Once upon a time during the freedom movement

BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: Born on 17 March 1903 in Kikkeri in Mandya taluk, my father H. Bapu Ramanna is now in his 105th year, bridging two centuries. Though his memory has dimmed, he is able to recall things when prompted. In particular, he has an ability to recall names.

What I am writing is taken out from his Atmakathe (life story) which he wrote when he was in his 90s and in which he has recorded events of his life from his childhood in Kannada. I have also included what he mentioned in the course of conversations over a long period of time.

Even when he was in school, my father says he was profoundly influenced by the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress ideology.

When he was studying in Weslyan Mission school in Mysore, a Congress leader of renown, one Mudvedkar, visited Mysore to raise funds for the freedom struggle to establish Swaraj. His speech was arranged in front of the Sadvidya school.

When my father heard about it, he, like many others, rushed to hear him speak. Mudvedkar’s address had an electrifying impact on the listeners who had gathered. In addition to raising funds, arrangements had been made for a bonfire of foreign goods.

Everybody was throwing whatever they were wearing, and my father who had a new shirt on him flung it into the fire accompanied by the wild cheering of the crowd who chanted in Kannada, “Haake benkige urili dhaga dhaga dharisu khadi pavithravu” (throw foreign goods to the fierce fire and wear the sacred khadi).

Many in the audience were donating money, ornaments etc. An elderly lady by name Kaveramma gave a silver cup and Mudvedkar drank water from the cup saying that the Swaraj movement was gathering momentum to wild clapping all round.

In 1922 when he was still residing in a hostel during student days in Maharaja’s college, King Edward VIII visited Mysore. Great preparations were made to receive him with pomp and honour. The procession route was to pass by the hostel where my father was staying. He writes with great pride that he stuck to his seat firmly and was never tempted to go out of the hostel to see Edward VIII since he felt angry with the British.

At another time when he had completed his law degree and was practicing in Mysore he recalls with great pride an incident which shows how much he disliked British rule. He had won the first prize in the running race and also in throwing the cricket ball. Mysore University had arranged a function for which the then Dewan (the equivalent of the Prime Minister of the state), Sir Mirza Ismail, had been invited.

There was also a prize distribution ceremony and he was informed about it (though he had passed the BA degree, he was still a member of the University Union. This provision he says existed at that time). He however did not go out of the court as he felt that Sir Mirza hated the Congress. That was his deep attachment to the Congress.

While he was studying for law in Madras, he participated in salt Satyagraha in Triplicane on 12 March 1930. He writes that suddenly the police were upon them wielding lathis. He ran to the precincts of the court nearby to escape the lathi charge. He wistfully records that he missed out on being a freedom fighter since he did not get arrested!

Bapu Ramanna has always held that it won’t do to pay mere lip service to the Congress ideology and that we should demonstrate it in practical life. He has lived up to this in his life.

Here it may be appropriate to say that even while he was studying in Maharaja’s college, Mysore, he got married in 1924. After completing his studies he participated in a two-hour picketing of a toddy shop in Kolar which is now one of the districts in Karnataka.

In Kolar, his father-in-law Venkatasubba Rao was working in govt service as the executive engineer which was quite a high government post in those days. However, this did not in any way bother him.

He presented a charaka to his wife with cotton from which my mother produced abundant thread. This was made into four jubbas (kurtas) . He kept two for himself and presented the other two kurtas to his father-in-law and persuaded him to wear it, quite a daring act to do for a high govt servant. He caved in presumably so as not to upset Aliadevaru (son-in-law).

In fact, he presented a takli to another relative. Takli consists of a metal rod with a heavy ring and is used to draw thread from cotton with the left hand with the right hand twirling it deftly. It is more time consuming than the charaka and requires lot of patience. From the thread, he got a coat made for himself.

That was how ardent my father was about using khadi. He was always dressed in spotless white khadi with kacche panche (dhoti tied around the waist with alluring folds in the front). He used to wear Gandhi cap sometimes. What Dr Rajendra Prasad or Rajaji wore should conjure up the picture of it.

My father would never miss an opportunity to rush to any lecture arranged at the Town Hall or in Subbarayana Kere by visiting Congressmen and cheering the speaker with Congress ki jai or Mahatma Gandhiji ki jai.

The high point of his life, he says, was the experience of seeing at close quarters Mahatma Gandhi when he visited Mysore and hearing him speak at the Town Hall in Hindi which was ably translated to Kannada.

Lately, however, my father was disillusioned with the Congress and cryptically concludes:

Then: ‘Congress is a name to conjure with its wonderful embrace. Even the child in the womb was affected by its influence (like Abhimanyu)’.

Now: ‘Congress is a byword for ridicule. The politicians are only attracted by power and pelf to the utter dismay and neglect of masses; a shameless universal laughing stock’.

As for my own reminiscences there is nothing to record, for in those days politics was drowned in the everyday grind of living making hand to mouth existence.

We were not exactly poor but belonged to the lower middle-class Brahmin community. Though my mother was the daughter of the executive engineer, the only treasure she had was the ornaments she was given during marriage and the eleven rupees she used to get as pension when her father died when I was barely few months old.

My grandfather was generous to a fault and he would freely give money to whoever asked without any collateral guarantee with the result he was cheated by his relatives and there was nothing left to give for his only daughter. My mother freely gave her ornaments from the sale of it our education was possible.

My father clearly told us he would meet the educational expenses and that we should not expect anything else. My memory centres round the trip to the ration shop to bring the ration. We used to get coarse rice and we would bring it on the cycle or carry gunny bags on our back bent double due to weight.

Our father believed in frugality and it has paid rich dividends. Of course I would go for prabhat pheris and that was the extent of fighting for Swaraj.

The other remembrance is the constant shortage of sugar and jaggery replaced it. During 1947 we were in Chamarajanagar where my father was the factory manager of silk filatures.(He quit after four years of practicing as a lawyer as he was disillusioned. He records that he was dead against Evidence Act which only helped lawyers to tutor the witnesses to give coloured version of the happenings).

Most of us were addicted to coffee and in those days getting coffee seeds was a luxury. My mother overcame it by roasting Aavarke flowers, yellow in colour (I do not know its biological name) which was available in plenty and prepare coffee decoction to which jaggery was added!

Eventually when India won freedom on this day 60 years ago, my father arranged a great get-together of all factory workers to celebrate.