“Where am I?”
“Where are others?”
I am lost!
It was during April-May 1964 during my school annual vacation that my mother along with me and my younger brother had gone to stay with my father at Somwarpet. I was a nine year old boy who had just completed the fourth class. My father was working as a manager-cum-accountant-cum-driver in a big estate of one Mulliah.
In fact, one fortune teller had told my mother to keep an eye on her husband, my father, which had sown the seeds of suspicion in her mind. In those days, such fortune tellers carrying a pet parrot used to visit the village forecasting future events and taking money or paddy or rice as their fee. They would dramatically release the parrot from its cage telling it to pick-up one card from a pack of cards placed on the floor. The trained parrot would pick one card from the lot. The fortune teller would see the picture on the card and speak about the past, present and future of the person in front of him. They had the art to make people believe their story.
Somwarpet, the second highest town of Karnataka in altitude, derives its name from the "Somwar" (Monday) weekly market. The sellers and buyers congregated in a vast area in the town to sell their products and buy essentials for the next week.
We were staying in a row house built for the families of the labourers working in the coffee and cardamom plantations of Mr Mulliah. It was some 10 to 12 kilometres away from the town.
It happened on a Monday, a market day. My father had gone to Somwarpet early in the morning, telling my mother to send me along with other neighbours going to the weekly market. They were to take me and drop me at my cousin's shop in the town so that my father could pick me from there and take me around.
A group of ten to twelve neighbours were going to the town for shopping their weekly groceries and provisions. I was told to go with them, and I did.
Somwarpet town was around twelve kilometres away by road from our residence. As it was a hilly terrain, the roads were long and circuitous. There was no asphalted road then. The mud roads were not freely motorable. Jeeps with four wheel drive were the preferred vehicles for such bad and steep roads.
However, a short-cut, a narrow pathway, the workers preferred was just about five to six kilometres only. For me it was an unforgettable trek through the thick forest. I felt like we were walking under an umbrella made by the thick foliage. I thoroughly enjoyed walking with my neighbour aunts and uncles. After about two hours walk we reached on the road leading to the town. I could see other groups in front and behind. All were heading to the market. We were getting close to Somwarpet town. Yes, after one or two turns we should have been at our destination. I could see big buildings on the hill top and few vehicles were seen passing by. I was happy that we were almost done.
Suddenly, I found myself in an ocean of people. All of them rushing towards the market. It was the entry point into the market. I looked around. Where are the uncles and aunts? There was no trace of them. I don't know where to go.
I am lost.
I cried, cried and cried.
Nobody stopped or came near me. All were rushing towards the market.
I don't know how to communicate, how to take help. I can't speak Kannada or any other language except Malayalam, my mother tongue.
I also didn't know that people there called my father by his surname Nambiar.
I tried asking some of the people to help. But how can they understand my Malayalam?
I was scared of the crowd. I have not seen such a large crowd before, except in the temples where I always held on to my grandma's hands.
Expecting some help, I moved to a hotel on the other side of the road. Sobbing, I approached the Manager sitting behind the table and collecting payments from the customers. I tried to explain my problem to him in Malayalam. The Manager seemed to have understood the situation as I saw him calling out for one of the waiters and giving instructions in Kannada. I didn't understand a single word though. I was happy. I stopped crying. I thought they were going to reach me where I was supposed to go. The waiter took me towards the market. We must have walked for five minutes or so. Alas, he suddenly left me in midst of the crowd and disappeared like thin air!
I am lost yet again! I thought it would be easier to find me in case I remain near the spot where I got separated from the group. I walked back and reached near the spot where I was earlier. I was afraid to go near the hotel again. I went a little ahead on the same lane.
One lady was ironing clothes in a small shop on the roadside. I looked at her. Her face seemed familiar. Something flashed in my head. She was travelling in the same bus in which we were travelling from Madikeri to Somwarpet when we come to Coorg. I have seen my father speaking to her then. I stood crying in front of her.
Yes, she recognised me!
There was no need to explain. She had understood my tears. She took me to my cousin's shop, which was just on the far side of the market. My father, upset and tensed on learning the incident had also reached there by that time. I was thus reunited with my family.
