occasions, he used to join them on their jaunts to the cockfight ring. Unlike most of them, he was not hooked to it; he went with them just for the heck of it. More than mere camaraderie, what worried them most was an odd suspicion: Has this Krishna Shetty been visiting Chara, Madradi, or Hebri? They knew that Naxalites haunted these villages. Also, one of Krishna Shetty’s relatives lived in Chara. A section of the press had reported that a Naxalite was sheltered for sometime by them. ‘Could that be the cause of his fretfulness?’ was what they began to ponder. Just then, Kuppannaiah Bhatta looked out of the kitchen window and caught sight of Krishna Shetty. He leisurely walked out of the kitchen, stood near him and enquired, “Krishna Shetty, what would you like to drink?” Rather faintly, Krishna Shetty said, “Give me some tea.” “You wouldn’t want something to eat?” Kuppannaiah Bhatta asked again. “I have about two plates of the evening special, Golibaje, left. Shall I bring them for you? That would also clear my day’s stocks” Kuppannaiah Bhatta quipped with a guffaw. Krishna Shetty was undecided; he could neither say yes nor no. So, he kept quiet. Punchadi Bhoja spoke for him and placed an order, “Bring it along Kuppannaiah Bhatta, our Krishna Shetty looks really exhausted.” Kuppannaiah Bhatta transferred the Golibajes from the two plates to a single plate and served it. He also brought out a mug of water and placed it on the table. He pampered Krishna Shetty, “Please wash your face and get fresh first.”

Krishna Shetty went out, washed his face and neck, patted them dry with his shawl and came back to his seat. He picked up a Golibaje and began to chew it. The Golibaje was fried early in the afternoon and was quite cold. It was more like a chewing gum now. He could have easily complained and pushed it away, but he was never that rude. Moreover, it was his practice to turn over the green plantains to Kuppannaiah Bhatta whenever he could find them in his plantation. On such occasions he used to feel, ‘Poor Brahmin, he has been running this hotel for so many years. If he can earn a couple of rupees let him have them. Otherwise, I will have to carry them to the city dweller’s doorsteps and sell at a lesser price. Why should I fatten his purse?’ After he had eaten two or three Golibaje, he felt he had enough. He held out the plate to Punkedadi Thimmappa right from where he was sitting and offered it to him, “Please, have some.” Punkedadi Thimmappa picked up one and passed the plate to his friend who was sitting on the next bench. Thus, Golibaje came to be rolled in all their mouths. Before they could completely chew it up, Kuppannaiah Bhatta arrived with the tea. Even as Krishna Shetty began to noisily sip the tea gulp by gulp, Punkedadi Thimmappa got inspired. He glanced at his Henry Sandoz wristwatch and planned to leave early after listening to Krishna Shetty’s adventure. But, the watch that should have shown seven in the evening was struck at twelve in the noon! He quickly covered up his embarrassment, held up his neighbours arm and looked at his watch. Then he pretended to set his watch right by saying, “Since a fortnight, my watch is lagging behind by fifteen minutes.” He went through the motions of first setting the time and then winding his watch. By then Kuppannaiah Bhatta was getting ready to draw the shutters. It was seven, and the whole of Seethapura

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 86


knew it was closing time for him. The friends were growing anxious. They were eager to listen to Krishna Shetty’s story and leave. Punchadi Bhoja even stood up to indicate that it was time he left. But, his gesture was not to Gyandotti Venkappa’s liking. By the way, Gyandotti Venkappa’s reputation had changed. Earlier, he was the Shruti Gyandotti Venkappa, now he is the renowned ‘Story Teller.’ If you are interested in the genesis of the present nomenclature, I shall explain it you. ‘Shruti’ refers to a musical instrument that helps to retain a set pitch when musical instruments like Nagaswaram are played. Gyandotti Venkappa regularly accompanied Nagaswaram recitals with his instrument providing the Shruti. In keeping with the practice of prefixing the professional names to one’s personal name, Gyandotti Venkappa came to be called ‘Shruti Gyandotti Venkappa.’ However, as he was more interested in collecting and recounting spicy stories wherever he went than in playing his instrument, he was stuck with the present name. Such a Gyandotti Venkappa said rather curtly to Krishna Shetty, “It is getting dark; if at all you have something to say, say it quickly, otherwise we will all be gone.” His mates took objection to his tone and took him to task, “Why are you harassing him? Let Kuppannaiah Bhatta also join us. You won’t lose anything in five or ten minutes.” Gyandotti Venkappa is not the one to be silenced so easily. He quipped back at them with an uncouth Tulu proverb about a plantain leaf spread out with delectable food and a willing woman. All of them broke out laughing. They knew Gyandotti Venkappa had a full supply of such lewd proverbs. Punkedadi Thimmappa took exception to it and drawing him near to himself, he rebuked, “This Gyandotti Venkappa has no sense of propriety; you shouldn’t use such proverbs in a place like this.” Punchadi Bhoja tried to pacify him, “What’s

wrong with it? Even Kuppannaiah Bhatta enjoys such talk.” While his friends were thus discussing, Krishna Shetty was wondering whether his friends were busying themselves with wild guesses as if he had escaped from some calamity or the other by a hair’s breadth. He hurried to explain, “Nothing really is the matter; yet I was in doubt whether I could get back to Seethapura at all.” Gyandotti Venkappa became restless, “What do you mean!” he exclaimed. “It’s only a small matter”, Krishna Shetty tried to continue. But he said, “Nothing special at all; yet if I recall how my father’s honesty saved me…” and abruptly stopped. If Krishna Shetty was not even a fluent speaker, how could he be an absorbing narrator? Yet, the truth, unfortunately, is that Krishna Shetty talks rather haltingly. His friends are all aware of it. Therefore, they bore down on Gyandotti Venkappa who was trying to hurry him, “You keep quiet for a while; let’s listen to him.” At last, Krishna Shetty began his narrative.

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2 Actually, the story begins much earlier; it begins with Krishna Shetty’s ancestors. One Raju Shetty is the hero of this part of the tale. Where he was born and how he arrived at Seethapura, is all beside the point. The relevant fact, to begin with, is that there was this Raju Shetty in Seethapura. In fact, Raju Shetty was one of those workers who had come to Seethapura in search of casual labour. Ranganna Acharya, who had provided him with some farm labour, had been impressed by his efficiency and honesty. Hence, he had asked Raju Shetty once, “Would you like to cultivate some land as a tenant?” For which, it seems he had replied, “Who would be willing to have me as a tenant?” Ranganna


Acharya had comforted him by saying, “That is not your worry.” On a fine day Ranganna Acharya boarded a bus that was blackened from the soot of its fuel, coal. That coal driven bus took them to Mangalore and to Sheshagiri Prabhu’s huge Bhandasale near the port. Introducing him to Sheshagiri Prabhu, he said, “If you want to lease the ten acres adjacent to the land you have leased to me, then lease it to him.” Sheshagiri Prabhu was one of the biggest Landlords of Seethapura. His lands fetched him four Khorje of crop every year. However, he never had a clear idea of his farmers, their lands and the crops they cultivated. He was so preoccupied with his business in Mangalore that he was satisfied with whatever they turned over to him every year as his annual share. He only knew he could trust Ranganna Acharya implicitly. Not that he knew him any better. He was aware that Ranganna Acharya was a poor Brahmin who eked out a living by his Purohit profession and that he never held back or postponed remitting his share. Beyond that, Sheshagiri Prabhu knew only that Ranganna Acharya’s grandfather had received the land on lease from his own grandfather. In fact, Sheshagiri Prabhu had been happy with Ranganna Acharya’s display of loyalty in choosing and presenting a dependable tenant to him. So he had said, “It is fine then Ranganna Acharya. When you have been so enthusiastic and confident about him why should I object? We will certainly lease it out to him. I have never even seen the land until now. How do I decide my share of the crop? I fully consent to the terms you set.” After that, he had taken Ranganna Acharya to an inner room and explained to him that he was not joking and he was in earnest. They had then arrived at a certain quantum of crop as his share. Expressing his consent to Ranganna Acharya, he had said, “We shall take care of the legal formalities later, you arrange for his

present requirements.” Thus, the land adjacent to Ranganna Acharya’s was leased out to Raju Shetty. He laboured hard to prepare the land for cultivation. He dug out tiny water tanks wherever water deposit was scarce. He planted coconut, arecanut, banana, mango and jackfruit saplings all over the land. He toiled from the moment the cock crowed until the twilight faded into darkness. Even before one could realise the shackhouse with the paddy-grass roof got larger by two rooms. Right behind the house, he built a long cowshed and began rearing cattle. He preserved his grass stack until Ugadi. By such perseverant labour, though not born in a Guttige house, he came to be respected as if he were born in one. Even while Bhagyalakshmi surfaced as gradually as butter floats up and out of buttermilk, Raju Shetty’s demeanour underwent no change. The respect he showed for Ranganna Acharya and Sheshagiri Prabhu never diminished. He was as courteous and humble as ever. He did not even change his dress code. The only difference now was that whenever he travelled far he took to wearing a shawl and leather slippers that made a strange Zr Zr r noise. Age, of course, had bestowed spectacles upon him. In the meanwhile, the nation became independent. The states were reorganised. And then all the owners of the Bhandasale thought it safer to give up their business of collecting lease shares and began investing solely in business ventures. By experience, they knew that earlier the money they invested their lands earned them more profit than the interest it would have earned if deposited in banks. But, subsequently all political parties began proclaiming that for the ends of social justice to be met, it was essential that the tiller of the land should be the owner as well. They all started pledging themselves to legislate Land Acts to ensure social

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 90


justice in all their election campaigns. This was when the Bhandasale owners woke up; they realised that the Act that would snatch their lands was around the corner. They quickly disposed of the lands they had leased out. However, the landowners of the Bunt and the Jain community made fun of the whole idea and began purchasing lands that the Bhandasale merchants were selling. Now, Ranganna Acharya and Raju Shetty were worried. They went to Mangalore, met Sheshagiri Prabhu and pleaded with him, “Please do not sell your lands. Let them make as many laws as they please, we will not raise any objections as far as your share is concerned.” Then Sheshagiri Prabhu offered to sell it to them. They were unwilling again, “How is it possible... where can we find so much money? No…” With that, they went back to Seethapura. Within a few years, the Karnataka Government promulgated the Land Reforms Act. The good fortune of land ownership arrived by itself to the very doorsteps of the all the tenants. All of them, with the exception of Ranganna Acharya and Raju Shetty, queued up to submit relevant records and take advantage of the law. The wise men of Seethapura began pouring out advices, “Are you mad or what? Your Sheshagiri Prabhu is a multi millionaire. He does not depend on the share you turn out for his life. You are under a great delusion. Hurry up and submit your declarations.” Ranganna Acharya and Raju Shetty could see that their counsel was right. But their conscience did not allow them to act upon the advice. While Ranganna Acharya said, “I am honour bound to keep my promise of turning over his annual share”, Raju Shetty declared, “Making an application to the government in this matter is contrary to Dharma!” The common stance of the pair became the butt of ridicule in Seethapura. They were made fun of in all the streets of

Seethapura. It was the sole topic of discussion in Kuppannaih Bhatta’s hotel for four days. It engrossed those in the arrack hut as well, “Only these fellows are the followers of the Dharma in the wide world and the rest of us nothing but scoundrels. Is this their argument? We are submitting the applications on the orders of the government alone. Moreover, our Landlords have all acquired twice as much land as has been leased out to us from the shares we have given them. What do we have to show for ourselves? Just our sweat!” The combined onslaught was too much for Ranganna Acharya and Raju Shetty to bear. They went straight to Sheshagiri Prabhu and said, “We are firmly decided not to make any submissions; yet we would like to know your opinion.” At first, Sheshagiri Prabhu did not believe them. He thought they were only pretending and so he too pretended to agree with them. But when they did not flinch, he was surprised by their honesty and loyalty. He knew it was well neigh impossible to find the likes of them even in those times. Therefore, he advised them “Have you gone crazy? If you do not make the submissions do not think I will get back my land; the government takes it away from you, that is all. Hurry up and make the applications.” Only then, the twosome approached the Land Commission’s office in Seethapura! Soon after that, the Land Regulation Act was fully implemented. Of course, the implementation was not free of civil and even criminal disputes between the landlords and their tenants. But, as Sheshagiri Prabhu had no objection to Ranganna Acharya and Raju Shetty becoming the owners, they got their lands without any hassles. Yet, with the arrival of the month of Shravana they would start to Mangalore. There, they would stand, hands

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folded, near Prabhu’s Bhandasale. No, they would never sit until they were asked to. And even when they were asked to, Ranganna Acharya would first offer the prasada of Kumkumarchane performed for Prabhu’s well being in the Durgaparameshwari temple of Seethapura. Raju Shetty would next spread out Kesavu leaves, Karuvalakai, Kanile and the banana-bunch, as if he were making his offerings to his God! Then both of them would bow in reverence. Then a look of glee would play on Prabhu’s face. He would call his wife and tell her, “Look here! What a lot of vegetables has come from our Seethapura!” He would not only list out a menu of the delicacies to be prepared with them but also proceed to provide their recipes in mouth-watering detail. ‘All this was possible in Raju Shetty’s times-the times when an admixture of idealism, sentimentality and faith in the institutions of religion ruled the world’ is what many in Seethapura feel today. For some years after his father Raju Shetty’s death, Krishna Shetty followed his father’s footsteps. In the month of Shravana, like his father, he carried the usual gifts to Sheshagiri Prabhu. But then Ranganna Acharya, who had grown weak with age, contented himself in offering the Pooja in his Lord’s name and sending the prasada thorough the postal service every year. In the meanwhile, the news of Sheshagiri Prabhu’s death appeared in the newspapers. It was in the month of Ashada and the rains were heavy. Ranganna Acharya told Krishna Shetty, “If at all we are invited for the Vaikuntasamaradhane, even if we do not partake the ritual lunch, we should be there for courtesy’s sake.” (The inside story is that in those days, a few sects of Brahmins, intent on preserving their ritual sanctity never consented to attend a full scale lunch in Gowda Saravatha Brahmin’s houses. At best, they accepted something to eat). Krishna Shetty readily

agreed to the suggestion. However, neither of them received the invitation. When, during the next Shravana, Krishna Shetty was busy gathering the vegetables to make his annual presentation to Sheshagiri Prabhu’s son, Ranganna Acharya called on him. He said to him, “Well, I do not have any objection in you making your annual submissions. But how do you expect our Sheshagiri Prabhu’s son to know you? Or could you even hope for him to appreciate the delicate bonds of love and affection that had held us together? I think it is better to keep quiet.” Krishna Shetty agreed again. Thus, with the death of the owner of the Bhandasale in Mangalore, the bond between his family and Seethapura became a part of history. Moreover, nowadays in Seethapura, very few speak of such relations. A few ridiculed Krishna Shetty for sometime, “This Krishna Shetty has nothing else to do; he behaves as if he and his lord were specially made for each other.” It is more than twenty-five years since all this happened. Those who called him, ‘Hey Kitty’ now respectfully address him as, ‘Krishna Shetty.’ He has further improved the lands that his father tilled. The paddy fields have now made way for arecanut plantations. The pepper vines twine along those arecanut plants. The dry lands are full of cashewnut shrubbery. The shack has grown bigger by four or five rooms. The clay tiles have replaced the grass roof. Good-bye was bidden to the bullocks and oxen along with the paddy cultivation. Hybrid milch cows that supply buckets and buckets of milk to the dairy have arrived in their place. One of his sons though failed to get through the secondary board exams, is now a budding politician and an elected member of the Panchayat. Another son, a bank employee, has married outside his caste much against the wishes of his father. He has given up visiting his parents.

