Story of a man who lived for his house and community.
Many a times since ages past, one witnesses the life of a man, unknown and unheard of in the bigger world but that which stands out as a respected memory through the legacy left behind for his people and community. Such stories have seldom found its place in the wider audience. However, it does not in any way compromise on its attribute as a source of inspiration for the generation to follow. From the land of kurunjies was born one such tale of a man, to be told and retold simply for the rawness in its nature and the feat that it had achieved during its time.
The twenty third of January of the year nineteen eighty four, in a modest house that was built for his kith and kins, he finally decided to join the gods and go back to where he had come from.
Mr H B Aari Gowdar, of the Annodai settlement belonging to the Horasholai village, of the Kotagiri region, was a great man. All that the author knows of the man was from his first son, Mr H A Raju. The bits and pieces of Aari Gowdar’s life were collected through a series of sittings at the dinner table with Raju. Three decades have passed since the great man’s death and at the event of his thirtieth death anniversary, I humble myself in penning down this piece as a tribute to his life of hardship and devotion. In the name of Horasholai Bellie Aari Gowdar, I let my pen be guided by his spirit.
During the initial years of the twentieth century a sort of famine broke out in some parts of the Nilgiris. It was not as drastic as any other famine that would invade the country in later years; however, for what it caused, it changed the course of Aari Gowdar’s life. The Christian Missionary came to the people’s aid and started doing social service to the community. Having no means for and of education, the only way Aari Gowdar could support the family was through some source of income. Thus he joined as a worker for the Missionary, at the tender age of ten.
The wage he earned then was two annas. The nuns were very kind to the young boy. Along with their service they also preached Christianity. Aari Gowdar worked hard and was very dedicated to the cause. Four years later, his wage was revised to four annas. Apart from running small errands, the nature of work mainly involved carrying the medical kit bag which the nuns took with them to different villages to administer to the sick and needy. Minor illnesses were treated and advice on health and sanitation was given to the illiterate villagers. Aari Gowdar imbibed some of it which included not only the medical aspect but also the religion. This was his first encounter with Christianity. He began to love the religion through the nuns who followed it. In them he saw the good that they did to his community in the name of god.
One fine day a dorai met Aari Gowdar. A fine gentleman of pure European breed who had settled down in the Nilgiris, saw the young boy at work and immediately took him as his recruit with a pay increase of six annas. Aari Gowdar was fourteen when he started to work for the dorai. Being one of the initials few to have worked with the English, it is here that Aari Gowdar would learn things that otherwise he might not have given the facilities that were available then.
During those days there were no pipelines to channelize water from its source. The only means of procuring water was to collect it manually from a natural spring. Apart from this, rain water harvesting was also done using domestic utensils. Aari Gowdar was laboured to bring water for daily domestic use in the dorai’s house. This became the first work scheduled for the day.
The European gentleman was the head in-charge of the illustrated weekly, BENET COLMAN & SONS. Benet Colman & Sons had its headquarters located in Bombay and one of its branches was in the Ramchand & Co building in town. The dorai offered Aari Gowdar the job of an agent in the publishing unit. In order to equip his employee, the gentleman taught Aari Gowdar the English language. One of the first things that he learnt was to write his name and signature, all in capital letters. He continued to do the same till his last days.
Aari Gowdar’s work at Benet Colman & Sons was to keep track of the register in which the Europeans and a few Indians who could afford the weekly subscription, entered their names as and when they collected their copies. It was through this entire experience that he began to read the language, though with much difficulty and also understand it when spoken.
In the nineteen thirties Aari Gowdar married a young girl from the Milidhene village which is around ten kilometres from Annodai. In the year nineteen thirty seven was born the first child, a boy and was named Horasholai Aari Gowdar Raju; H A Raju in short. Subsequently there were six more children born out of which were two boys and four girls. One of the girls, Maasi passed away in nineteen ninety one and thus the family has survived since by the rest six along with their children and grand-children.
Then came the year of Indian independence, nineteen forty seven. India was to be on its own and it was time was the British to leave India to the Indians. For the dorai, thus arose the problem of the publishing unit’s continuity and survival. At once, he decided to hand over the unit to his most trusted employee, Mr Aari Gowdar. A deposit of rupees sixty was made in Aari Gowdar’s account and the legal papers were signed. Sixty rupees those days was a very large amount but what frightened the forty eight year old was the huge responsibility bestowed on him. He was to run Benet Colman & Sons from then on. With no formal education or any knowledge about the contacts, Aari Gowdar stood at cross-roads. However, he was much encouraged by his mentor and guide, the dorai, and it turned to be another phase on his life.
