Kathri. Scissors. That was the connection that first brought this man into my life.
In my salad days, learning to ride a bicycle was not quite what it is today. One did not have access to bicycles to fit one’s age, no trainer wheels, no helmets, knee pads, nothing. One borrowed a bicycle from one’s siblings or other kinfolk.
You started with simple strokes that were not written down in any DIY manual. It was community education. Peers, neighbor uncles, one’s own kin, or someone or the other would help you learn. You went out, took several spills, and got right back to it. The bicycle was pretty much the way Calvin (that sassy 6-year-old comic tyke) saw it – it had a very dangerous disdain for the kid and would refuse to comply with the commands to go right, straight, left, stop, or speed up. The fact that the commands were more mental than physical may also have had something to with it all.
What if a family bicycle were not handy? Simple. You went to Sri Thimmayya’s cycle shop and hired a bicycle.
What? You speak American? Oh, all right! You rented a bicycle. May I please continue with my story now? Thank you!
So off I’d toddle to his emporium and rent a bicycle. Old battered ones with airs of melancholy about them cost 15 paise for the hour. You youngsters must understand that in the Glory Days of Socialism Past, 1 paisa, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50 paise coins were in circulation and you actually transacted with those.
Bikes that had a bit of pizzazz and were not beginning to rust, whose brakes were reliable and which had carriers on them – 25 paise per hour. Brand spanking new ones with gleam and polish, tassels on the extremities, carriers, locks, and an attitude of Youth Gone Amok about them – 50 paise an hour; you could rent these only if you were an adult or adept bicyclist.
It was, thus, for bicycle renting purposes that I used to visit Sri Thimmayya’s shop. The money would be got from one or other of the parental units with much soft-soaping and other puppy-dog techniques. Fortunately, said parental units hardly ever declined the request.
The first kilometre stone (I am very metric, don’t you know) was to be able to hit kathri (direct translation of kathri hodiyodu). You didn’t yet get to sit on the seat or even hold the handle bars with both hands. Left hand on the handle, handy for the rear brake, right hand clinging to the seat for dear life, right leg under the frame bar with foot on the right pedal. The blasted bell was always on the right handlebar. You ran the risk of running into people – but this was not a major risk as the pedestrian density was very low.
There came a time when there was a proposal to widen the Kanakapura Road and make it a more contemporary arterial carriageway. Towards this end, the big tank and the small tank were modified. The small tank was completely filled up with garbage over several years. It used to reek to the heavens. On that landfill now stand a choultry, a temple and one or two other buildings.
Land was reclaimed on either side of the then narrow road; part from the steep ‘valley’ that housed the large Obalappa Gardens and part from the big tank (the Yediyur kerey). A multi-year project completed much after I had departed to distant shores.
So, the people of Yediyur got wind of this plan and decided that there shall be no displacement of the temple or felling of the aśvaththa tree or the razing of the aśvaththa kaTTey.
Jayanagar 6th block, on the eastern side of Kanakapura Road, was the newcomer. Yediyur village was still village-y when I was growing up there. Among the many connections that developed between the urban upstart and the vintage village – milk supply (more about this, another time), domestic labour (e.g. karmayogi Mangamma lived somewhere in the village and came to town for work until she started camping at our place), commodities trading (I mean, retail sales), and religious sentiments.
Here is where Sri Thimmayya played another role in our lives. He, with some of his peers, undertook to renovate the old temple – presiding deity: Prasanna Ganapati.
They enlisted the support of people in the entire neighbourhood; both Yediyur and Jayanagar 6th block. Gradually, the temple space changed. The flat stones on the surface were relaid evenly, better street lighting around the place, and a board announcing upcoming pujas and festivals at the temple. A full-time priest was hired who helped formalise a number of things and bring a more disciplined routine to the place.
Villagers and urbanites alike treated the temple and the aśvaththa kaTTey with the due regard, respect, and reverence.
On days when special pujas were held, half hour before the puja began and half hour before the mahāmangalāratī, a small team of Yediyur irregulars, little kids, would visit every household on 23rd and 24th crosses, plus other parts. They would divide up into small groups of two or three, and take up different stretches of the streets. They would go to each house and tell the elders in the house: “Pūjā is beginning in half an hour, please come to attend it.” Or, “Mahāmangalārati is about to happen in half an hour, please come and receive prasāda.”
Over time, people who visited the temple regularly (amma included) were consulted informally about having a music system installed to play soothing bhakti music morning and evening. This was installed with strict guidelines that the volume should not be very high. So, bhakti music played.
At all temple events, children from Yediyur were deployed to set up facilities, take care of logistics, etc. He also made them attend the music concerts, sit quietly and listen. The rambunctious kids toed the line.
Gradually, the ganeśa chaturthī became a grander affair. The Bombay Sisters were an invariable presence each year. Sri Thimmayya would guide the hospitality for all the artistes and the Sisters had a special regard for him. They always sang his favorite songs by Sri Purandaradāsa: kadagola taarenna chinnavey and dāri kānadāgidey rāghavendraney. When they started to sing these two songs, they would always look towards Sri Thimmayya sitting in the front smiling joyously and they would also smile at him.
There were harikathās, Kannada Rajyotsava day featured interesting speakers… there was always something for everyone.
Exam time – usually March to May – were particularly busy times for Prasanna Ganapati. Anxious students and their parents would flock the temple more!
Every year, when I got my final exam results (yes, passed always), one coconut was offered to Him in thanks. Often, before going out of town, amma or I would make a quick trip to visit Him before setting out on our journey.
Sri Thimmayya was a very quiet man. Kanakapura Road has a bad traffic bottleneck at the aśvaththa kaTTey. But …
… for decades and to this day, people slow down or pause to offer at least a salutation to my childhood friend, Prasanna Ganapati.
Thank you, Sri Thimmayya.