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In the opinion of the villagers, Krishna Shetty is a happy man. “Has he anything to complain of?” is what they feel. But those who know him better hear a different story altogether. They have been told by Krishna Shetty, ‘What should one drudge out in the fields for? I am here just for the sake of the effort my father has put in here.’ He would list out all the difficulties of a farmer’s life. His wife, he knows, had the desire to move out and stay with her son, if only he had not married outside their caste. He agrees, there is nothing wrong with the wish. He also knows that there is not much pleasure in continuing to hold on to his lands. Yet, he could not throw up everything and go. Thus, he shrivels in his own exile.

Krishna Shetty was invited by his paternal aunt to attend her grand daughter’s marriage in Mangalore. Krishna Shetty remembered that during his father’s lifetime they used to visit them quite frequently. Moreover, the bride Radha had pleaded, ‘We are not as rich as you, but for that reason do not refuse our invitation. I know Grandpa would have surely come if he were to be alive today. Please do come, at least, as his representative.’ Krishna Shetty’s roots were in a matriarchal society and as such there was no compulsion on him to retain his relations with his father’s brothers or cousins. But the girl’s sincerity and her sense of inferiority hurt him deeply. So, with the intention of honouring his father’s memory and making a handsome gift of about a thousand rupees to the bride, he had left Seethapura early in the morning. He reached Mangalore and boarded a bus that would take him to the marriage hall. Only when the conductor approached him to issue the ticket did he realise that his

pocket was picked and he was without any money. He frantically searched his shirt pocket, hand bag, and everything. He did not have a single paise on him. He requested the conductor, “I am sorry but my pocket has been picked; please allow me to travel till the marriage hall.” But he wouldn’t listen. “Not the same story again; I am tired of such excuses, please alight” so saying, he threw him out of the bus. Krishna Shetty was confounded; he could not even think of attending the wedding now. Neither could he call up someone for help as he had not carried any telephone numbers with him. Moreover, he had no money to make a call even. For fifteen minutes, he was stranded on the footpath trying to figure out a means of deliverance. He also realised that if he chose to walk to the marriage hall, by the time he reached the place everything would be over. ‘Forget the gift to Radha, if only I can find money enough to attend the wedding and get back to Seethapura safely…’ Try as he might he could not recall anyone who would trust and help him with some money. As he was getting vexed, he suddenly recalled that possibly, Sheshagiri Prabhu’s sons were still busy with their Bhandasale in the port area. In that case, he thought, may be, he could seek their help. Yet would they recognise him? And even if they did would they be willing to help him? He was undecided for a while but left without options he walked towards the port area. Craning his neck and reading the name boards of all the shops in the street, Krishna Shetty searched for the Bhandasale. Eventually his eyes fell on the board, “Sheshagiri Prabhu & Sons.” Hesitantly he climbed the short stairs. Thanks to a recent face-lift, the Bhandasale had a different and a modern look. But Shehasgiri Prabhu’s photograph hung on the inside wall of a glass cabin was proclaiming to the

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 96

3


whole world that it was the same establishment. Krishna Shetty was slightly relieved. Even as he was sinking into the sofa kept in the outer room, a clerk rose up from his desk and asked him, “What do you want?” The enquiry was lost on him as he was still taking stock of the surroundings and wondering why the gunny bags bursting with groceries were all missing. There were just a couple of sofas, some four chairs and the clerk’s desk. ‘How could such an establishment be called a ‘Bhandasale’?’ he wondered. The clerk was quite insistent, “Please tell me what you want…” The second time around he heard him and replied, “I would like to have a word with my master, the Landlord.” The clerk failed to grasp as to how his employer could ever be the stranger’s ‘Master.’ He tried probing him a bit but Krishna Shetty stalled his queries and repeated his request. The clerk agreed and entered the ‘Proprietor’s Cabin.’ He came back in a minute and ushered him in. The Proprietor asked him to take a seat, but Krishna Shetty dumbly stood staring at the photograph. At last he ventured to ask, “Sir, is that your father?” The proprietor was quite surprised, “Yes, but why do you ask?” Krishna Shetty slowly sat down and explained the many-shaded relation his father shared with Sheshagiri Prabhu. The proprietor’s face brightened with happiness as he listened to the story. Then he introduced himself and said, “I am Shantaram Prabhu, his second son. I am looking after his business nowadays.” He added, “Now, I recall your father. I even remember you used to come with him often. But how come you are here looking for me after all these years?” For a moment Krishna Shetty did not know what to say. He spoke with a lot of embarrassment, “My father had only one sister, Kargishedthi. Her daughter is married to one living in Ullal, Mangalore. Today her daughter is getting married…”And,

so he unwound his story explaining in great detail how he was pick pocketed. Then he came to the point, “I have no money even to get back to Seethapura. If you could lend me some money, say a hundred rupees, to take me to the wedding and after that back to Seethapura, I would be highly obliged to you.” “I wonder and appreciate your guts, Krishna Shetty. How could you presume that I would help you?” Shantaram Prabhu said with all smiles. Krishna Shetty had no answer to make. With an air of solemnity Shantaram Prabhu began his story. He said, “My father used to recall your paternal aunt Kargishedthi quite often. It’s a long story, which even you wouldn’t believe in. In fact, my father used to narrate it to my mother every time your father was here during the month of Shravana. Are you interested in listening to it?” For a moment Krishna Shetty got curious. ‘What could have made Sheshagiri Prabhu take an interest in my illiterate aunt’s life? he wondered. But soon he feared that the story could be Shantaram Prabhu’s ploy to pack him off empty handed. But when Shantaram Prabhu was so eager to tell it how could he refuse to listen? So, he said, “I am dying to listen. Pray, continue.” Shantaram Prabhu turned his swivel chair a little to the left, placed his feet above a short stool, leaned back against the backrest and settled down comfortably. He let out a huge yawn and pressed the calling bell on his table. The clerk entered. “Get us some tea, please,” he ordered and looking at Krishna Shetty he enquired, “tea agrees with you, doesn’t it?” He did not wait for an answer but began idly playing with the glass paperweight on the table. Then, as if he was deliberately avoiding to look at him, he focused his attention on the paperweight and began his story. “As you also know well, my father had a habit of paying

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 98


occasional visits to our land to enquire after the well being of his tenants. On one such trip to Seethapura he had been to your house as well. At that time, un-husked rice baked in steam was spread out to cool all over the front yard of your house. Well, my father was quite ignorant of the village practices, faiths, and courtesies. He never knew he should not be walking on such rice with his slippers on. So, he royally and noisily walked, that too along with the accountant of our Bhandasale, right across the front yard and stood near the door of the house and yelled, ‘Is anyone in there?’ Your aunt Kargishedthi rushed out from inside and saw the two men standing over the rice with their slippers on. She was furious. She did not even care to ask who they were. She let out her fury on them, ‘Who the hell are you? Are you blind to trample upon the rice so? Do you feed yourself with rice or human shit? What do you think the rice is —it is the Goddess Lakshmidevi herself…’ My father realised his mistake immediately. He said, ‘I am really sorry Mother, please accept my apologies’, and began to withdraw. Perhaps your aunt had calmed down a bit by then. And so she told them, ‘ Please stop for a while, may be I also crossed the limits. Have something to quench your thirst at least. Do you see the young coconut plant over there? I myself will get a couple of tender coconuts for you.’ But my father was terribly embarrassed. He could not continue to stay there. He walked away to Ranganna Acharya’s house and enquired after your father’s well being. Then he requested Ranganna Acharya to let your father know that he had been to his house. “That evening Ranganna Acharya appraised your father of my father’s visit. Then, it seems, your father enquired of his sister. To start with she was uncompromising in her arguments. She had argued, ‘True, someone was here, but how could I know who he was? Moreover, whatever his

greatness, had he behaved properly?’ But once she understood it was their Lord who had visited them she panicked. The next day your father Raju Shetty and Ranganna Acharya rushed to my father and begged to be forgiven. Can you guess my father’s reply to them?” Shantaram Prabhu looked rather mischievously at Krishna Shetty. For the life of him, Krishna Shetty couldn’t hazard a guess. So he dumbly said, “He might have said, ‘OK, get lost I have forgiven you.’” Shantaram Prabhu laughed loudly and continued, “The fineness of the story lies exactly here. Whatever I say now I do not say because it concerns my father. It just goes to show how our elders conducted themselves in their life. My father said to your father, ‘What is there to be forgiven? What wrong has your sister committed? The poor woman told me what was only right! We of the city are so complacent that we do not even realise that food is meant to be eaten and not to be trampled upon! Look here Raju Shetty, do not be upset over what has happened. From today onwards Kargishedthi is a sister not only to you but to me as well!’ So saying, he went inside the house. He came back with two handloom saris. He placed them in your father’s hands and said, ‘This is a brother’s gift to his sister.’ With that he bid them goodbye.” When Shantaram Prabhu concluded his story thus, tears welled up in Krishna Shetty’s eyes. He slyly wiped the overflowing tears. By then, the tea had also arrived. “Please have it” Shantaram Prabhu said. Then he asked him, “Now tell me what help you require from me. You want to attend the wedding, isn’t it?” He just answered, “Yes.” Shantaram Prabhu began again, “I hope one hundred rupees will take care of your expenses. You need not return that. You also said that the money you carried as a present was lost in the pickpocket. How much was that?”

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Raju Shetty was about to say ‘two thousand’ but felt that would adversely affect his prestige. So he pretended to be philosophical and replied, “Why keep an account of what has been lost? After all what is lost is lost!” “That, of course, is true. But please say what was it that you lost.” With the trepidation of a liar he said, “Five thousand.” “Five thousand is it? Ok then. Here is your five thousand. Please give it to your Kargishedthi’s daughter” so saying he put five fresh currency notes of a thousand rupees each in an envelope and handed it over to him. Receiving the envelope rather hesitantly he asked, “When do you expect me to return it?” “Whenever it is possible for you. And you need not return the whole amount either. Return two thousand only. The rest you treat as my gift to her.” He turned his swivel chair a bit and sat gazing at his father’s photograph.

—4—

***

A COURT WITHOUT A LAWYER

“Tell me, how much did you really give to your aunt’s daughter” Gyandotti Venkappa, who was listening intently to the story asked. Krishna Shetty’s tongue went dry. He could not say that he had gifted only two thousand rupees and the remaining three he had pocketed. So wetting his lips a little he retorted, “What do you mean? Wouldn’t I have given everything to her?” All the assembled members of the ‘Sirigindi’ felt that something was being concealed from them. Krishna Shetty too felt a prick of the conscience. But Kuppannaiah Bhatta rescued them all from further discomfiture, “Hurry up please, it has become pitch dark already.”

I really have no desire to tell you anything at all. However, after listening to me you might end up saying, ‘It was good that you told us.’ Or you may even smile at me it and say, ‘What is so unusual about it? You could as well have kept quiet.’ But all stories are just so. They were never meant to become ‘stories.’ Or all of them got incarnated as stories because all the while you were on the look-out for one. The incidents that I now recall relate to a somewhat distant past. They happened about forty to fifty years ago. Hence, the chances are that they may no longer remain

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as ‘incidents’ but get transformed into a story. The bygone days are all like that; they have a tendency to turn into stories without our knowledge. What is more, despite our reluctance, we all get siphoned into its vortex. Of course, this happens unawares. It is very likely that the story also wouldn’t want us to realise this. Hence, the story always exists on either of the fringes of its content; it lies sometimes on ‘this side’ sometimes on ‘that side.’ Even the story I am telling now is so; it is formed of the twin borders betwixt which all of us have set sail as across a river. This I thought was a distinct possibility; hence the narration. You may listen to me if you so please; I am not the one to either coerce or plead for your attention. Recently, say a week back, I was down with a fever. Agreed that there is nothing exciting in being ‘down with a fever.’ Being down with a fever is quite mundane; even I have suffered from fevers in the past. But this one was quite uncommon. I was aching all over. I could neither get up nor tread a step. This time around, there was this rumour about the deadly ‘Chikungunya’ fever. I was really scared. Thank God, the physician who examined me dismissed my fears but advised complete bed rest and said, “It is enough for you to walk up to your loo a couple of times a day.” I thought the prescription funny and tried to outsmart him “You mean it is even unadvisable to have my daily shave?” No doubt the doctor was amused. Yet he said, although I wonder whether he was really in earnest, “Yes, definitely so. It means that as well.” I was about to protest when my wife put me down sternly, “Can’t you lie quietly on your bed? Heaven wouldn’t fall if you don’t shave for a week; do not think you are still the Kamachakreshwara waylaid by all the young maidens. None except me would even care to look at you.” That ensured the growth of my beard!

