kanivemane.com by L C Sumithra
Translated from Kannada by Sushumna Kannan
HOME

 

When the laughter of his grandson Harith who was watching Tom and Jerry with his feet up on the sofa stopped, Tammannayya looked up from the paper that he had been reading. The electricity had been shut off. Harith got up, went to the laptop and switched it on. His parents had gone shopping after the Sunday breakfast. The domestic help was yet to arrive. It was just the grandfather and grandson at home. Harith felt sorry for his grandfather who always sat alone, quietly brooding over something.

 

‘Do you feel like going home to the village, Grandpa?’

 

‘Yes, I am wondering if I will ever see my home again,’

 

‘Yesterday Amma was telling someone on phone that the house has been made into a homestay, that they should visit kanivemane.com. Surprise...’ and Harith opened a google page. K...a...n...i...v...e, he said aloud as he typed.

 

‘The page has opened Grandpa, come on.’ Tamannayya got up and sat beside Harith on the sofa.

 

‘Look, Kanivemane Home-stay.’

 

Facilities, Photos, Reviews and other pages were listed on the menu, and he clicked on Photos. When he said ‘Look, Grandma’s house,’ the pictures on the screen appeared foggy to Tammannayya. ‘Can’t see anything,’ he said. ‘Wait, Grandpa,’ said the grandson, and laid the laptop on his grandfather’s lap. Harith enlarged the picture and asked if it was now visible. ‘Oh this is indeed our house. Red cement slabs on either side of the main door downstairs, wooden roof on the front upstairs, areca-nut trees that seemed to touch the sky in the backyard, the big mango tree; they are all there.

 

‘Arrerey, wonder where this photograph was taken from, it looks so good. Perhaps they stood on the edge of the threshing yard, from the road.’

 

‘Yes, Grandpa, Amma took these when they had come to bring you here.’

 

Tammannayya’s face fell. Harith clicked again and said, ‘Look Grandpa, the inner courtyard.’

 

‘Arrey, something has been laid on the floor, like bricks.’ He peered at the interlocking tiles. The inner courtyard had previously been left uncovered because the mud kept the house cool in summer.

 

‘Look at this, the bedroom.’

 

The inner-most part of the house! The room beside the main hall was the one he had used as his own and now his private world had been opened up to the world by this website. Cot made of black wood, cupboard in the wall, man-sized safe right beside it, and on top of that, a picture of Lakshmi sitting on a lotus and holding one, were all visible. ‘Oh God, all of this is our private life!’

 

Tammannayya had heard his mother and grandfather say that that the locker should not be in the view of others and had never moved it, not even when the walls had to be painted. All that had been thought of as private had now been turned into a commodity and thrown open to the gaze of the whole wide world!

 

‘Grandpa, look, the tariff per person per night is 1500/-. Half charge for children and for those below five years of age, it is free. Food is of Malnad style.’

 

Harith began to read it all. ‘Look, among the nearby scenic places they have included Jenukallu Hill, Kavalu Durga’s Fort, the hanging bridge … all the photos are here.’

 

‘Where is the hanging bridge? I haven’t seen one, ever.’

 

‘Look, the photo is right here.’

 

Over a small river there was a metal bridge painted in yellow, it appeared tasteless to Tammannayya’s eye, like a yellow snake. Harith began to show him the many other homestays nearby. ‘Enough really,’ Tammannayya sighed and went to sleep, covering his face.

 

After lunch he said, ‘Tomorrow I will go to the village, see me off.’

 

*

 

That evening, he came down the stairs without using the lift to walk within the apartment compound. Around the green lawn, many others like him were walking. In the corner, the blooming blue jacaranda tree had shed flowers all around its roots. The fallen flowers somehow evoked an overwhelming sadness in Tammannayya. In the half hour that he roamed about there, he met a Sindhi grandmother and a Tamil homemaker who both smiled. To speak with them, language was an obstacle. And when he thought that he might not be back here to see these people, he could not feel an ounce of sadness.

