Once upon a time, Govinda, Venky, Seshu, Gundu

ganesha pandal

MADHU GOPINATH RAO writes from New York City: August brings back fond memories.

Memories of life when things were simple and black and white, a time when money was scarce but happiness wasn’t; a time that seems like an era bygone.

Memories of a place where summers of carefree abandon followed frenzied study months. Where small happiness filled the air. Of a place, that seems so close to More‘s Utopia every time I look back. Of a place that is best described by Jagjit Singh‘s “…magar mujh ko lauta do bachpan ka sawan, woh kaagaz ki kashti, woh baarish ka paani…

A place called childhood.

***

My childhood in Malleshwaram was replete with fun and activities. In the early 1980s, Malleshwaram was the place to be. Malleshwaram was your quintessential Bangalore, distilled. It was a microcosm of the bigger city it belonged to. It had the good and the bad with a vast grey of a middle.

One such grey was our Swimming Pool Extension, a middle-class neighborhood.

In this grey, friends were aplenty. A group of 20+ kids bubbled to life like clockwork every evening. For the next two hours, a game that was the flavour of the season would enthrall the kids and onlookers alike.

Gultoria, Goli, Tikki, Kings, soccer and other games made a grand entry in their respective seasons, only to fade like a flash in the pan, paving the way for the king—cricket. Cricket ruled the roost.

The only exception to that rule, was the July-August season, a season when something dearer stumped cricket: Ganesha Habba (festival).

***

For reasons unknown, in our SP Extn’s 5th cross, we had given up on celebrating the street version of the festival. Our cricketing rivals from the 4th cross, fondly called “Pakistan”, had pulled a fast one a year before by celebrating the festival in a small way.

We were under pressure.

After a few days’ worth of discussion, the older boys decided that the economics did not add up and we would not go ahead with it. Alternate views were quelled and suggestions met with insults.

I was 9, my friend Venky 10, and Seshu 11. We were the juttus in the group, your typical aatakke untu lekkakke illa (insignificants). While Seshu and I did well to supress our disappointment, Venky opened his big mouth. Little Venky wanted us to celebrate the festival and he would not have it any other way. As expected he was promptly made to shut up by a few untraceable mild slaps to the back of his head—dharamada yetu.

His ego hurting more than his head, Venky ended up on the opposite compound where ‘TakunGovinda was sitting alone in protest as well.

Takun‘, as he was called, had realized just a day ago that Takun was actually Kun-Ta spelt backwards.

Kunta, in Kannada, is a limp. Govinda had a noticeable limp in his walk due to a polio-afflicted leg. Naturally, he was angry and hurt. He had a point to prove; a reason to get back at the pack.

Venky who knew this, went straight to him.

Over the next week, Venky ended up on Govinda’s compound consistently in a show of solidarity. They would sit and talk animatedly for hours. They would go on walks too. Soon, Seshu and I, tired at not being picked for the game as promised, day after day, joined them. They were happy to have new company.

Another disgruntled 10-year-old, Gundu, joined us too.

***

We set out for a destination, yet unknown to me and Seshu.  Once away from the group and in relative privacy, Venky pulled out something from his pocket.

Our jaws dropped. He had two  receipt books in his hand.

It had a rubber stamped “Vinayaka Balakara Sangha” with the street-address emblazoned on it in purple ink.

“Are you three in?” beamed a proud Venky. “This is top secret! We will teach those peddh nan makklu (morons) a lesson,” thundered Venky who needed his share of this revenge.

“You know how they have been insulting our dear friend Govinda?” quipped the freshman sidekick. We nodded in unison and hurriedly added our, “Of course ! We are in….”

As Venky recounted how Govinda had got Prakash of  ‘Swamy & Bros’ to part with four receipt books, on credit, Govinda had a smile of satisfaction. The rubber stamp was on a similar credit from the vendor who supplied it to the Kannika Parameshwari temple on 8th cross—Govinda’s family managed the temple.

The receipt book had a “Rs 10/-” entry by Venky’s ajji (grandmother) and a couple of “Rs 5/-” entries.