My addiction is, believe it or not, shaving. My left hand is ever exploring my left cheek. (I have read in newspapers that this is an indication of mental stress or nervousness. But tell me who is free of stress and nervousness these days? Thus I and my habit remain undisturbed to this day!) On such explorations, if my hand encounters the least resistance, let the growth be just enough to be available for the sharpest of blades to remove it, I get terribly irritated. ‘I would willingly skip a meal, but shaving—never in my life’ was the life’s vow that was now broken. The fever was brought under control within a week. I had a desperate desire to get up and walk all around, walk and enjoy the walking. But my wife forbade me with an injunction, ‘You can move around as you please, but stay within the four walls of the house.’ One is honour bound to respect one’s wife and so I had to comply and stay within. But, how about my beard? Obviously, my safety razor was no match for the fortnight’s growth. A visit to the barber had become mandatory. But my wife wouldn’t hear of it. She said, “None of your pranks now. Do you remember that you used to get the barber to our house some thirty to thirty five years ago? You fall back on practice again. If you cannot send for him you can send for his son at least. You may have your shave and if you please your hair cut as well. His son would not refuse to come over here.” Relaxing as I was on the easy chair, my mind travelled back to the times my wife spoke of, even as my hand continued to feel the growth on my cheeks. In those good old days, Fakira Bhandari, the barber, used to call on his customers regularly. He carried with him a wooden box with a very attractive brass handle. In that box two pairs of scissors, a pair of combs, a brush somewhat coarse, a small mirror, some coconut oil in a glass bottle, a round cake of shaving

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soap, a smooth shaving brush, a couple of old fashioned but sharp razors, and a short strip of leather to sharpen those razors would all be neatly packed. Fakira Bhandari would carry it with such majesty that the ignorant onlooker would never know him to be a barber. That does not mean he was arrogant in any sense. He was the very picture of humility as he laid his wooden box on the floor and bent his already bent-back in reverence to his customer. It was a pitiable sight indeed. Then he would himself carry a chair or stool from within the veranda and place it in the front yard. He would meticulously dust it with his own towel and invite the honoured customer to take the seat. Once the customer was seated, he would approach the women folk of the house with a request for a lengthy piece of linen. He would then cover the customer from neck to toe with it. Only after which would he sit on his heels and spread out his instruments on his towel as if he were placing on display rare and expensive jewellery. Then he would pretend to demonstrate that all his instruments were impeccably clean by holding them up one by one and submitting them to the inquisitive eyes of his customer. The real job would begin then and engage him for three quarters of an hour. All this while he would be busy in his sundry gossip as though he were tuning a Veena. Many a time, unknown to him, his even paced talk would slowly unfurl like a beautiful flower into a splendid story. In most cases he would remain the non-participant narrator; but occasionally he would even be a character in those narrations. On such rare occasions he would stop shaving or attending to the hair cut and, while still holding the razor or the comb, freeze into a statue and begin his narrative. You should look at him then; his hairy eye brows, thick lips, and the wide mouth would all begin to dance like those of a Kathakkali performer. As if this simulation was not enough in itself, he

would extend the shaving till the narration was concluded or prolong the little anecdote till the end of his work. “That’s it!” I instantly agreed to my wife’s suggestion and passed on the burden of fetching him to her. However, doubts cropped up. All through his life, Fakira Bhandari had indeed been a travelling saloon. But towards his last days his son Taniappa had strongly objected to it and had put an end to the practice. He had told him unequivocally, “You won’t go to the door steps of your customers from today. Whoever is in need of a shave or a hair cut may trouble himself with a visit to our saloon.” By then, of course, Taniappa had set up a saloon opposite Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s hotel in Car Street. I also remembered that I had never been there till now. So, would he really care to come? ‘What if he doesn’t? Anyhow I would be confined to my home for another week. After that I could always go up to Moodubidre and have the shave’, I thus tried to console myself. True, I was tickled when I imagined myself carrying the fortnight’s growth all the way to Moodubidre. “What makes you laugh?” my wife who was beside me asked. She mistook my laugh to be directed at the way she had draped her sari or worn her blouse and began taking a quick look at her dress. I, for instance, often tend to button up my shirts wrongly giving immense scope for her to pass snide remarks and laugh at me. I have also had my revenge, once or twice, whenever she has messed up her dressing. “Oh, nothing,” I waived her question. “If nothing, why laugh at me?” was the further query. “Nothing really,” I repeated and kept quiet. A couple of day’s later Taniappa arrived. But he came almost empty handed. The familiar wooden box with the brass handle was missing. (He was carrying in his hand a razor and a pair of scissors wrapped first, in a piece of cloth and then in a newspaper). I had never had a shave from

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him. For, by the time Fakira Bhandari had stopped visiting our house I had got a job in Moodubidre and had got into the practice of getting my hair cuts done there. I really couldn’t figure whether Taniappa was there on my wife’s request or on some other pretext. I hesitantly asked him, “Yes?” “Kuppannaiahbhatta told me that you were in need of a shave,” he answered while sitting in a chair opposite me. “That’s so, but where are your tools?” I asked him. “I have them here,” he said and showed me the small bundle wrapped in the newspaper. He added, “I only need the shaving soap, a small mirror, that too if you need it, the linen and a stool or a chair for you.” I said, “Yes” and asked my wife to provide his requirements. She immediately attended to him and thanked him for having come. Strangely, the man who looked as if he had never smiled in his life did not even respond. He laid the stool and said rather glumly, “Come over.” Even before I was comfortably seated he had covered me with the linen. He picked up his scissors and noisily plied it a couple of times and then asked, “You want it long or short?” “Neither too long nor too short,” I answered. He did not respond to that either and in a jiffy he had finished my haircut! He worked up the lather very quickly and began directing me, “Lift your face a bit, and turn that cheek towards me…” Well, I had assumed that Taniappa would, if not tell a story like his father, be quite loquacious. I had also heard that he had crossed the pre-university level of education. Politics at least, I had guessed, would interest him. There was so much to talk for a young man like him… how the Dharm Singh ministry had fallen, how Kumaraswami had come to power or the serial bomb blasts in Bombay… But he never opened his mouth, as if pearls would spill out of his mouth if only he opened it! He completed his chore and said,

‘You may take a look at your face now.’ I held up my own glass and felt that he had done a great job. I even told him so. Yet there was no smile. He only said, “Pay me fifty rupees.” After he had left, my wife came running with an enquiry, “How much did you give him? The poor fellow was kind enough to come over here. He was here thanks to the repeated phone calls that Kuppannaiah Bhatta had made to him. In fact, yesterday evening while promising to send him here Kuppannaiah Bhatta had asked me to pay whatever he demanded. Only I had forgotten to tell you. Tell me, how much did you pay?” She spoke as if I was the miser in chief. “Do not bother, I paid him fifty rupees. These fellows expect so much only from us. If it were an MLA or a bureaucrat they would do it gratis!” “Very true, but those times are all gone by. Nowadays all are aware of labour and caste exploitations. Come-on, finish your bath quickly,” she said being satisfied that I had paid him well. “Yes, I will. But do you know that his father Fakira Bhandari travelled up to Moodubidre from here for six years to earn two Annas for his job?” “Will you never stop being funny? Who would serve for six years and be content with two Annas?’ “No, I meant two Annas per visit and he worked at that rate for six years. Can’t you understand that much?” “Say so then. But how was that?” she curiously asked me. Then I began.

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2 Fakira Bhandari, was not a common barber, he was the Ajalu barber. That is, he had a designated function to perform in the rituals concerning deaths and births among the higher caste people like the Bunts, Jains or even Brahmins. Though there are about four to five families of the barber caste, they do not enjoy this distinction. They are free to attend to the needs of all the other houses in Seethapura, but to these houses they could never go. Only when the Ajalu barber was himself in a state of ritual impurity, owing to a birth or death in his own house, they could go to such houses. That too, on his directions and with his prior approval alone. “It is true our house is that of the Ajalu barber’s. But why speak of it when it means charity service to all?” was Fakira Bhandari’s everlasting complaint. He would unfold his woes thus whenever he was teased, on his return from one such assignment by a friend or an acquaintance. The reality was pitiable indeed. An Ajalu Barber could never turn down an assignment; all invitations were binding on him. Moreover, he could never decide his fees; he had to be content with whatever was given. The payment he received had an ostentatious title though: it was the “Honorarium of the Ajalu.” He could not ask for more in any circumstance. It is also true that none would have paid him anything extra even if he were to demand it. Not only that, they would have said, “Look here, I have given all that I could afford; why are you haggling? If, taking pity on you, I grant something extra, wouldn’t the neighbours take me to task? ‘ Why did you give him extra? You have money to squander but how about poor people like us?’ You see I am answerable to my community.” With such arguments they would brow-beat the Ajalu Barber. They would use the same argument against other Ajalu workers

like the Ajalu Washermen, the ritual dancers of the Bhootha kola, and musicians like the Ajalu Nagaswaram players. Thus, an Ajalu barber like Fakira Bhandari had no voice to protest at all. He had to smile and bear his burden like the oxen working the mills. The funny thing, however, is that the same men would hold up the exemplary conduct of the entire Ajalu class of workers of our village whenever someone from a nearby village complained! They would proudly claim, “Our Ajalu labourers are all excellent men. They accept whatever we offer. They are all men of rare and real courtesy!” Fakira Bhandari had never owned a patch of land. His ancestors were all tenants of Thimmaraya Hegde of the Beedu House. About one and a half acre of hilly land that allowed for the cultivation of a single crop during the rainy season and some dry land adjacent to it were all that he had ever possessed. He lived in an ‘L’ shaped house with a Muli-grassroof built there. His grandfather and his father had all been born there. In fact, it was the only ‘Mother India’ he knew. His grandfather had planted about eight Coconut saplings. Their annual yield is now worth about a thousand rupees. If the rains were sufficient and the cultivation proper, he could grow about ten to twenty Mudis of rice every year. For him to grow so much, he had to invest about five to six Mudis worth of rice on labour and another eight to ten Mudis worth to rear the oxen. Over and above all this he had to turn over one Mudi of rice to Thimmaraya Hegde as the owner’s annual share. After all this what was he really left with? A handful of mud and nothing else! Yet his prestige was great- he was a barber of the Ajalu class! “This prestige is no better than a tinsel crown. Who wants it anyway? It fitted with your times, not now,” was what Taniappa had told Fakira Bhandari towards the end of his life. He was true to his words also; the moment the Land Reforms Act was promulgated he claimed the land for himself.

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Thimmaraya Hegde was one of the biggest landowners of Seethapura. He earned more than a thousand Mudi of rice every year as his share. His ancestors had purchased fertile lands in the neighbouring villages like Parangipete and Arkula. It is commonly known in Seethapura that every year lorry loads of rice and coconuts were transported to the Bhandasale in Mangalore. His wife Jalajamma came from Kavooru in the Belthangadi Taluk. She was the only daughter of her parents and her parents were big landowners as well. So crops arrived every year from that quarter too. Thimmaraya Hegde himself used to divulge all this whenever he was in a talkative mood. Then, rolling one of the ten gem studded rings he wore on each of his fingers, he would reveal all this. Thus, his word had come to prevail all over Seethapura. Even the other landlords dreaded to contradict him in anything. Then why speak about the fate of his tenants? They were forbidden from wearing a full-length dhoti and covering their limbs with it. It was mandatory for a part of the loincloth they used as their underwear to hang out and be visible below the folded dhoti. That was the real indication of their servile status. And all the landlords demanded their tenants to display their servility thus. The Panchayath system of administering justice was unknown to Seethapura. All disputes were settled in the palatial veranda of Thimmaraya Hegde’s house. People say that each of the mammoth wooden pillars supporting the roof of that veranda could be easily split into four pillars of the normal size. Right in the middle of that regal patio a massive wooden table and a throne like ornamental chair were placed. Above the chair and on the wall was hung a huge portrait of Thimmaraya Hegde’s grandfather. On either side of the table were kept three feet tall brass spittoons that had been used by Thimmaraya Hegde’s forefathers to spit

the chewed out tambula. At the right hand corner of the veranda was a wooden cot consecrated to their household Spirit Panjurli. All the complainants of Seethapura had to pour out their grievances in Thimmaraya Hegde’s house. Whenever an aggrieved party carried a petition to Thimmaraya Hegde, he would give a patient hearing to him. It was his practice to dismiss him for a week after that. He would say, “It is alright, you can go now. I will look into it. See me after a week.” After that he would summon the accused to his place. Again, he would listen patiently and say, “It is alright, you can go now. I will look into it. See me after a week.” Thus, though the plaintiff and the accused were in his house after the week, they never met each other. During the interval, Thimmaraya Hegde would collect all the necessary information from his innumerable tenants like Maranna Shetty, Sheena Belchda, and Thomara Naika. Then he would recall both the plaintiff and the accused individually to his veranda and probe them further. After such preliminary enquiries and consultations were all over he would summon them on the same day to pronounce his judgement. He would then declare, “This is my verdict. You are not to violate or dispute it. If you do so, be warned, our Spirit Panjurli is there to avenge.” As a rule his pronouncements were just. Only very rarely would he err. And in some of those instances the plaintiff’s plea would go without a reward and in others the accused would suffer unjust penalties. But none dared to question him. Not that none ever complained to the police; indeed a couple of men had tried it without success. For, the moment Thimmaraya Hegde got a hint of it he would rush to the police station and bribe the authorities. This would ensure the return of the erring villager. He would come with folded hands and beg his forgiveness, “Oh, my lord the mistake was mine, please

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pardon me.” Then Thimmaraya Hegde beam contentedly and say, “Look here my dear fellow, if you had thought that I had delivered the judgement you were painfully mistaken. Be informed properly. It is Panjurli that has delivered the judgement. If you overlook that and approach the police how can you expect me to keep quiet? Insults to myself I do not mind. But how can an insult to the Panjurli be tolerated?” Is it necessary for me to add that, let alone on the grounds of Thimmaraya Hegde’s house, but in the whole of Seethapura, no one had the guts to question him. His only son had also learnt his lesson quickly. He had realised that he could not thrive in his father’s presence and so had escaped to Davanagere. Once there, he established a hotel and ran it so successfully that Thimmaraya Hegde began commending his son’s entrepreneurial skills. Thimmaraya Hegde’s daughter was married to a gentleman in Bombay and she was happily settled with her husband there. Thus Thimmaraya Hegde was free to loiter around to digest his food. He picked up the habit of visiting the town once a week. There he cultivated the friendships of those like him. With their guidance he began trying his hand at all sorts of indulgences. One such friend introduced him to a young woman, Girija. She was exceptionally beautiful and also not a common prostitute. She was a mistress to Shet Govindadas and ever since his death she was on the lookout for a new paramour. In those days the acceptance of a mistress was not looked down upon; it was a matter of prestige and distinction to keep one. Soon after her acceptance by Thimmaraya Hegde, Girija’s name acquired a new respectability; henceforth, she was Girijamma. Thimmaraya Hegde purchased a house for her in the town. And that house now became his ‘Head Quarters.’ He stayed there and used to visit Seethapura once

in a week or fortnight. By then his lawful wife had lost much of her physical desire for her husband. Hence, she never complained about this new ‘arrangement’; she neither objected nor acquiesced to it. She would welcome him whenever he chose to come and bid him goodbye whenever he left. ‘Any number of servants to attend to her, no shortage of food grains or vegetables, both her children living happy married lives … what else does one need to be content in life’ seemed to be her philosophy. Along with him the ‘veranda court’ was also shifted to the town. Although he could not carry the cot consecrated to Panjurli, he never forgot to announce: “If you think I deliver the judgement you are painfully mistaken. Be informed properly. It is our household Spirit Panjurli that delivers the judgement.” However, the common folk gradually learnt that the verdicts were all his own and Panjurli had nothing to do with them. They also began to grasp that even while the plaintiff’s plea was justified, if the accused was on friendly terms with Thimmaraya Hegde’s informers, then the verdict could go topsy-turvy. The word fairness in Thimmaraya Hegde’s judgements was fast becoming a thing of the past, spread all over Seethapura in no time. Somehow the word reached Thimmaraya Hegde too. Fakira Bhandari had been Thimmaraya Hegde’s personal barber right from his boyhood days. Not that therefore he was affable with him; as a matter of fact Thimmaraya Hegde was never genial with anyone. But as was natural to him, Fakira Bhandari would begin to talk the moment he began his work. At first, Thimmaraya Hegde used to rebuke him, “None of that with me, finish your job quickly.” However, within a year he began to nod to his stories. By the next year he himself would encourage Fakira Bhandari to begin his narratives. Nobody could stop Fakira Bhandari now;