 

*

 

When they left Bangalore, Pratap had said that he would spend a night in the woods. Naveen and Prakrit said that they would definitely not accompany him. Naveen said that his mother had said ten times over, ‘There are snakes in the woods, be careful!’ But they chose the Kanivemane homestay anyway to satisfy Pratap. He was the one who had searched on Google and booked the place for two nights; it was a mere twelve kilometres from National Highway 13. They had always found life in a village, amidst a forest fascinating. When they got off the bus, the car they had booked awaited them. Driving up and down and around the hills, when they finally arrived at Kanivemane, they felt like they had entered a different world.

 

After they had a bath, Kittu took them to the dining room for breakfast. The table was laid with idli, chutney, kadubu, butter and tasty horse gram saaru. They helped themselves. The cook Vasu brought coffee when they had finished eating. Unable to suppress his curiosity anymore, Prakrit asked, ‘Are there no women and children in this house?’ Kittu said, ‘no, they are all in Shivamogga.’ After coffee they went to see the fort on the nearby hill. They saw the ruins of the old fort walls, small shrines here and there with no idols within, and some un-worshipped idols. The temple towers vanished behind the red flowers of the Ashoka trees. The pond in the middle of a rock behind the temple with red and white lotuses attracted them. To persuade the boys to get back from the stream at the base of the hill, where they swam or sat immersed in the water, was an uphill task for the guide Kittu. Prakrit who had his feet in water and was sitting on a boulder, reading The White Tiger said that he would come back on his own a little later. He enjoyed the tingling sensation when the tiny fish nibbled at his feet.

 

When they approached the house, Kittu picked them some raw forest mangoes. They tasted much like cultured mangoes. Naveen said that he had never seen such a huge mango tree. Pratap tried to read the writing on a large-sized stone at the foot of the tree when Kittu said, ‘We call it the Maasti mango tree. Someone in this house, many generations ago, about hundred and fifty years or so, had apparently committed sati. That person’s name and the year is written there. The tree is as old as the date on the stone erected. This tree is a like a protector of the house. If any harm comes to this tree, it is inauspicious for the house. Grandpa used to say so.’

 

After dinner while the others slept in a room upstairs, Pratap went to sleep in the woods in a tent. In the background, there was the sound of the cicadasand a lantern was dimly burning in the tent. On all sides of the tent, there was a trench four feet deep to keep off wild animals. A wooden bridge that could be pulled up after entering the tent, served as a door. This gave some confidence that no wild animals could enter! There was the cry of the lapwing every once in a while, in the forest and of course the sound of the cicadas. In between all this, however, there was nothing other than deep waves of silence.

 

In the dim moonlit night, everything appeared like a wonderland. Though friends were close-by there was a certain kind of fear within Pratap. Kittu had assured him that no animal could cross the trench and enter the tent. The floor of the tent was warm. Slipping into the sleeping bag, Pratap tried to sleep as he listened to the sounds of the forest. There was some movementthe gnawing sounds of a rat and then again, silence. With a sarrr sound, accompanied by the screeching noise of a rat, Pratap felt something fall upon him with a small thud. He shuddered with fear. Something cold seemed to move on him and he yelled out a discordant note, half asleep. He sat up and switched on the torch that was beside him. A rat – a snake was gulping down a rat. Pratap who had wanted to sleep in the forest for the thrill of it, shook in the limbs.

 

*

 

Tammannayya who was in the backyard of the house, unable to sleep, suffering from his knee pain had just then felt drowsy. In his dream, he was in a jasmine garden and within it, in the attic of a cow barn. There were buffaloes tied below. Suddenly, a roaring tiger attacked the buffalo, Neela. Tammannayya shouted ‘Ramanna, where are you, the buffalo is in the grip of the tiger!’ Sitting up in his bed, he saw no tiger, no buffalo, no barn. ‘Chey, nightmare! I am in kanive mane,’ he realised. He also realised that he had never been to a jasmine garden and that it had been twenty years since Ramanna had passed away. Holding a dim torch he walked to the bathroom in the yard, used it and came back.