Our surprise turned into awe when we realized where the two other missing receipt books were. One was with Raviraj, a benevolent bachelor who was now too grown up and working to be playing on the street and the other was with gulle (pimpled) Mohana, another working bachelor and Raviraj’s peer.

When we reached Raviraj’s house, more good news awaited us. Between Raviraj and Mohana, they had amassed Rs 100 for us. We were in business. Buoyed by the optimistic trend and true to his Vysya instincts, the 15-year-old Govinda began to chalk out a detailed plan.

We set out with a target between Rs 250 and Rs 1500. This final total would set the tone for the one-day event.

My mother was signed up for the morning’s prasada (kadalekalu usli);  Seshu and Venky’s moms would together foot the evening prasada after the maha-mangalaaarathi. Pots and pans needed would be supplied by Govinda, thanks to his temple connection. The same held true for the jamkhana (carpets), bamboo posts and the “serial lamps”.

***

Two more weeks passed and we had recruited five more kids, most from neighboring streets. Our new group, led by Govinda would make the rounds eliciting funds in faraway streets.

Our own fifth cross was out of bounds, Govinda had thundered. We would set a minimum of Rs 10 for our street and it would yield us at least Rs 400-600 per his plan.

We complied. This would keep the 20 morons clueless for some more time as well.

We went from house to house with a standard invocation:

“Uncle, Ganesha Habba maadta iddeevi (Uncle, we will be celebrating Ganesha festival)….”

The collection was good. Govinda not only had the gift of the gab but had a politician’s face recognition. Thanks to the temple, people knew him even if he did not know them. Add to that, not many had the heart to say no to the sweet handicapped lad with a bunch of innocent juttus in-tow. So, where others would be turned away empty-handed, we got collections.

As the plan took concrete shape, the rest of the 20, busy playing cricket till now began to get suspicious. They tried to pry us juttus for more info. We held our own; until Govinda asked us to leak some info in anticipation of a big step to be taken the next day.

The leak was vague and just indicated to something big scheduled for the next day evening.

***

D-day arrived.

Govinda strode in with two helps from his temple. They had banners in hand with ropes attached to the wooden rods. Cricket stopped. A customary quick pooja by the Venky’s mom with arisina and kumkuma ensued. We juttus were summoned to help.

The word soon spread and people poured out into their compounds and into the street. In an unexpected show of enthusiasm and happiness, people started helping us. Govinda was at the centre of this big limelight. Raviraj and Mohana were requested to be present and their presence lent the much needed weight.

45 minutes later under Govinda’s direction, the two banners with “Vinayaka Balakara Sangha” bore down on our street, suspended from window grills of the second floors houses.

The assembled crowd had parents, by standers and newly joined supporters. Many of these new found supporters had come forward with pledges for loaning curtains, potted plants, shamiana and the venue (compound) among other things.

“Slowly but surely we are limping towards celebrating Ganeshana habba,” Govinda thundered, in an obvious jab at the 20 who had ridiculed his handicap and were mute witnesses to this astonishing development. “We have collected Rs 1,000 and will need your help,” he told everyone who spoke to him.

We followed suit.

Govinda then walked up to the 20. His limp had an air of confidence and a vivid sense of triumph was writ large on his face. He addressed them directly: “Any of you care to join us? If you do, just remember ‘Kun-tas‘ and ‘juttus’ do matter.

No more  ‘aatakke untu lekakke illa…“.

As this unraveled in front of the gathered crowd, a steady stream of defectors deserted the leadership and the 20 naysayers were soon reduced to the 5 kingpins. All of the five were elder to Govinda and, for once, were at the receiving end, cornered and insulted.

Their name calling now out in the open for everyone to see, they hurriedly apologized to Govinda for insulting him and joined us. We were going to have our Ganesha habba!

Have our habba, we did a month later! That year and 10 more thereafter with Govinda as the president. After that incident, no one called Govinda “Takun“, or us kiddos “juttus”.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News