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he made sure that Thimmaraya Hegde had his fill of gossip. Thus Thimmaraya Hegde had resolved, “If I need a haircut or a shave I will summon Fakira Bhandari and no one else.” So it came to pass that Fakira Bhandari was ordered to attend to him even when he moved to town. He was to present himself before Thimmaraya Hegde, a day or two after Samkramana, every month. Thimmaraya Hegde was always complacent about his sense of justice and spirit of fairness. That’s why he was shocked when one of his close friends rather hesitantly confided to him: ‘Seethapura is rife with rumours of the injustice in your verdicts.’ He flared up immediately: “Who says so? How is that ever possible? I deliver my verdicts only after I meticulously collect all the relevant information and duly reflect on all shades of opinions. I do not think of it as my spare time hobby.” However, soon self-doubts began to bother him: ‘How do I vouch for the truthfulness of my informers? It is quite possible that their depositions are distorted.’ When he was thus clouded by these misgivings Fakira Bhandari walked in. That very moment an idea struck to him: ‘This Fakira Bhandari is sure to know all the stories inside out as he hobnobs with all in the course of his duties. Undoubtedly, he is a truthful chap. I should turn him into my prime source from now on.’ He acted immediately on his thought and asked him: “Fakira Bhandari, what do you think of my verdict in the case of Lingappa versus Malinga?” Fakira Bhandari was aghast. ‘I am after all his tenant. That too a mere barber. Thimmaraya Hegde belongs to a royal house with a great past and immense wealth. In short, one better to me in every respect. Why then is he trying to sound me on this? Is he trying to pull my leg or has someone carried a tale against me? Well, where could I have gone wrong?’ he thought along such lines for a while and then began

cautiously, “My Lord your verdicts are always the verdicts of Panjurli. The truth being so what do I have to say?” “No, it is not at all like that Fakira Bhandari. My tenants told me that Malinga who carried the complaint is an innocent chap and that Lingappa is a rascal. But one of my friends form Seethapura was here the other day. His version was the opposite of what my tenants said. He claims that actually Malinga is the culprit and Lingappa is innocent. What do you say?” Fakira Bhandari had no courage to say anything. Then Thimmaraya Hegde encouraged him, “Speak up Fakira Bhandari, do not be afraid. I won’t claim your head on any count. I just want to get at the truth. I do not wish to discredit our Panjurli, that’s all.” Fakira Bhandari was familiar with both Malinga and Lingappa. He was aware of the dispute between them. He had been to their houses to give them haircuts. At that time he had listened to their versions of the dispute. Moreover, he had attended to the needs of those dear to both of them. All this gave him the confidence to speak. He began with, ‘Please pardon my impertinence…” and continued to describe the details of the case as he knew them. At last, not daring to point fingers at Thimmaraya Hegde, he cleverly concluded by saying, “Your friend’s assessment appears to be fair.” Thimmaraya Hegde had found some satisfaction at last. But more than an hour had lapsed since the shaving had begun. Only when Girijamma shouted at them did they realise how long they had been engaged in their discussions: “What kind of a shave are you having? Are you with him to have your shave or to keep gossiping? Decide about your priorities first.” It was always an ordeal for Fakira Bhandari to attend to Thimmaraya Hegde. He was not an early riser at all. But if

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he were to leave for Moodubidre he had to wake up before sunrise. He had to quickly get through his nature calls and walk about four miles to reach the highway. He had to catch the C.P.C. bus there and pay two Annas’s fare to reach Mangalore by nine O’ clock. From the bus station he had to literally sprint to Thimmaraya Hegde’s Head Quarters. By then Thimmaraya Hegde would have finished his morning coffee. Yet he would be fuming, “It is so late… I will miss my breakfast today.” He would never have anything except coffee before his bath. His breakfast was always a post bath affair. So, on the days of Fakira Bhandari’s visits his hunger would flare-up. Any delay on the barber’s part infuriated him. Yet, the instant Fakira Bhandari began his work on him his rebellious belly would be lulled to sleep! Not that Fakira Bhandari did not try to reach his house early. Either his walk to the house was unintentionally slow or the C.P.C. bus had reached Mangalore late. Hence, he was never there before half-past nine. It had not been any different on that day. Yet the barber’s talk had revived his spirits. He looked at his watch, it was eleven thirty already. He decided to have his lunch directly and asked Fakira Bhandari to stay back for lunch as well. By the time he finished his bath and his worship of Mahaveera the sun was blazing right over his head. Before he proceeded for his lunch he called the barber and paid him his wage of two Annas. Then he told him, “From now on you will be here not once a month but as many times as I send for you. You need not return empty handed. If not the haircut you can give me a shave every time you are here. My only wish is this: the verdicts of my lawyerless court should be valid in all the law courts.” The moment he finished his speech Thimmaraya Hegde broke out into loud laughter. Fakira Bhandari had never seen Thimmaraya Hegde

laugh so heartily in his life. His surprise matched his pleasure. ‘But for me to be here thrice or more times in a month to ensure justice for some God forsaken creature… God alone should save me! This Thimmaraya Hegde gives me jut two Annas per visit. For me to ply between Seethapura and Moodubidre I need four Annas. Cannot he realise this? Considering that he is my Lord, may be, I can give him a free shave. If I can’t even earn my bus fare what do I care for this distinction? Neither can I confide this with any one. No one would believe me. Or if my confidant chooses to carry the complaint to the Lord and say to him, ‘What is it that I hear Thimmaraya Hegde? It seems you pay only two Annas to your barber…’ Then I have had it!” Fakira Bhandari was really worried. On the other hand, the knowledge that he had an active part to play in the administration of justice in Seethapura, and that he who had never even seen a court was now considered a lawyer’s equal, pleased him immensely. The next moment he was worried again, ‘For presenting my self in Thimmaraya Hegde’s court no one pays me any fees… In fact, I will be poorer by two Annas every time I go.” Fakira Bhandari’s visits became a routine affair. Citizens of Seethapura also learnt that these days many of Thimmaraya Hegde’s judgements depended on the barber’s depositions. Some even teased him, “So, you are now a barrister practising in Thimmaraya Hegde’s court, is it?” Fakira Bhandari tried to be defensive on such occasions. He used to say, “Nothing like that really. Please do remember that Thimmaraya Hegde would never pardon you if he were to hear what you have said just now.” There were others who were much smarter. They never broached anything about his new assignment but simply invited him to special lunches or dinners. Those who had anything to gain from him or those who had their cases pending in Thimmaraya

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Hegde’s court, would tell him, “Fakira Bhandari, we have a festive lunch today. You should attend it.” The toddy tapper would also invite him, “Why don’t you come to where I tap the toddy? I am sure you can carry home something.” Fakira Bhandari would give an understanding smile on all such occasions and say, “Oh yes, I do appreciate your invitation.” That was enough of a hint for all such men. They never used to press him further; they feared that further pressure could affect their cases adversely.

Fakira Bhandari told me after a few days, “When every one in Seethapura was looking down on me because I was a barber, my Lord Thimmaraya Hegde carved a respectable niche for me; I should pay him a royalty for that.” “That’s true, but that very niche is creating a vacuum in your belly. Why don’t you realise that?” “I had thought of that too. You must also see that it could have provided me with another way of keeping my belly full. But that never occurred to me at all!” “Tell me the truth, what kept you straight? A fear of Thimmaraya Hegde or a fear of rectitude?” “A fear of Thimmaraya Hegde is ever prevalent. But, isn’t the fear of law and justice greater than that? A false deposition from my side could harm someone’s life. Now, even if I starve a bit, I am content that I have not harmed anyone. That’s why I have kept quiet.” With such comments Fakira Bhandari left me. When he came back after a month to give a haircut, he shouted joyously the moment he saw me. “I have won my suit,” he cried out.

“Is that so? How was that?” I asked unable to hold back my curiosity. Fakira Bhandari began his lengthy narrative. “For how long should I shrivel for the sake of justice without proper remuneration? The thought preoccupied me as the day of my trip to Thimmaraya Hegde’s court approached. It was then that I contemplated and committed a sort of perjury. I received the two Annas he gave me without any complaint. I then proceeded, as usual, to the backyard to have the breakfast. I have always had my meal there. The poor woman Girijamma, though a mistress, has a mother’s heart. She always serves me most generously. She stays leaning against the doorframe till I finish my meal. On that day, before taking my leave, I told her with folded hands: ‘Mother my daughter is not keeping well. I have to consult a physician. But I do not have any money to pay his fees. It would be really nice if you could grant me five rupees…’ The kind woman began enquiring with me with a lot of concern. I went on spinning my yarn endlessly. She was really moved. ‘Is not what you get here sufficient for your needs?’ she asked me. Seizing the opportunity I poured out my miseries, “How can it suffice? He gives just two Annas every time I am here. That’s what he used to give me when he was in Seethapura. But for me to come here and get back I need to pay a bus fare of four Annas. Apparently this has been lost on him. How can I ever dare to bring it to his notice?” Girijamma was shocked, “My God! How blind has he been? If he fails to miss what is so obvious how then does he administer justice to the whole of Seethapura?” She wondered and stopped for a while. Then, she continued, “Why five rupees, even ten would be too petty a sum. Let me see… you have been coming here ever since he took me for a mistress, which is over six years! By that calculation, even on an annual basis, a hundred

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 120

3


rupees would also be insufficient. Please wait here.” Thimmaraya Hegde had just finished his bath and was anxious to have his food. She confronted him with a question, “How much do you pay for Fakira Bhandari’s services?” He did not see why he was being questioned and so he said rather tamely, “Two Annas... But why do you ask me?” She laughed and said, “You spend four Annas on the flowers that you bring for me every day. You pay two Annas for this poor fellow who comes all the way from Seethapura! How well have you tormented him…” She looked at me at this point. I hastily tried a cover up, “Oh, its not like that master….” But Thimmaraya Hegde was genuinely ashamed. He told her, “From today onwards it is not me who pays him. You will decide and pay his wage. Whatever you think fit will be his wage.” Having said so he left. Girijamma gave me fifty rupees along with the five that I had requested for. Then she said with a smile, “Submit a receipt for having received the arrears to your court at the earliest.” “I really believe that my honesty paid me in the end”, Fakira Bhandari concluded his narration and my haircut. I was also happy.

KASHIYATHRE 1

***

Govindaiah was shocked by what he had heard from Panji Gadde Bhimanna. That morning he had met Panji Gadde Bhimanna in Car Street. Then, Panji Gadde Bhimanna had told him, “You know what? Genappa has turned over all the money he had set aside for his Kashiyathre to Naththala Bai?” From that moment Govindaiah was ever so disturbed. He too was aware that a couple of days ago, Naththala Bai’s Muli-grass-roofed house had been burnt to ashes. As a gesture of his sympathy he had also thought of paying her a few hundred rupees. ‘But to abandon the Kashiyathre thus and dole out every paisa to Naththala Bai is nothing short of sheer

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 122

4 Recalling it all, I told my wife that at that moment I had a great desire to meet Girijamma. “Did you go and see her?” she asked. “Nope, I couldn’t go at all,” I replied. “Oh, what a pity”, she exclaimed, and slipped inside.


madness…’ Govindaiah had concluded. The issue wouldn’t let him be in peace at all. Like an itch caused by intestinal worms would not be assuaged by any amount of bum scratching- the harder he tried to shake off the depression the deeper did it sink. He had argued with himself several times that it was none of his concern if Genappa had chosen to do what he had done. Yet, Genappa refused to allow him a moment’s respite. The elders used to caution: “Forget a vow to undertake the Kashiyathre, beware even of the very thought of going to Kashi.” For once you had made your vow, prepared yourself in advance in every respect, finalised your travel plans, then disregarding impediments of the tallest order, you had to go! When it was such a grave a matter, this Genappa had shelved it as if he was cancelling a casual jaunt to Mangalore! Thereby he had not only lost all his chances of earning any merit in this life but had also got his future births entrapped in the chaos of ill-fate. Govindaiah was so upset by these considerations that he had voiced his anxieties with all the people he had met, his wife included! If you have begun to strain yourself to grasp why this Govindaiah was so worked up about what some Genappa had done and how he was related to him, then, I entreat you, please stop worrying. There was no relationship of blood between them — only, a bond of friendship held them together. It often happens that bonds of friendship prove to be stronger than all blood relations. This was so even in the case of Genappa and Govindaiah. You may begin to laugh if you came to know that a mere Chande had brought them together. I will tell you how it happened.