 

*

 

‘Hey, Pratap is shouting.’ Naveen woke his friend up. By then Pratap was calling them on the mobile phone, ‘Come quick, there is a snake.’ Everybody in the house woke up; Kittu switched the lights on and ran towards the tent. Pratap was sitting in the dark shivering. Naveen took his hand and pulled him up. On returning to the house, Kittu said that the snake must have chased the rat into the tent even before the wooden bridge had been withdrawn.

 

After everybody went upstairs with Pratap, Kittu switched off the lights and was about to go into the compound when he heard Tammannayya’s groan and came into the backyard. ‘Ayya, were you woken up? Do you want some water?’ he said and switched the light on. Tammannayya who was sitting on the bed had tears in his eyes. ‘They show hospitality to strangers; but they shun their own father to a corner,’ mutterered Kittu, and went to the kitchen. Returning with a glass of boiled water he said, ‘Please drink this and go to bed.’ After Tammannayya lay down, Kittu put a bed sheet and a shawl on him, brought his own mattress close by, rolled it out and slept in it. He had worked the whole day and was tired. Sleep came to him a jiffy. In his sleep, Tammannayya’s mind moved backwards into the past. He remembered how the property had been divided when he was still young, the building of the new farm in the middle of the jungle after his marriage, his travels to the far-off fields everyday … the children had grown up before he knew it, it had all happened so quickly. The daughter, who stayed in a hostel and studied, had married and gone abroad and was now living in Bangalore. The son had come back home after his graduation. They brought in a bride from among their own relatives. ‘Even then, why didn’t she ever adjust with us? And now, she stays in Shivamogga under the pretext of children’s education.’ Tammannayya’s mind continued to be bothered.

 

*

 

Before the cock’s crow in the morning, Tammannayya was up and had come out to see the sky. He held the torch up in the barn and saw the cows. He then shone the light near the calf’s shed, muttered to himself that all was well and came to the front porch. There, he sat down leaning against the wall and closed his eyes. If at least his wife was alive, he thought, he would not have found things this hard. At night, when giving him his medicines, the son would give a bit more sedative. The mind felt dull all day. And because the cook made coffee only at eight, he made his own  with his trembling hands. But when the others came from Bangalore, everything changed. The cook would make something in the kitchen as early as six. The son, dressed to go out, would carry a cup of coffee upstairs!

 

In a short while, a boy in shorts came down and looked around the yard. Seeing three domes of hay stacked, he asked if they grew a lot of paddy. ‘Yes, not much,’ was Tammannayya’s vague reply. Tammannayya knew that the stacks were artificially created using bamboo sticks and a little hay to give a rural feel, but he did not say so. Making sure that the son was not around; he asked the visitor his name, city and so on. The youth introduced himself as Raman, an engineer working in a multinational company. When he asked Tammannayya how he was, the grandfather had replied that one should not be alive at his age. ‘See, there is no one to hand one a cup of coffee even in the morning.’ When the son came out, the conversation stopped and Raman went in. Tammannayya did not know that this Raman from Bangalore was the son of the salonist Somu, who, years ago, lived in the small town three miles away. This guest roamed about the house and looked everywhere. He peered endlessly at the drawing on the wall in the dark hallway and finally took a photograph. That was the wall decorated during Tammanayya’s wedding; the drawing was more than half a century old.

 

*

 

When some of the guests asked Tammannayya when the house was built, how old it was and so on, he would narrate the history of his house. When his father was studying, there were no schools and he had written alphabets on the sand of the Koolimatha. But, he, Tammannayya, went to a school five miles away. When Tammannayya was young, there were dense forests around, cheetahs would come close to the house and take dogs away. He would go on talking that way.

 

*

 

After returning to Bangalore, Pratap went on and on about how thrilling Kanivemane’s ambience was, with its typical Malnad food and hospitality. The coffee … oh my, was made with beans grown by people right there, the milk from the cows milked just then, a coffee that could not be found even in Coffee Day! He described in his travel blog that it was a great place to experience the Malnad lifestyle from close proximity. He uploaded pictures of his friends and him bathing in the pond and standing at the precipice of the hills. The one and half hours he had spent in the tent had become a narrative titled ‘A night in the forest.’ The rat snake had become a cobra! Apart from this, everything else of course, was truthful.