Whenever I visited Somwarpet I tried to find this "aunt" to thank her but could not locate her. Being a migrant worker, she might have switched places. Wherever you are thank you dear "aunt" for saving my life.
Even after 55 years, this incident still disturbs my sleep at times.
The row houses where we stayed were in a heavenly place. Bordering it was a thick forest on the right side. The owner's bungalow and coffee drying yard were on the left. The coffee plantation was at the back. And the coffee processing plant somewhere out in the front.
Although I was forbidden to go to the forest due to the presence of wild boars and blood sucking leeches, I nevertheless ventured out into the coffee plantation to taste the ripe coffee fruits, which were sweet and juicy.
One of hobbies on these visits was to climb the orange trees bordering the coffee plantation and pluck ripe juicy oranges. May be because of such risky pursuits, I started getting high fever with continuous vomiting. Nausea was so strong that I could not eat or drink anything for days.
I was admitted to the nearest Government hospital. In those days, facilities like blood test, liver function test, etc., were non-existent. The only course of treatment was to inject the glucose saline, morning and evening.
Nearly eight to ten syringes filled with some unknown liquids were injected one after the other in quick sequence. The needles were very thick, and the prick was extremely painful.
The pain was unbearable. Even though I have very high tolerance levels, I used to scream at the top of my voice. The rest of the patients and visitors crowded around my bed. To witness the strange treatment.
The quality of present day syringes is such that the prick usually causes little pain.
In those days, most of the nurses hailed from Kottayam a small District in Kerala State. The one attending on me too came from Kerala. She was a fair, tall, beautiful girl in her 20s.
My uncle who used to visit me regularly became friendly with her. In fact, he was smitten with her. Thanks to the ‘Inland Letter' of the Indian Posts, their relationship flourished by mail.
Use of the Inland Letter was preferred by lovers over the postcard. Postcard content could be read by anyone. Hence the widespread use of Inland Letter for matters of heart. Those days, telephones were hard to come - there were no modern day facilities like mobiles, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
Within six months this secret love relationship came out of the Inland Letter. It was a great shock to all other family members.
All hell broke loose!
How could an orthodox Hindu family waking up every morning chanting the name of Lord Krishna, and going to bed reciting the name of Lord Rama allow one amongst them to get married to a Christian Nurse?
No, no, no was the Mantra. It was blasphemy in reverse.
After many rounds of arguments among the brothers, sisters and tearful persuasions by my grandmother, the ‘Family Adalat (court)' ruled that an Inland letter, the last one, should go the Nurse stating that my uncle was already married.
Sorry dear ‘Sister Aunt', I had no role in it, we the children were mere spectators.
Time has changed and one of his nephews has married a Christian girl.
I was discharged after a week, as there was no improvement, or hope of any improvement, or perhaps even survival. I was discharged from the hospital with the attending physician advising us to visit a "Sant/Baba" for some divine help.
The "Sant/Baba" that we visited did not charge any money from us. Instead he gave me a one-rupee coin and blessed me for early recovery!
I was brought back to Kerala in a very bad condition. Mukundan Vaidyar, an Ayurveda doctor practicing Allopathy, who was considered as a top physician in a few Panchayats, was called in.
Vaidyar diagnosed the disease as ‘jaundice'. The diagnosis was based on a brief physical examination of the eyes, tongue and inspection of a spoon full of cooked rice put in the urine sample.
That is all. No x-ray, no blood test - not even a stethoscope was used. Ayurveda medicine and strict diet were prescribed by this Vaidyar, who cured me in a few months' time. The wonder medicine was none other than the medicinal herb by name Keezharnelli (Phyllanthus niruri).
Just swallow a small ball made out of the crushed and ground leaves of this herb in the morning. ‘White gourd' or ‘Ash gourd' boiled without salt was my staple diet.
How could I eat that stuff for a few months is still a mystery to me. When I had ‘jaundice' in 1991, this herb saved me yet again. One of my friends used to fetch this herb from the IIT, Mumbai campus. At Mukund Hospital, Mumbai, where I was admitted for a few days, was receiving glucose saline drips and vitamin supplements only. Presently, a lot more tests are available and this group of infection has got high sounding names like Hepatitis A, B, C, etc. It was just ‘jaundice' or ‘yellow fever' in 1964.
© M P Vasudevan 2019
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