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2 If you were to stop someone not just in Seethapura but all over the neighbouring villages like Kanthavara, Bola, Nitte, Nandalike, Beluvai, Irvathhuru, Sanur or even the bigger towns like Moodubidre or Karkala— and ask whether he knew Chande Govindaiah he would exclaim, “Who does not know our Seethapura’s Chande Govindaiah!” He and his Chande are that well-known. But before he had become Chande Govindaiah, people would have asked you, “Which Govindaiah are you referring to? Is it Katumoole Govindaiah or Kukkila Govindaiah or Santhurkopla Govindaiah or that Sedigoli Govindaiah?” If you had then explained that the Govindaiah you were looking for was none of them and that he was the ‘corner house Govindaiah’, you would have faced another spate of queries: ‘Which corner house are you talking of? The Dambe corner house, the Sarkudale corner house or the Komme corner house?’ If you had shrugged your shoulders and said, ‘I’m sorry I am not sure,’ then they would have left you with, “In that case, neither are we sure!” Now, it is not like that at all. Ever since he became Chande Govindaiah, he has pushed all the other Govindaiahs into oblivion! Govindaiah’s association with the Chande is a curious story in itself. His wife’s grandmother lived in Kolyur, a village known for its Yakshagana troupes and artists. It is also famous for the Shankaranarayana temple. During its annual festival, the Mandala Pooja, a huge procession of ritual sacrifice is taken out to the accompaniment of the Chande playing. This, along with the payasa prepared with green gram, jaggery, and milk, is what draws huge crowds. Sometime ago Govindaiah was compelled by his wife to attend the fair connected with the annual festival. Once God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 124


in the midst of the celebrations he was taken aback by the grandeur of the festival. What captured his imagination most was the set of sixteen Chande players performing in unison. His decision to form a troupe of his own was made there and then. But, where was he to learn that style of playing the instrument? There are any number of instructors ready to teach the Yakshagana style of playing it. But this special style of the temple kind? He had a task on hand now. But how could he give up his determination? He cajoled his wife to arrange for a month’s accommodation for him in the Sarkudale house in Kolyur. He stayed there with his wife’s maternal uncle and took his lessons from a temple performer, Sunder. His efforts came to be ridiculed both in Seethapura and Kolyur. People commented, “Govindaiah has gone mad, if he was so fond of belabouring, instead of wasting his time beating the drum, he could have taken to thrashing arecanut plant stems!” It was only Genappa who had appreciated his ambition. Cheering him up he had said, “This is a fabulous art that you have picked up. You have done a great thing by learning it.” His patronage had not stopped with this. One day he had been to his house personally and had listened to his playing with immense satisfaction. Overwhelmed by his skill he had declared, “ Do not worry I will get you all the men you want. We will have a team of our own.” He had immediately set himself to work on his declaration. He had grabbed Govinda Naika, Sheena Moily, Ramachandraiah and Narayana Maniyani who were dawdling all over Seethapura without much to do. He had packed them all to Govindaiah’s house and had even bribed them with a small amount of money to coax them to learn the art. When, after sometime some eight men had trained themselves under Govindaiah and performed splendidly, all those who had

made fun of Govindaiah had to swallow their words. Genappa had been so impressed by them that he had presented them with brand new Chandes shelling out twenty to thirty thousand rupees. He had not stopped at that even . He had seen to it that Govindaiah and his men got all the exposure they needed. Those of them who had listened to their playing in the village fair were astounded. They had figured out that the troupe could be beneficially employed elsewhere as well. From that day onwards, invitations to perform on such diverse occasions as the inauguration of a new branch of a Bank, an agricultural fair, a literary conference, a cultural meet and so on had begun to pour in for Govindaiah and his troupe. The demand for him had been so great that the Syndicate Bank voluntarily offered him a loan to buy a Toyota Qualis. Thanks to Genappa’s support, a non-entity like Govindaiah became a celebrity in Seethapura. Even if others are reluctant to concede this, Govindaiah does not hesitate to acknowledge it. That’s why he feels honour bound to carry out the least wish of Genappa. When they were that deeply concerned about each other, how could Govindaiah keep quiet while scandalmongers of Seethapura were attributing all kinds of motives to Genappa’s action?

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 126

3 No, I do not expect you to know our Naththala Bai. She is past fifty-five. Yet she is as trim as trim can be! Her face, free of the slightest trace of a wrinkle, would make you put her around thirty! Her skin has the tone of a wheatcomplexioned Cobra! Her firm bosom would give sleepless nights, not just to teenagers but also to quite a few old men.


She is a Christian, but she dons the vermilion mark so elegantly that if she were to walk into a temple no one dare to say that she wasn’t a Brahmin woman! Govindaiah knows too well that there are hardly any men in Seethapura who have not secretly cherished a desire for her! He had also overheard people whispering about her illicit liaisons with a couple of men. But he is aware that Naththala Bai would not hesitate to draw her sandals and discipline those of them that behave frivolously with her! It is rumoured that a hotelier Shet from Mumbai, who was in Seethapura in connection with the annual fair, had tried his games with her and had been suitably rewarded with a taste of her sandals! In fact, it is not just Govindaiah who knows all this; the whole of Seethapura is aware of it. It is not as if they had painfully collated these bits of her life; they knew it most effortlessly. All men are born with a special receptacle to pick up gossip concerning the apparent frailties of beautiful women! But Naththala Bai does not care two hoots for such men. In fact she had once challenged her own husband, “You cannot even imagine how many would writhe at my feet like mere worms if only I chose to unwrap my sari…” They even say that many a wife of Seethapura, who knew of their husband’s flirtatious predilections, were mortally scared of her. All this is no secret in Seethapura. For such a Naththala Bai, Monthero was quite a docile husband. His mother Marie had accepted Naththala Bai for a daughter-in-law, as she was her brother’s daughter. At that time Monthero had been a young man of thirty with the attractive physique of an athlete. He had never had acres of land to call his own but was getting along as some kind of a labour contractor providing farm or casual labourers to all those who needed them. He had built a small hut for himself in a small piece of land about one fourth of an acre in

Manchadakere, Seethapura. Earlier to that he had been a tenant of Dharnappa Shetty. His mother had been extremely happy when he had freed himself from Dharnappa Shetty primarily because from that moment he was his own master and was not bound to bow to any one’s commands. She had been so elated by her son’s new position that she had planted cashew nut saplings, arecanut saplings, mango and jackfruit plants all around their house. She had even grown trees to support betel vines. Thus she had ensured some income all through the year. However, her popularity in Seethapura had rested on a totally different kind of achievement. Though the general public of Seethapura would shy away from declaring it openly, they do not hesitate to disclose in confidence that Marie was always busy brewing illicit liquor. They also hint that her younger brother, that is Naththala Bai’s father, owed his bungalow in Guddeangadi to his illicit trade. One cannot vouch for the veracity of this opinion, but what one can affirm is this: with the arrival of Naththala Bai, the illicit trade acquired a genuine professional grace. News that Naththala Bai brews arrack not only from the cashew fruits but from all the fruits she gets from Mangalore, had spread across quickly. It crossed over Ranganapalke, and then it trespassed into the nearby hills, spread even farther and across the horizon till it tapped the very doors of innumerable connoisseurs. Thus, in the main road about a furlong away from Monthero’s house, where only bullock carts were seen to plod along, motorbikes, cars and jeeps came to ply endlessly. In the evenings these newcomers would park their vehicle near the road as if they had stopped there to urinate in the cover of the shrubbery or just for a smoke. Then one of them would slink away to get the liquor bottles from either Marie or Naththala Bai. He would hurriedly pack them all

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 128


in a bag and leave the place as stealthily as he had walked in. It did not take long for this news to reach the licensed arrack contractor, Ganganna. He had half a mind to set the law on Monthero and his illegal trade. But, he changed his mind and decided to check the rumour through a personal visit to the place. He bided his time and making sure that only Naththala Bai was there he entered the place as if he were an innocent customer. He asked her, “Can I have a bottle of your stuff, please?” Initially, she pretended to be surprised by this ‘odd’ request from a new face. Yet Ganganna managed to get two bottles of arrack in the end. What pleased him more than his success was his meeting her. Bewitched by her beauty he dropped all ideas of setting the police on them. He began devising means of enticing her. After a couple of days he surprised Marie and Monthero by presenting himself in their shop. They were aghast to see him there. But he cleverly calmed their fears “The saying is: ‘The cat that shuts its eyes and laps up the milk is mistakenly confident of its stealth going unnoticed.’ But be comforted, you need not panic if you agree to a compromise with me.” The compromise was that Monthero should sell Gangannas arrack in his shop and he should supply his arrack to Ganganna whenever he wanted it. Neither Marie nor Monthero nor even Naththala Bai could fathom Gangannas intentions till a fortnight went by. They never got a hint of his true desires even when he began to spend more time in their shop than his own. One day, when the mother and son were both away and when Naththala Bai was undefended in the kitchen, he rushed in and tried to embrace her. When he tried to grasp her breasts Naththala Bai violently bit his hands and freed herself. She spat fire at him, “You reeking cur, get out of this place and

get lost. We will have none of your compromises.” Her protest came as a surprise to him. He retorted angrily, “You bitch, wait and see how I shall teach you a lesson,” and walked out. He walked straight to the police station and arranged for a raid by the excise squad to nab Monthero red-handed. Though Naththala Bai suspected Ganganna to have his revenge through some such means, she hesitated to take her family into confidence. She only said that she feared an outrage on her modesty, if she were to go to the police station to secure Monthero’s release. Thus she forced her mother-inlaw to go. But then even after two days, Monthero was not freed from the lockup. Not only that, whenever Marie went they severely abused her, “You old goat, why do you weary your bones and come here so often? I hear he has a beauty queen for a wife. Is she the lynchpin of your illicit trade?” Monthero was equally implacable. He pleaded with her, “I do not mind rotting here in the lockup. But for heaven’s sake do not send Naththala Bai here.” The poor woman could not understand her son’s plea at all. But Naththala Bai could read his words clearly: ‘These policemen are not going to relent at all; Ganganna is hell bent on satisfying his itch.’ Left with no option she had to confide in Marie, Ganganna’s lust for her. Marie was confounded. She soon thought out a scheme, “We will work it out this way then. I will meet Thyampanna Shetty, of the Gutthu house, and explain everything to him. He will secure my son’s release.” Thyampanna Shetty had heard about Monthero’s illicit trade, but he had decided to keep away from such small people. But when Marie clutched his feet in absolute submission and would not let go of them, he had to relent. On the condition that he would not begin his trade again if he secured Monthero’s release, Thyampanna Shetty freed Monthero. Even Monthero was of the same opinion. He bid good-

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 130


bye to his arrack trade and went back to his labour contractor’s job. However, within six months a shocking news spread all over Seethapura: “Owing to a sudden brake failure, the jeep that supplied arrack to Ganganna collided with Monthero. Monthero, who was on his bicycle, was fatally run over.” Just after two months or so, Marie suffered a paralysis. Naththala Bai had to look after her all by herself. Soon Ganganna set off another rumour in his arrack outlet: ‘Thyampanna Shetty escorts Naththala Bai whenever she goes to the town to purchase medicine.’ The rumour soon acquired scandalous proportions when the disgruntled men enriched it with spice: ‘Thyampanna Shetty is there with her on all nights!’ While some only envied him others had their own revenge in slandering her further: “It is not just Thyampanna Shetty who is with her. Many big shots of Moodubidre and Karkala sleep regularly with her. She herself has taken to visit the town so frequently.” When Govindaiah heard such stories he had an impulse to check their veracity with Genappa himself. For one thing Genappa stayed at a shout’s distance from Naththala Bai’s house. Secondly, Naththala Bai and Genappa’s wife were born in the same village and there they had their houses in the same lane. In addition, he had heard from Genappa himself that they had studied together and had been the best of friends in school. ‘But what’s the use of poking into her private life?’ he had wondered and dropped the idea. He had also cultivated the habit of listening passively to such gossip from then onwards.

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4 Ever since Genappa had doled out his savings preserved for his Kashiyathre, Chande Govindaiah was confronted by all and sundry once again. They pestered him incessantly: “What is this we hear about your friend? Is it really so? Why such beneficence if there is nothing between them?” Disgusted by such insistent badgering, he had felt like rushing to Genappa again. He was as worked up about it all as if he were being accused. When he was thus tensed up, Thabrikere Tanthri accosted him in Karkala bus station: “Oh, Chande Govindaiah! How are you? Well, I heard something about your friend. Did he really cast off his vow to take a pilgrimage to Kashi and spill his savings on a Christian slut?” He was almost provoked to say defiantly, “Every word of what you have heard is true. And if so what? You want to know something? He keeps her for a mistress. Is there anything you would dare to do about it?” But he could ill afford to say so. Therefore he placidly remarked, “People say so. I have not met him after these rumours began to do the rounds. How could one be sure?” “About a month ago your Genappa had arranged for the performance of Shatha Rudrabhisheka in Pilarukaana Sri Mahalingeshwara temple in Belmannu. I was one of the invitees. It was all done grandly. I asked him his reasons for the performance of such a feat. He had then told me, ‘I have taken a vow to visit Kashi. I thought it was obligatory for me to secure the blessing of our household deity and so the pooja.’ To drop it after such a vow and the preliminary pooja, it will surely be damnation for him; yes it will surely be so! Look how quickly such news spreads! The other day I was attending a Vaidika ceremony in Gururaja Bhatta’s house in Kanthavara. Would you believe that Genappa was the sole God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 132


topic of discussion there?” Thabrikere Tanthri was not a very intimate friend of Govindaiah. But after the death of Perdur Kala Tanthri, Thabrikere Tanthri was the most sought after Tanthri to perform the Brahmakalashotsva of innumerable temples. Govindaiah had met him on several such occasions. He was a scholar of great repute. Also, he stuck unswervingly to all matters of scriptural injunctions both as regards the routine observances and momentous rituals. He was quite close to all the Eight Mutts of Udupi. Recalling all this Govindaiah felt that it was quite natural for him to be pained and upset. Only, he had mistaken him. “But,” he began his explanation in earnest, “Genappa is not the one to listen to anyone. Despite my intimacy, I cannot risk advising him. What would I do if he were to rebuff me with ‘shut up and be gone?” “Still, there is something you can do. Genappa is very well off. I know he has not cancelled it for lack of money. If only he minded he could raise why twenty-five thousand but even twenty-five lakh rupees within no time. Moreover, he has worked as a member of several committees like, the Temple Committee, the High School Board, the Village Panchayat, the Co-operative Society, and so on. His name and prestige are to be safeguarded. When, he of all men, throws his vow to the winds, how can we, concerned as we are with our Dharma, keep quiet? That’s why I say there is still something that you could usefully do.” “All right then, I am willing to do anything within my powers. You will have to suggest something that I could do to save his family from perdition.” “You first go and meet his wife, Prema. You explain to her the intricacies of Dharma. Tell her that the moment we bind ourselves with a vow all our forefathers would gather in Kashi and anxiously await our arrival there. How terribly

they would be let down if we retract our vows? Impress upon her all this and convince her that she has to somehow coax or goad him to fulfil his vow. Don’t you know that a woman’s mind is as potent as God’s? It’s really so. Their powers for bestowing blessings or showering curses are equalled only by the God’s! My own guess is that your Genappa would never say no to his wife’s entreaties. I want to have one more word with you, that is, if you don’t feel I am crossing the limits…” “Please go ahead and say whatever you want to. Till now I have never objected to anything you have said. Then why should I take exception to what you might say to help my friend?” “Please bear with me…my comments are founded on hearsay alone…Is that slut, Naththala Bai, as beautiful as they say! People hint at an affair between them too. They also say ‘Genappa’s wife Prema, is quite dumb.’ Is that so? The poor woman may not know anything at all. That is why. I say, you go and tell her everything. Thereby, I feel, you would do some definite good to them.” Govindaiah was speechless for a while. He could neither consent to Thabrikere Tanthri’s plan nor could he brush it aside. It was much like that ladle of pure ghee poured hot into one’s mouth; one could neither swallow nor spit it! No, he did not suspect Thabrikere Tanthri’s sincerity at all; he knew him too well for that. He could clearly see that his comments were born out of his concern for Dharma and Genappa’s well being. Hence he said, “Okay, then. I will try my best.”