 

Completely opposed to this, Raman had written, ‘This cannot be considered a homestay because the ambience of a home is missing. This is not a ‘homestay,’ just a ‘stay.’ There is a cook to make meals. And owners to take money, the place is not alive! Apparently, the members of the family live in a rented place in the town. This is ironical.’

 

*

 

The rains gave way, and winter set in. Tammannayya muttered to himself in front of Kittu that there seemed to be no sign of raising the areca nut scaffold and the choguru1 was still to be prepared! Kittu said that the areca had been leased out to one Basava who lived up the road. ‘How come everyone else is being helped, while we have to serve and cook for all kinds of strangers?’ wondered Tammannayya. Kittu said ‘Ayya, they were saying they would sell the house and move to Bangalore. Another time, they were saying that they would build two more rooms near the forest for the homestay. When more people come on Saturday and Sunday there isn’t enough room now. So, there is talk of cutting the Maasti mango tree down and building two rooms with attached baths.’ Kittu was happy when there were more guests because when they left, they gave him Rs. 50/- as tips. He was not entirely disappointed about the homestay. But he found it strange that just to roam about in the forests people spent so much money! He dreamt of going to Bangalore but his high school education, he was told by his boss, Sudhi, would not fetch him a job. Believing this, he had stayed back. For guests from far-away places, Sudhi would himself unroll mattresses and bring coffee, which surprised Kittu no end. But once the homestay had started, his boss always had money. Money was handed out instantly to those who asked, unlike earlier when Sudhi had to go to the areca dealers or the bank.

 

*

 

After finishing breakfast Tammannayya was applying oil to his aching feet. On that day, the son had gone to the city to participate in the Senior Citizens’ day organised at a hospital by the club he was a member of. To mark the day, fruits were being distributed to the elderly.

 

From the back of the house, the sound of the Maasti tree being chopped could be heard. Tammannayya felt as if someone was chopping off his arm. Hurriedly he stood up and said ‘Who is that, cutting the tree?’ He took a few steps towards the tree. Meanwhile, the branches of the tree were falling down with thuds. In the commotion, nobody could hear what Tammannayya was saying. ‘Before felling the tree, kill me,’ he wanted to say. But before he did that he had collapsed to the ground.

 

*

 

kanivemane.com’ – where kanive mane means the the home in the valley – was first published in Kannada in Prajavani on September 5, 2010.

 

*

 

1Choguru is a vegetable dye used to colour areca nut.

 

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L C Sumithra is Professor at Tunga College, Teerthahalli, Karnataka and visiting faculty at Kuvempu Kannada Adhyayana Kendra, Kuppali (research center of Hampi Kannada University). She is a well-known Kannada writer and has four collections of critical essays to her credit: VibhaavaNirukhta, Kaadu-kadalu and Gaddeyanchina daari and two anthologies of poems, Bakulada Daari and Tumbe Hoo. She has translated Amrita Preetham’s novel Pinjar into Kannada and is the author of Hoo Hasirina Maatu, a classificatory work on the aromatic plants of Western Ghats. She is the recipient of the H V Savitramma Prashasti, Kannada Sahitya Parishat Prize, the Ratnamma Heggade Memorial Prize, the Infosys Foundation Prize and the B M Sri Pratishthana award. Her poems and stories have been translated into many South Indian languages.

 

Sushumna Kannan has a PhD in Cultural Studies from Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore, India. Her research on the Indian intellectual traditions and feminism focuses on the medieval saint, Akka Mahadevi and her vachanas. She received the BOURSE MIRA, research fellowship in 2006 and 2007 and has published her work in journals and is currently working on a book project. She translates between English and Kannada and is adjunct faculty at the San Diego State University, San Diego, USA. For more on her, visit www.sushumnakannan.weebly.com.