Before they departed, the gentleman handed over some of his articles to Aari Gowdar. Among the shoes and coats and others was a unique article- a trouser. Not having worn a trouser since childhood days Aari Gowdar did not know how to wear it with ease. It gave him much discomfort and perhaps was embarrassed to wear such things in front of his community people. However he did not necessarily feel the need for one such piece of cloth and thus discarded it cheerfully. Other things were put to great use especially those warm clothes that served well for the cold climate of the blue hills.
There was yet another special article- the Holy Bible. Aari Gowdar’s stay at the gentleman’s brought him in close association with Christianity. It had such a strong influence on him that he did not follow the Hindu custom of immersing the sacred ash on his forehead. It stood as a symbol of not identifying oneself with a single religion. He accepted Christianity for its service. He read the Bible and followed its teachings for there were universal. It was from Aari Gowdar that his grand-daughter took to rendering the Holy Bible devotedly even to this day.
However, this did not mean that he discarded the religion to which he and his own community were born and breed into. His faith in and respect for the Hindu religion, though not exhibited explicitly, was so much so that during the years that followed, a part of the revenue from the first harvest of every season would go to the Muruga temple in the Gathuguli village where even to this very day the entire family goes for blessings.
The number of subscribers for the illustrated weekly before Aari Gowdar took over the unit was around a hundred and twenty, most of them Europeans of course. The Times of India was sold at one rupee per copy which could be afforded by a few natives also and illustrated weekly was charged at fifty paise. The number gradually began to decline and by nineteen fifty, Aari Gowdar thought it was not viable and shut down the unit in Ramchand & Co.
What followed during the second leg of his life was agriculture. It was the soil that kept Aari Gowdar’s spirit high. Perhaps he would have lost a sense of purpose in life if not for the toiling and sweating in the fields. Watching the crops grow brought peace to the fifty year old.
Potato and cabbage were among the commercial crops grown while wheat, ragi and millet were the food crops. Aari Gowdar also managed a few acres of orange trees in the kookathoorai village along with his three brothers. This land was further leased and plain lands were purchased around the Kotagiri region. Here, a crop by the name samai was cultivated. Aari Gowdar worked very hard in the fields and constructed terraces around the lands as a measure towards water conservation. With absolutely no training or knowledge on the methods of irrigation, Aari Gowdar carried out his own experiments, trails and errors, and did fairly well if not for abundance in production.
In the year of nineteen seventy one, Aari Gowdar built a house next to what would one day become a national highway. The regions of Kembikkai, a kilometre away from the interior Annodai, bore the house as one of the very few in the area. It was forested and I remember quite well the tales that my grandfathers used to narrate of their adventures through the thick cover (some of which were as exaggerated as fighting with a tiger).
By then, H A Raju had become the first person in the village to clear his SSLC examinations and in nineteen fifty seven he went on to become the first graduate in the region. He was posted as a government servant after being recruited by the Madras Service Commission in the year nineteen fifty eight. Mr H A Kadan, the second son, joined the then famous Hindustan Photo Films (HPF) in Udhagamandalam. The third son, Mr H A Balakrishnan, after pursuing physical education in the well-known Lakshmi Bhai Sports School in Gwalior, completed his tenure as the Head of The Department of Physical Education in St. Stanes Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School, Coimbatore. The daughters were married to good families and thus after completing his role and responsibility as a father, Aari Gowdar proudly retired into his leisured life.
He was of great service to the society. Aari Gowdar was a forward thinking mam. He ensured his sons were educated and also managed to send his youngest daughter up to high school which in those days was a far difficult task to accomplish. Sending someone then as far as Madras was by itself involved deep speculation. But he sent his youngest son to what seemed as the farthest place, Gwalior. He encouraged everyone to think forward. He was a strict disciplinarian. I used to be taught from his practise of a joint family supper and its importance. He woke up early every morning and had his first wash from the cold water from the brook that flowed down the hills. He gave women their due place in the household. He was very loving among his grandchildren and used to amaze them small sweets kept always in reserve in his coat pocket. He was a much respected man in the community and people came in numbers to seek his advice and blessing.
On a fine Monday morning, in the year of nineteen eighty four, he breathed his last. With his wife and the youngest daughter, Lakshmi by his side, they say he died without vain. Born around nineteen o one (there is no official record of the birth-date), for eighty odd years, Mr H B Aari Gowdar lived a life worth recalling time and again.
- gokul b