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 134


5 On returning home Govindaiah found that he was haunted by Thabrikere Tanthri’s suggestions. When to go to Genappa’s house, how to cleverly reveal what Thabrikere Tanthri wanted Prema to know and how to convince Genappa to keep his vow—all this bothered him. Genappa’s house was not far from his house. He had only to climb Thankarathottu hillock, cross the small stream near Perla fields, and walk a little across Shankara Shetty’s front yard to reach his house. A distance of hardly a kilometre. Yet today it seemed to Govindaiah as if it were as far as Delhi or Kashi. Moreover, he had to go to there when he could find Prema alone. He should be able to catch her when she was in a tractable mood… worrying about it Govindaiah was quite worked up. A couple of times he thought the right moment to leave for Genappa’s house had at last arrived and walked determinedly up to his gate but then changed his mind and returned. He pretended as if he had paced up to that point only to spit out the tambula he was chewing. Seeing him irritated his wife Sharada teased him, “What troubles my Lord today?” he replied evasively,“ Nothing really, an odd thought crossed my mind, but in my hurry to spit, it has slipped out!” Sharada, who was aware of her husband’s occasional eccentricities was not really disturbed. She only wished him to be less preoccupied with other’s concerns and a little more attentive towards his domestic obligations. Looking at the darkening sky she hurried to collect the arecanut spread out to dry in the sun and said, “It looks like it will rain. Why don’t you help me in gathering these nuts?” Govindaiah however could not make up his mind till the next evening. At about four in the evening he set out for Genappa’s house. He knew that by then Genappa would

have left his house for his evening stroll in Car Street. He reached the fencing near Genappa’s house and peeped inside. He could see Annu Naika busy tending to the plants in the yard and asked him if the Master was at home. On getting an affirmative nod from him he pretended to have forgotten something and escaped saying, “Oh, me! I forgot to bring it… I will get back tomorrow… no need to tell your Master that I was here.” The next morning Genappa himself walked into his house and complained, “What swings of mood are you subject to? You walked up to my fence but could not enter the house and have a sip of coffee?” Govindaiah did not have any explanations and tried hard to wriggle out. Observing his discomfiture, Govindaiah himself spoke, “Shall I tell you why you were there and why you walked out without seeing me? You wanted to ask me about the Kashiyathre but could not really do so. Therefore you went back hastily, isn’t that so? Are you really eager to know my reasons?” “Not that I am really keen on knowing…but if someone were to ask me about it I do not have anything to tell them. So I thought I would first know it from you…” “Look here Govindaiah, I am not bound to offer explanations to anyone. My conception of God and Divinity are entirely my own. If you are a proponent of the faith then I am with you. On the other hand if you happen to be an agnostic, I join hands with you. I do not claim any personal experiences of God’s existence. So, when someone spoke to me of his experiences in Kashi I thought I should also go there. But when Naththala Bai house was burnt to ashes I thought it more proper to help her and so I cancelled my trip and gave her my savings. That’s all. There is nothing more to it, no philosophy, no metaphysics at all!” After his explanation he stared at Govindaiah who was

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frozen into a statue. Then he added, “If anyone asks you, you can tell him what I have just told you. I have some work in Karkala, I have to be going now.” Thus he left even before Govindaiah could bring himself to say anything about the consequences of breaking the vow. As soon as Genappa left him Govindaiah told his wife that he would be back shortly and hurriedly left for Genappa’s house. When he reached there, Prema was drawing water from the well. Seeing Govindaiah enter she remarked “Come in, are you here looking for my husband? But he left to see you.” “It was only after I met him in my house I decided to come here. In fact I have something to discuss with you.” So saying he stretched himself comfortably is the easy chair on the veranda. “Please do not bother about preparing coffee for me. I have had it already.” “May be it is alright for you to say so. But how can I not offer something to drink? I have the decoction ready, the milk is also warm, and I need only to mix the two, add some sugar and serve it” Govindaiah finished his coffee and began to worry himself about broaching what he had come to tell. When he had left his house everything had seemed simple and straightforward. But now that he was here the matter presented innumerable difficulties. How could he tell a cultured and dignified lady like Prema that her husband was unfaithful to her? That too when he himself was not really sure! He began cursing himself for having come. But then Prema herself asked him, “You said you had something important to discuss with me. Please be quick, I have a lot to do.” “Well its really nothing, but…” Govindaiah could not continue.

“You want to know why we cancelled the Kashiyathre and gave the money to Naththala Bai. Isn’t it?” “Yes, you could say so. But please understand my plight when all the people I meet ask me about it. They attribute all kinds of motives and conjecture all kinds of relations between your husband and that woman. The other day one of them, I won’t say who, asked me, ‘What is this I hear about your friend Govindaiah? Does that Naththala Bai matter more to your friend than the Kashiyathre?’ I am at a loss to say anything. Why, even Thabrikere Tanthri stopped me in the bus station at Karkala and asked me about it. In fact I am here at his suggestion. He told me, ‘I am more worried about the Kashiyathre than about his affair with Naththala Bai. You please go and explain everything to his wife’, that’s why I am here. I thought I would tell it to Genappa himself but you know how adamant he can be. Therefore I thought I would tell you.” After having run through the dialogue he had mentally rehearsed several times, he sat closely watching her face for any change of expression. Prema was turning red as she listened to him. He thought for a while that her anger was directed against her husband and was feeling complacent. But then she began her tirade: “They are all free to think any which way they want, Govindaiah, but how about you? You know him well. How can your understanding of him be so poor? I am not like you people at all. I know what kind of a woman Naththala Bai is. She is a dear friend to me, and we come from the same native village. We were classmates too. Long back my father had drawn a loan from a Co-Operative society. He could not clear it in time. So the society proceeded to auction our home. At that time this Naththala Bai, with her father’s help, cleared the loan and saved our house. We knew very well that he brewed illicit liquor, and it did not matter to us then

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at all! But the so-called Brahmins of our own kind, well read in Vedas and Puranas, what were they doing? Not that they were poor, they all had acres and acres of land and reaped gold. They all seemed to have thought ‘If their house is going to be auctioned let it be, how does it matter to us?’ and kept quiet. But Naththala Bai’s father Parbu did not hesitate at all. He never even stopped to think whether or when he would get back his money. How can we ever forget his generosity? At present Naththala Bai is quite beaten and defeated. Her husband was an honest man. If he were to be alive, he would have definitely redone the roof with tiles. He would not have waited for the fire to devour the grass roof! When Naththala Bai has literally fallen on the streets, if we do not help her, wouldn’t my dead parents shower curses on me? That’s why I told your friend to abandon the pilgrimage and give her our money. We will set right her roof first.” All the while Govindaiah stood dumbly watching her as she drew water out of the well. He was at a loss to respond to her. Encouraged by his silence Prema began again, “Govindaiah, it comes easily for you men to talk lightly of a woman’s character. I know Naththala Bai’s nature. Ever since she was married and has been here, she has met me everyday. And ever since then she has confided in me the names of those men that have tried to misbehave with her. Be assured that she would have given me your name if you had been mischievous with her.” Govindaiah was about to say ‘No, not me…’ but stopped. He recalled that Prema was quite capable of rebuking him, ‘I never had you in mind and there is no need for you to prove your rectitude with me.’ Therefore he only said with folded hands, “ Please do not tell Genappa I was here to discuss all this.” “I would not say it even if you wanted me to. Only

understand that Naththala Bai is as impeccable as your Genappa. Please stop discussing others from today itself. ” She stopped for a while and then called her maidservant “ Sarasu, what has come over you? It is already ten in the morning and you have not swept the front yard yet, get me the broomstick I will clear the trash myself.” Govindaiah realised that it would not be well for him to stay there till the broomstick arrived. He also felt that he was swept out without a broomstick. It did not even occur to him to take leave of Prema. He slowly walked out of the veranda and proceeded homewards as if his Kashiyathre had begun.

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***


Temple priest Rama Bhatta was holding his son’s wedding ceremony in Sri Durgamba Marriage Hall on a grand scale. Kuppannaiah Bhatta was standing near the entrance as if he were waiting to receive someone of importance. Just then, Seetharamaiah, the retired high school headmaster, arrived in an autorickshaw. The moment Kuppannaiah Bhatta saw him he felt as if the guest he was waiting for had arrived. He ran towards him shouting, “Beloved Seetharamaiah, how rare have you become, hearty welcome to you, come in please.” Kuppannaiah Bhatta was seeing Seetharamaiah in Seethapura after four years. He was so choked with pleasure that for a while he did not know how to greet

him. When Seetharamaiah was in the Seethapura he had wanted to shake hands with him. But was Seetharamaiah an ordinary mortal like him? During those days, Seetharamaiah was the celebrated author and director of a number of Tulu plays. Kuppannaiah Bhatta was himself a witness to the popularity of his plays. His audience used to discuss those plays in his hotel and say, “Watching his hilarious comedies we developed such cramps in the stomach that we needed two days to recover. Laughing endlessly, we had nearly killed ourselves.” When, the Rajyothsava award for the best teacher of the State had come looking for Seetharamaiah on Teacher’s day, the whole town was elated. How could a mere proprietor cum cashier cum server of a shack like hotel assume to shake hands with such a celebrity? Even if Seetharamaiah were not status conscious, how could he overlook the gulf between them? Many a time, without realising what he was up to, he had held out his hand but then suddenly recalling his humble status he had shrewdly joined his hands in reverence and held his desire in check. Even today Kuppannaiah Bhatta ran towards Seetharamaiah with hands folded and held above his head. Seeing him, Seetharamaiah was also overcome with joy. He stretched out his hand for the handshake and then hugged him. “Namaskara, Kuppannaiah Bhatta how are you?” he enquired. But Kuppannaiah Bhatta who was almost levitating as his cherished desire of a handshake was fulfilled, could not even respond properly to the kind enquiry. After a moment he recovered and said, “What could ever go wrong with me Seetharamaiah? Tell me how are you keeping these days? It looks like you have forgotten all of us ever since you left Seethapura.” Seetharamaiah had been experiencing an odd fear or anxiety from the time he had decided on his visit to

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THE HINGE


Seethapura. It had not been possible for him to clearly define the nature of his perturbation. After he had moved out, he had been continuously receiving all sorts of invitations from Seethapura. He had every wish to visit Seethapura. Once or twice he had almost started on his journey. But then his wife had expressed her desire to join him. That would mean, he had reasoned, an additional burden and bother to all those friends who were willing to accommodate him. Therefore, offering some inane excuses he had dropped his travel plans till today. On other occasions, when his wife had not insisted on joining him and he was all set to go, his son Sridhara had come in his way. He used to stop him with either “Father, why do you want to risk all this travel at your old age?” Or, “Haven’t you served the denizens of Seethapura enough? There is no need to hang further on to those nooses of relations, friends and so on.” Of course, he would always end his talk in a noncommittal fashion by saying, “Well, that’s how I feel, but if you insist I won’t be in your way. I just want you to be a little more pragmatic.” After such censure, Seetharamaiah would lose all interest and stay back. He was especially pained when he could not attend Chande Govindaiah’s daughter’s marriage. The day he had received the invitation, he had declared his decision to attend the wedding and bestow his blessings by dropping a few grains of Akshta over the bride’s head. His wife had not objected and neither had his son come in his way. In fact he had even offered to take care of his expenses. But fate, in the guise of ill health, had played the spoilsport. He was under the attack of such a severe flu that, let alone a journey to Seethapura, he could not even contemplate a walk up to the lavatory without assistance. He was worried that all those who had invited him earlier would now confront him and seek explanations. He

imagined them to be waiting with such posers as: “Why didn’t you come? Didn’t the invitation reach you in time?” or “We were all so sure you would come… how could you disappoint us so? See, every one is talking of you.” However, Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s welcome had relieved him a bit. He was a little more confident now that his absence on earlier occasions would not be misconstrued. He rearranged the creases of his dhoti, spread the shawl properly over his right shoulder and walked in. All the while, he was responding to Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s enquires with a very confident and congenial smile. No sooner had he entered the hall, than all the guests forgot everything about marriage and began crowding around Seetharamaiah. All those busily analysing the political predicament and all those who were discussing nothing in particular, abandoned their talk and rushed to where he was seated. They enquired of one another, “It seems Seetharamaiah is here… where is he?” “Look there, he is moving towards the vacant chair in the fourth row” someone was shouting. Those sitting in the front rows immediately rose from their seats and bowed to him from wherever they were. Those in the back rows ran to him for a handshake and exchange of greetings. A few of them touched his feet and prostrated to him saying, “Sir, I was your student, can you recall me? It was with your blessings that I passed the SSLC exams in ….” Seetharamaiah was finding it hard to handle the attention and prominence thus given to him. At that very instant he recalled how vainly he had pleaded with his wife Padmavathamma before they had left Seethapura. “Please listen to me”, he had often told her, “we shall stay here alone, why should we dispose of our property and leave Seethapura?” But, Padmavathamma was quite adamant, “If it so pleases you, you can very well stay here till your last breath, I am leaving to join my son.” He was thus compelled

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to sell his ancestral house and the two acres of arecanut plantations and leave Seethapura. Recalling all that, he grew slightly sad. He soon recovered himself from those memories and mingled with the jolly crowd. By then the temple priest Rama Bhatta himself had come to greet him. He bowed in reverence and enquired after his health and well-being. But Dambemoole Eshwara Bhatta, who was sitting in the second row watching all this commotion from the moment Seetharamaiah had stepped in, was quite unmoved. When his nephew Mahabala asked him about the instant celebrity he indifferently said, “Who are you asking about? Oh, that one there is it? Leave him, he is no big fish really, he is only a retired schoolmaster.” After a while he continued, “I almost begged him to sell his lands to me. But did he care for my entreaties? I only told him if at all you have made up your mind to sell then give it to me. He asked for the sky and I said that that was too much of an expectation and made an honest offer. The fellow stuck to his figure. Then, not even consulting me, he sold it to a Byari chap, Hasanabba. You do not know how rich and fertile the land is! If only I had got it I would have turned it into a golden bowl! What to do, nowadays, men of our own caste and community are all apathetic to us! They prefer those aliens to us! It’s a waste of time to talk to such ungrateful men.” The grand lunch was over but the adulation of Seetharamaiah continued unabated. On his part Seetharamaiah was not less enthusiastic. He walked up to Dambemoole Eshwara Bhatta and asked him, “ How are you keeping these days?” Dambemoole Eshwara Bhatta was taken aback. He was so discomfited that he barely managed to say, “Oh, yes, oh, yes. I have a prior commitment, so please excuse me,” and slipped out. Much like him Kotithattu Venkatramanaiah, Kodubaale Sadashiva Sahstri,

