India of the rich & Bharat of the poor

India of the rich & Bharat of the poor

[ TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 05, 2006 03:17:35 AM]
I grew up in a village in the Sahyadri mountain region and went to a government school. My father, a self-taught man, knew Sanskrit and English and read Gandhiji’s Harijan, translating it to Kannada for his village friends. I knew my Mahabharata and Ramayana — not by reading — but seeing Yakshagana performances and Harikatha narration.

I came from an orthodox family but read Shivaram Karanth, borrowing books from a village library. I walked some five km everyday to school with my schoolmates, bare-foot, on a stony cart-track wearing a shirt and short pants. When I came back home I had to change into my orthodox clothes, hanging the shirt and pants on a nail on the wall.

In fact, I had recently written that I became a writer only because I wore shirt and pants to school. My orthodox dhoti and upper garment would have confined me to the narrow world of my caste. The school expanded the vistas of my experience for I sat there with boys and girls who belonged to all castes.

These days, in expensive private schools, rich children don’t have the opportunity to enrich their experience by studying the life and culture of the poor. This divide will create two countries — the India of the rich and Bharat of the poor. I want common schools for the rich and poor so that all children have the opportunity to share their joy of learning together. They should learn in the medium of the language of the region and also learn to speak English. This will ensure a sense of equality.

I remember having taken part in the protest marches, singing patriotic songs and listening to stories of Gandhiji, Nehru and Bose. It was 1942 and I was barely 10 then. Our teachers were graduates from either Mysore or Bangalore. The teachers talked to us about electricity and magnetism although I saw an electric bulb when I was 15. But our minds were full of curiosity.

We had begun to question rigid orthodoxy. Gandhiji had changed the way of thinking and I knew some friends of my father who were his followers and went to jail and wore only khadi. Gandhiji had visited the town where I did my high school education before I was born. The elders still talk about him and some even criticise him for he never went to a temple which did not allow entry to Harijans.

remember my high school headmaster, Shri Yoga Narasimhan, a Sanskrit scholar and music composer. My headmaster taught us to chant verses in the Geetha that was dear to Gandhiji. He even read to us famous scenes from Shakespeare translating it to Kannada. He never underrated his.

The beautiful town Tirthahalli where I received my education gave me insights into many characters that were to be part of my future writing. In our small village, on the bank of the Tunga River, we began to publish a hand-written magazine also. We circulated this and I was surprised when I came across a battered copy years later that had articles in Sanskrit, English and Kannada.

I had taken part in a literacy drive inspired by my headmaster, where I taught a boy who cooked in the temple to read and write. He went back to school and soon became a primary school teacher. An orthodox zamindar once told my father: “Look, your son thinks he is in the 21st century.

Don’t let him spoil other kids who work in our houses.’’ Luckily, my father was proud of what I was doing. I was allowed to have a cropped head while other boys of my caste had to hide their tuft of hair on a ritually-shaved head. A cropped head symbolised modernity. These days, the reverse is true!