Mankumoole Ganapathi Bhatta, and a few others had their own petty grievances against him. In most cases the misunderstandings had arisen because of their children’s misbehaviour in the school. They too were not keen to meet him but could ill afford to ignore him completely. They feared a public outcry against them, ‘Look at these scoundrels, they did not even greet our headmaster Seetharamaiah.’ So, they all paid formal courtesies and hurried out. But there were others who asked him with sincere concern about his wife Padmavathamma and his son Sridhara. All of them, in fact, pressed him to stay with them for the night at least “Please do not say no. Do stay with us for the night. You may leave by the first bus tomorrow. We won’t compel you after that.” Seetharamaiah was not entirely unwilling, only he was unable to make up his mind; he feared hurting the feelings of one by choosing to stay with the other. He looked at his watch repeatedly and thought ‘ It’s just three in the afternoon. If I start now I will be back in home by nine, which is not late at all.’ Therefore, he politely turned down their invitations and said, “When I am here next I shall surely be with you, please excuse me now.” But they all said together, “Seetharamaiah, it’s more than four years since you left us and you are here now for the first time! Aren’t you holding out false promises?” He quipped back at them, “Okay, In that case, let me go now. I will just go fetch my wife here and settle for life, is that acceptable?” “Yes, that’s acceptable indeed, please be here for ever,” all the denizens shouted in joy. It was only then that he really wondered if it was not such a bad idea. So he just said, “Several times I have thought of doing so,” and stopped. The denizens felt for the first time that may be, all was not well with him. They thought, “Perhaps living with his son is not to his liking. These days the generation gaps have

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all gotten too wide. Haven’t we lived with him till now? He dedicates himself to works of public utility as if it were his duty to God himself. These days, let alone his son, no one would care for such ideals.’ They wanted to ask him, ‘Why the idea Sir?’ several times but couldn’t really ask. They merely said, “We are all with you, Sir. You are always welcome, Sir” and kept quiet. “Well, I have not made any decision as of now. But I am extremely happy to know you all are so willing to accept me back into your fold again. That’s what really matters! Kuppannaiah Bhatta, the bus leaves at quarter past three doesn’t it?” “Yes, you are right. By all means, you can leave by it. But before you do, please drop into my hotel, like God Krishna walked into Kuchela’s house, and have some tea.” Seetharamaiah took his leave and reached Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s hotel. He found Hasanabba eagerly waiting for him there. Hasanabba stood up and bowed to him. “ Oh, Hasanabba, you are here! How are you?” Seetharamaiah enquired. He drew Hasanabba near to himself and asked him as they climbed the steps of the hotel, “It is really great to have met you. How are you getting on with your trade?” By then Kuppannaiah Bhatta had got ready two glasses of special tea and served them. Seetharamaiah glanced at his watch and seeing that he was running out of time gulped down the tea at one go and said, “It’s getting late for me,” and stood up. It was then that Hasanabba said, “But that’s impossible, how can you think of leaving Seethapura without visiting my house?” Seetharamaiah was confounded. ‘Why is this fellow so insistent? After all, I sold him my land and home to him in a spirit of ultimate disavowal. What do I have to do with them or for that matter with him? And, would it be proper for me to accept the invitation of this thurka after having spurned the entreaties

of men of my own caste and community? Would they think kindly of me?’ So he said, “It is alright Hasanabba. I have to be back in Rampura today. I have promised my wife and son to be there by night. If I do not go home they will panic. Sorry, I can’t make it today” But then Hasanabba was unbending, “If you are that bent on getting back, get back you can Sir! I have a car now. I will reach you there.” Seetharamaiah could do nothing but stare at Kuppannaiah Bhatta’s face as if applying for his help. But Kuppannaiah Bhatta joined forces with Hasanabba and said, “ I think it will be alright. You can call up your wife and tell her that you are staying back. I will come with you to Hasanabba’s house. People around here say that he has farmed your lands excellently. Even I have a mind to see it. We will go with him now. You can stay with me tonight and leave early in the morning.” Seetharamaiah had been to Hasanabba’s house a couple of times earlier also. He had been there for the first time when he was collecting donations for the construction of his High school building. By then Hasanabba’s father, Moyiddin Kunje was a big Bidi contractor for the ‘No.70Mark Bidi.’ Paying five hundred rupees in those days itself he had said, “People here think that I am a big shot. But I am unlike most of the Bidi contractors—I treat my workers as my own kith and kin.” Seetharamaiah had known that there was no exaggeration in what he had said. When his son Hasanabba had passed the SSLC exams he had asked him about his future plans. Hasanabba had told him that even though he was interested in continuing his studies, his father was not encouraging him. Thus, for the second time, he had been there to advise the father not to come in the way of his son’s education. The father had agreed and the son had eventually acquired a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. However,

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again the father was upset with Hasanabba when he had refused to seek employment in Dubai or Saudi. He was quite vehement that he would stay in Seethapura and work as a public works contractor. Seetharamaiah’s help had been sought yet again by Hasanabba to pacify his father. Then also Seetharamaiah had readily agreed to do the needful and had indeed calmed Moyiddin Kunje. Thus a strange bond had come to exist between Seetharamaiah and Hasanabba’s family. An indefinable love, affection or something else had held them together. It all flashed across Seetharamaiah’s mind now. The moment the car stopped near the gate Moyiddin Kunje rushed out of the house and welcomed him with the formal “Salam Alikum.” He held his hand and led him inside, dusted the spotlessly clean chair with his shawl and requested him to be seated. Then Moyiddin Kunje’s wife, his daughters, his grand children all entered the hall and surrounded him. Moyiddin Kunji spoke for all of them, “It would be an honour if you consent to accept a glass of milk and a few biscuits.” The moment Seetharamaiah consented, Moyiddin Kunje’s wife Befathumma ran in to warm up the milk. Only then did Moyiddin Kunje settle down in a chair and begin to exchange pleasantries. The milk was drunk, the biscuits were all eaten, but there was no indication of the talk coming to an end! Then Kuppannaiah Bhatta reminded Seetharamaiah that it was nearing five. Seetharamaiah too realised that it was getting late for him and prepared to take leave of the family. Just then Hasanabba spoke, “Sir, it remains for you to see your lands once at least.” “ How can it be mine any more, Hasanabba? I sold it to you, didn’t I?” “According to the land records what you say is true

Sir. But somehow I feel it is yours for ever.” “It does not really matter to whom it now belongs. What is essential is your wish to take me there and show it all. Let’s go then.” Moyiddin Kunje came up to the car and said, “Thanks to your guidance and blessings, everything is fine with my son.” The car reached the house. Seeing it Seetharamaiah recalled that it was where not only he, but also his father and grandfather were all born. They had all lived and died in it. He was pleasantly surprised to see how wrong he was in his conjectures. He had thought that his ancestral house would have been pulled down by now and a new house or arecanut plants would have replaced it. He entered the frontyard along with Kuppannaiah Bhatta and found that the Tulsi Katte built by his grandfather had remained intact. Not only that, the Tulsi plant was well tended to and was lush green. As he stepped inside the house many more surprises awaited him. The drawings that his wife had done on the walls, the Rangloi that she had done in white paint on the threshold had not suffered any effacement! No doubt an air of desertion hung all over the kitchen, the pooja room, and the living area but all they all looked to be anxiously awaiting his return. He sighed heavily and remarked with Kuppannaiah Bhatta, “ Why has Hasanabba let it so vacant? He could have rented it out at least!” Hasanabba overheard the remark and said, “ Sir, it is true that a couple of enquires were made regarding it. But this is a place where men like you were born and brought up. How can I let all and sundry enter such a house for the greed of some pecuniary gain? I will surely let it out when deserving men approach me. I have reset the tile-roof and kept it all ready for occupation. It’s still an old house but good enough to last another forty –fifty years. Let it remain

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as it is till then; after all it is where my teacher lived. I do not care what fate awaits it after my death!” “Do you mean to say that you are looking for one much like me?” “Yes, Sir. But where to find one more like you.” “Suppose I come back again?” “You are welcome to occupy it any moment you want, Sir.”

After his return to Rampura, Seetharamaiah spoke more about Hasanabba than about the wedding, “Do you know how tidily he has kept our house? I wonder whether it was ever that tidy when we were there. Mind this also, he has farmed our plantation excellently! The yield has doubled up in these four years! In addition to the arecanut plants we had, he has cultivated cocoa and vanilla saplings! He has even raised a teak plantation that has grown above ten feet in just four years! In the heath-like hillock at the back of our house, he is cultivating hybrid cashew nut saplings got from the nursery in Ullal. What is more, the Tulsi plant had never looked that healthy and fresh in the Tulsi Katte built by my grandfather! Do you believe me when I say that your drawings on the wall, the Rangoli you had painted have not even faded by a shade!’ Listening to his enraptured talk Padmavathamma wished that she had accompanied him. She rued that by not joining him, she had missed an opportunity of beholding her house once more. She had even decided to avenge her disappointment by observing strict silence with him. Seeing his wife turn mum with him Seetharamaiah wondered

whether he had done the right thing by waxing eloquent about their house. But by evening the misunderstanding between them had all cleared up and they had reached a decision: All future invitations from Seethapura were to be honoured jointly. More importantly, ‘the honouring’ included an unimpeachable oath to visit their –and not Hasanabba’s— ‘ancestral home’!” For almost a week after that Seetharamaiah could not get over the nostalgia. The memory of Kuppannaiah Bhatta, the guilt that he had not attended Chande Govindaiah’s daughter’s marriage and the fact that he could not even meet Chande Govindaiah and apologise, began to trouble him endlessly. What haunted him most was the love that Hasanabba had showered on him. He tried to reason out with himself that possibly he would not have received all that care and affection if he had continued to stay in Seethapura itself. ‘Yet’, he thought, ‘ I should get over it quickly.’ He had an urge to recount his experience to his son Sridhara as well. But when could he find his son free to talk to? Everyday he leaves in a great hurry around eight in the morning and by the time he returns in the night it is always seven or eight! On some days he comes back only after nine! When he comes back home, forget an exchange of news or ideas, he won’t have time enough to enquire after his or his wife’s health! He would always complain, “ There is so much official responsibility on me! Do you know by what rare piece of luck I have been entrusted with these tremendous tasks? If I don’t prove myself now, I won’t have a future at all!” After such outbursts he would get through his dinner not caring to notice what he had been served with! Often Seetharamaiah feels that it’s quite natural for his son to behave so. He remembered that once upon a time, when he was busy with the construction work of his school he had also behaved in

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2


3

the same way. And even after completion he had not changed a bit. His wife had looked after Sridhara’s education and managed the innumerable burdens of his lands all by herself. He had never bothered about the guests that frequented his house. Every worry was hers. Seetharamaiah had completely forgotten that he was a householder with all sorts of domestic responsibilities. After his retirement, before he could clearly recall his duties, his son had passed the State Administrative exams and was given a position by the State Government. He had also fallen in love with a girl and got married to her within no time. Seetharamaiah had not objected to it all. But as the daughter-in-law was a Manager in SBP, the young couple could not stay together. This had worried him a bit. His son had consoled him, “ All these are common facts of present day life, father. When we are confident of managing it why are you worried? But do not stay endlessly in Seethapura on the pretext of your farming obligations and such other excuses. Dispose of everything and come to live happily with me. I will take care of your needs.” “Let’s not dispose of the land during my life time. After all, your grandfather and great-grandfather have all toiled to make it yield gold. After my death, you may deal with it in anyway you choose and there wouldn’t be anyone to question you.” His son had agreed to the proposition. But a couple of years later, when labourers were hard to find and farming became almost impossible, Seetharamaiah began to curse himself. He declared, “ To hell with this plantation work, I won’t even curse it on my enemy’s head! I shall throw away everything and go.” To begin with all displayed an indifference to purchase it and said, ‘Who wants it any way.’ They had hoped that by such tactics Seetharamaiah could be forced to sell his lands really cheap. However, Hasanabba was waiting to buy it at the desired price.

Only recently was Rampura formed as a Taluk. Though Rampura itself is the Taluk head quarters, it is not a welldeveloped town. There are no good hotels, schools or colleges. In fact there are not even proper buildings to house the public offices or the officials. Everything is yet to be constructed. Though the State Government issues statements that the budgetary allocations have all been made and everything is slated to happen the same year, no indication of any work was visible. Seetharamaiah often shares his desperation arising from such apathy with his wife, “What kind of a town is this? You cant even rent a decent living quarters.” Complaining about the town, complaining about their house and realising the inevitability of having to stay there Seetharamaiah has struggled to adjust himself with his predicament. Following his visit to Seethapura he has begun to feel differently, ‘Maybe I made a mistake. Sridhara would have been a Tahshildar or an Assistant Commissioner in a year or two. It would have been better for me to have joined him then.’ Padmavathamma conveyed her husband’s sentiments to her son while serving him his dinner that night. “It is just like him to feel and think so, mother. Leave him alone. I won’t be here for long, maybe just for another year, that’s all. Afterwards, we will all be in Mangalore or Bangalore. None of these petty worries would bother us then.” Saying so Sridhara tried to console her. Padmavathamma too felt perhaps it would all be so and kept quiet. The next day, when Seetharamaiah entered the bathroom for his morning bath, something struck him: one of the hinges of the door was quite rusted and about to fall to pieces. Even as he swung the door repeatedly to see how

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imminent the fall was, the hinge was broken. Of course, the door did not collapse as the upper hinge still held the door quite robustly. ‘But it won’t last longer than a fortnight at best,’ thought Seetharamaiah as he began taking his bath. ‘ And when that happens,’ he continued to worry himself, ‘there wouldn’t be a door to the bathroom at all. One could still wrap a bath towel around and get through the ordeal of the bath, but how could one use the lavatory without the door? Cursed be this house! The only lavatory here is in the bathroom!’ His bath was over while such anxieties haunted him. As soon as he finished his bath, he revealed his fears to his wife. “Speak to Sridhara the moment he gets back tonight. Ask him to get the hinge fixed first. Let him also start looking for a new house.” Padmavathamma went to the bathroom to ascertain to herself that her husband was not exaggerating. Then she said, “Can’t you go and get a hinge yourself? Why should you depend on him for such small things?” In his entire life Seetharamaiah had not even been to the vegetable vendor. His wife had taken care of all such requirements. So he said, “How do I know anything about a hinge? How can I know about its availability in Rampura and where do I look for a carpenter to fix it? How do I fix the wage for his job? No, I do not think I can manage it. With Sridhara, it’s all so easy! He has only to press his call-bell and instruct one of his subordinates to arrange for the whole thing! If he cannot get it done so, let him ask the owner to take care of it.” At last, both of them decided to bring it to Sridhara’s notice once he got back home. However, both of them forgot to mention it to him that night. The next morning Sridhara did not even stop for his breakfast. Saying that the minister in charge of public works was expected next week and he had a lot of preparatory work to do, he left early. He walked out shouting that he would get his breakfast from some hotel or the other.

Whenever he had to use the bathroom either to relieve himself or for his bath Seetharamaiah did so with utter trepidation. Every time he had to use it, he plied and jolted the door a couple of times and made sure that the door was as yet intact. Recalling the broken hinge Padmavathamma tried to remind her son a number of times. Calling his attention to it Seetharamaiah had also told him, “Look here, Sridhara, this calls for more immediate action than your minister’s visit.” Yet to both of them he had the same reply, “I have seen the door, nothing is wrong with it and nothing will happen to it. All the government buildings are just so. Has it been reported anywhere that the bathroom door collapsed on someone’s head and broke his skull? Let the minister’s visit get over, we will get on rent a different house altogether. Do you know how many times I have tried to call our owner? Do you know that my first duty these days have been to call him? He always agrees to set it right straight away. I cannot force him too much either, they say he is damn close to the minister.” Seetharamaiah realised that there was no use in further complaining to his son. He began to make enquires with his neighbours about the availability of a carpenter. They, on their part, narrated their own woes — how this or that door or shutter had come loose and how they had searched vainly for one endlessly, and so on. Meanwhile, the day of the minister’s visit arrived. Maybe it was just around half an hour after Sridhara had left for his office. Then Rama Bhatta, the priest at Sri Durgaparameshwari temple, Seethapura, who was visiting his relatives in Rampura along with his wife, called on them. Seetharamaiah was immensely pleased to welcome the honoured guests but what worried him was his bathroom. ‘Supposing they want to use it?’- He was really troubled. He

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 156


tried to calm himself by arguing that after all they also lived in a rented house and as such were aware of the pathetic conditions of those houses. But right then, Rama Bhatta’s wife, Devakiamma asked them whether she could use their bathroom. Padmavathamma was slightly embarrassed to explain to her that their bathroom was not a very convenient one to use. She expressly told her, “Please be cautious while you close the door, one of its hinges has come off and its just hanging on the other.” Devakiamma felt that her bladder would burst any moment, as she had not relieved herself right from that morning! She had no patience to listen to Padmavathamma’s advice. In an unmindful hurry she tried to slam the door shut. The lone hinge was shattered to pieces and the door collapsed right on her head. “My God, I have broken my skull,” she yelled from within. Padmavathamma hurried to her. Even her husband Rama Bhatta got up form his seat and hastened toward the bathroom. Seetharamaiah who was fuming with anger and humiliation tried to say, “Maybe the door has collapsed!” Well, Devakiamma had not sustained any grave injury but a nail protruding from the door had struck her forehead and she was bleeding. The shock, more than the wound, had affected her. Moreover her bladder was really threatening to burst out. She was annoyed beyond endurance, “ I was against coming here and told him several times! But when has he listened to me? He prattled, ‘After all we have come as far as Rampura, it wouldn’t be nice if we don’t visit our headmaster.” She was trying to take it out on her husband but she broke down in the middle. Seetharamaiah was feeling lost. He hesitantly suggested, “There is a hospital right round the corner, we will take her there.” At the same instant he was worried about the explanation he might have to offer to the doctor. Rama Bhatta, who was equally confounded, was

already worried about providing a proper explanation for the bandaged forehead on his return to Seethapura! But Devakiamma was more worried about relieving herself and she was finding it difficult to excuse herself with the two men staring at her! Padmavathamma was the first to regain her composure and she told the men, “By God’s grace, nothing untoward has happened. Please move out, let her finish her toilet.” She first escorted her to a neighbour’s toilet and then to a nearby clinic. Seetharamaiah was completely lost in utter humiliation. Rama Bhatta, who had carried the photographs of his son’s wedding, was left with no desire to show it to them. By then the neighbours were all jostling around Seetharamaiah and probing him about the day’s mishap: “How did you say it collapsed? Hadn’t you noticed anything earlier? Let me see your bathroom first…” All of them proceeded to inspect the place and came back vehemently shaking their heads in disapproval! Seetharamaiah’s wrath was expanding he was angry with his son, he was angry at his own irresponsibility… in short, he was angry at everything. After her return from the clinic Devikiamma refused to stay for lunch. All the entreaties of Padmavathamma failed to make her and her husband change their mind. Rama Bhatta was lost in the sympathetic contemplation of the bandaged wound that looked very much like the third eye of Eshwara. He was so overwhelmed with love and pity for her that he forgot to bid goodbye to Seetharamaiah. Seetharamaiah and his wife Padmavathamma had lost all their taste for lunch. They mechanically fed themselves. Padmavathamma drove a couple of nails to the bathroom doorframe and managed a make-shift curtain of her old sari. She somehow relieved herself with the aid of that contraption. Seetharamaiah got busy in packing his belongings into a

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 158


suitcase. He told his wife, “Look here, I am leaving for Seethapura tomorrow morning. Hasanabba has kept my ancestral home ready for occupation. If you like to join me, I won’t have any objections.” “How could you get so worked up over such a small thing and walk out on your son? You may go and please yourself, I cannot run behind your crazy whims.” By the time Sridhara returned that night it was well past nine. While having his food he told his mother, “The minister’s visit ended up with only the long wait for it. It seems he will be here only tomorrow.” Though Padmavathamma wanted to tell him about the collapse of the door, she did not say anything. However Sridhara found that out for himself when he tried to use the bathroom before he went to bed. He was appalled and ran to his mother, “Mother, how did it happen?” Then she explained everything to him. She was scared of a confrontation between the father and the son and was anxious to avoid it. So, she said, “Your father is terribly angry, more with himself than you.” Sridhara left her without a word and got into his bed. He thought it was quite common for his father to be upset over such petty issues. He felt he could effect a patch up the next morning. But Padmavathamma could not get any sleep at all. She knew her husband’s temper, pride and wilfulness better than Sridhara. She knew that once he had decided on something then nothing could make him alter it. And if at all he leaves for Seethapura he is sure to stay there till his last day. If she were not to accompany him, he would never see her face again. So, quite reluctantly, she packed her belongings and prepared to leave along with him the next morning. Sridhar delayed his bath so as to join his father for breakfast. Then he slowly began, “I am sorry for the

humiliation you have suffered, father. But really I am the one who has been humiliated. I will surely get the door repaired by this afternoon.” At that moment Seetharamaiah felt that even he was being hasty, so he asked, “Did your mother say anything about my decision?” Sridhar felt choked when he tried to say, “Yes.” Holding a piece of dosa in his hand he said, “It’s my turn to be sorry, son. Maybe I overreacted a bit.” Padmavathamma was immensely relieved but pretended to be angry with them both “ Look, how easily you have made it up with each other! Only after I was sure that you would leave for Seethapura I packed my things! Who will unpack and rearrange my wardrobe?” Father and son cried in chorus, “We will do it!”

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 160

***


Adhyathma : Matters related to the spiritual foundations of life. Advaitha : Nondualist system of faith and philosophy. Ajalu : Labourers /worker/artisans belonging to the lower castes and bound by religious custom to a Landlord and his family. Akshatha : Literally, that which is beyond destruction. The Akhtha is normally given in the form of rice grains stained with turmeric or vermilion powder by temple priests, the Guru and elders. Ambedkar : Traditionally, the lower castes were Colony condemned to live in the outskirts of the village / city. After independence and thanks to the efforts of social reformers, the lower castes relocated inside the city space. Such localities are named after the great social reformer, Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar and are designated as the Ambekdar Colony. Anjana : An Astrological procedure for finding lost or hidden goods or treasure. Anna : One twelfth of a rupee. Aparakriya : Funeral rites. Arooda: One of the innumerable methods of prashna astrological consultation. Ashada : The rainy season. Ashleshabali : Ritual sacrifice to propitiate the serpent Deities. Ashtamangala : Another procedure of astrological prashna consultation. Aurdha: Another term to denote post funeral rites. daihika

Bandasale : Warehouse. Beedu house : A local landlord’s house. Bhagyalakshmi: The Goddess of plenty. Boothakola : A ritual worship of Spirits. Brahmakalasha : A ritual process of resanctifying the temple Mahothsava precincts. Bramha : A special car festival. Rathothsava Byari : A Muslim peddler; small time trader. Byari Kutti : A Muslim child. Chande : A percussion instrument used primarily in Yakshagana performances. Chowki : The special and exclusive dining area of the Swamiji and his honoured guests inside the precincts of the Krishna Temple, Udupi. Dalit : An individual belonging to the lower castes. Dana : An offering made to the Gods/Brahmins according to the religious sanctions and faith. Darshana : Literally to “See” but includes such meanings as a vision, the act of beholding God/Guru, perception; a state of being possessed by a Spirit, etc. Dharma : Loosely translated as Religion but has broader, and deeper connotations; could include meanings such as “the way” (of life), “The right path”, etc. Dhothi : Unstitched white cloth used to cover the lower part of the body; a traditional dress worn especially in religious performances. Dosa : A rice pancake. Dvadasha- : A religious practice of offering Dana’s to radane twelve Brahmins in connection with the ritual performances like a funeral, etc. Dhvaitha; : The dualistic system of faith and philosophy.

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God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 162

GLOSSARY


: A measure of areca nut approximately two hundred and sixty kgs. Kanile : Tender bamboo shoots used as seasonal delicacy. Karuvalakai : A vegetable. Kashaya : A medicinal decoction. Kathakkali : Dance form from Kerala. Katopanishath : One of the very important Upanishads. Kesavu leaves: A vegetable. Khorje : A large measure of rice, areca nut, etc. Kumki : Land adjacent to a legally owned cultivable land/farm over which the owner has no legal right but is permitted to make use of. Kumkuma- : Worship of Gods/Deities by using vermillion. rchane Kutti-donni : A local folk game popular among children. Lehya : A medicinal preparation. Mahaveera : The much revered Jain Saint.

: Ritual worship offered in temples for about forty eight days. : An individual belonging to the merchant’s community, originally belonging to Gujarat. Mudi : A Weight of approximately forty kg; used as a measure of rice. Mukhyaprana: The divine Hanumantha conceived as the principal Deity in Madhva Philosophy. Mulihullu : A variety of lengthy grass used for thatching roofs. Naga : Literally, the snake and referring especially to cobra. In reality, a Deity worshipped in the image and form of a snake. Nagadar: One manner of worshipping the Naga Deity. shana Nagadosha : Any misfortune, trouble, travail caused by incurring the displeasure of the Naga Deity. Nagapatri : Chief priest in the ritual worship of the Naga deity. Naga Nade : Translated here as the serpent trail, the path consecrated to the Naga deity; the habitual trails of cobra. Nagaswara : Musical instrument. Nitykarma : The daily obligatory rituals, prayers and worships conducted primarily by the Brahmins. Paise : One hundredth of a rupee. Panchayath : The Village administrative council. Panjurly : A Female Sprit in the form and shape of a wild boar. Parikarmi : The Purohit’s assistant. Parupattedar : A man in change of the secular duties, responsibilities, and actions of a Mutt. Payasa : Sweet porridge.

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Dhvaithi Geetha Godana Golibaje Gomuthra

: : : :

Gurikara Gurupeetha Gutthu Idli Japa

: : : : :

Kama Kamachakreshwara Khandige

: :

An individual subscribing to this faith. The Bhaghvadgeetha. Milch Cow offered as Dana. A deep fried delicacy. The urine of cow held to be endowed with curative potentials and regarded as sacred. The village headman. The Mutt. The landlord’s household. A rice pudding. Chanting of religious slokas/mantras usually by Brahmins; often translated as counting of beads. Sex and also the God of sex (Eros). The God of sex.

Mandala Pooja Marvadi


Pandal Pitru Rina

: A temporary shaded stage. : The debt one owes to his parents and ancestors. Pooja : The Indian/Hindu way of worshipping God. Prasada : Food or fruit made sacred by offering to Gods. Pundi : A steamed rice dish. Purohit : Literally the well wisher of the town; a Brahmin priest. Raktheshwari : The habitat of the Spirit Raktheswari. Palke Rangoli : Patterns or motifs of religious significance drawn with white or coloured powders. Rasam : Broth like preparation. Rava Idli : Steamed cakes made of broken wheat. Salam Alikum: Salutation common among Muslims. Sankramana : Refers to the transitional movement of the Sun from one zodiac sign to another. This is supposed have many religious and spiritual connotations. Sandya: The ritual worship offered by the upper castes vandane at dawn, noon, and dusk. Sanyasi : Literally, one who has dedicated everything (including his body) to God; loosely translated as ascetic, renouncer etc. Saptotsava : A seven day ritual worship conducted in temples. Satyanarayan: A worship of Sathynarayana – the form of Pooja Vishnu. Satwik : According to the Indian tradition human beings are conceived as constituted of three natures or aspects – The Satwik, the Thamasik and the Rajasik. Of the three, the Satwik is the most serene, pure, and chaste. Shankara- : God perceived as a communion of Shiva and God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 165

narayana Shastra

Vishnu. : Loosely translated as scriptures; any text or treatise that regulates human actions. Shatha: A special form of worshiping Shiva. rudrabhisheka Shiva : One of the trinity of Gods. Shravana : A Hindu month (August). Shruthi : Musical pitch; the Vedas. Shudda: A variation of the non dualistic philosophy. idvaitha Sirigindi : Social reformative programmes conducted by the Dharmasthala Temple authorities. Sloka : A Sanskrit couplet relating to religious matters. Sode : A village near Sirsi in Uttara Kannada District, Karnataka. A village held sacred as Sri Vadiraja, one of the earliest promoters of the Madhva philosophy lived there. Sringeri : A town in Karnataka; the centre devoted to the practice of non dualistic faith, originally established by Shri Sankaracharya. Swamiji : A way of addressing a Sanyasi. Tahashildar : A revenue officer in charge of a Taluk. Taluk : A revenue subdivision of a district. Tambula : Refers to betel leaf and nut offering along with a fruit as a gesture of respect; it could also refer to the chewing of betel leaves and nut. Tantri : A man in charge of the technicalities connected with ritual worships conducted in temples. He should not be confused with a Tantrik. Thurka : A Muslim. Thulsi : The plant bearing the botanical name Ocimum sanctum; often translated as ‘Holy God’s Own Decree And Other Stories / 166


Thulsi Katte : Tulu

:

Ugadi

:

Upanishath :

Upanayana : Vaidika

:

Vaikunta : Samaradhane Vallabha: charya Valmiki :

Vamsha Yaji

: :

Yakshagana :

Basil’; a plant sacred to the Hindus. A platform like structure in which the Thulsi is grown. One of the Dravidian languages spoken in Dakshina Kannada District of Karnataka, a language without a script. A variant of Yugadi which marks the beginning of a new annual cycle. Literally, ‘spiritual and metaphysical discourses learnt at the feet of the Guru’; considered as the repository of the wisdom of the Vedas. Literally, ‘second sight’; often translated as the the ‘sacred thread investure ceremony’. Matters related to the Vedas; a Brahmin performing Vedic rituals; matters related to the funerals. Rituals and worship held on the twelfth day after the demise of an individual. Propounder of the Shuddhaadvita system of faith and philosophy. The sage who composed the Ramayana. The legend is that the sage was so lost in penance that an anthill grew all over him and thus he acquired the name Valmiki, a man born out of Valmika or an anthill. Snakes normally live in anthills. Lineage. One in charge of Vedic rituals and sacrifices; often used as a surname. A folk dance-drama form practiced in coastal Karnataka.

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Gods own decree and other stories  

This is a story collection by Dr.Na.Mogasale,wellknown Kannada writer.

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