For political parties looking for “influential” members of a community to sway voters, he is definitely a prize catch. His is the last word though it goes by the name of “collective decision.”

Meet Janardhanaiah, who has 24 children and nearly 60 grand-children, some of whom have come of age and are eligible to vote. Gentle and affable to a fault, he commands love and affection of his clan and hence no one disobeys him.

Living in abject penury, Mr. Janardhanaiah, who belongs to the Sillekyatha community, resides on the outskirts of the city at Ekalavyanagar along with other nomadic tribes such as Dombidasas, Kolebasava, and Hakki-Pikki, and describes his age as “around 75.”

“I had 35 children but 11 of them passed away over the years and some during birth,” recalled Mr. Janardhanaiah who has three wives – all siblings.

Apolitical

Not politically attached to any party, Mr. Janardhanaiah knows he will be most sought after as the election draws nearer given his large household. Though his children are grown up with kids of their own and live separately, he — as the head of the extended family — commands obedience. But it is not just the extended family that respects him. Many residents of Ekalavyanagar too revere him.

For, he was once the manager and owner of Manjunatheshwara Sangeetha Nataka Mandali, a theatre company, and used to earn at least Rs. 3,000 to Rs.4,000 a month and employed many of them. Steeped in puranic literature and stories of mythology, dialogues and songs come naturally to Mr. Janardhanaiah as also other members of the community who are basically artistes but none of them receive any pension, which is their main grouse.

Price rise

But, one of them, Muniyamma, is a recipient of Yakshagana and Janapada Academy awards for the year 2006-07 and receives a honorarium of Rs.1,000 a month . “But in these days of escalating prices what can one do with such pittance though I live alone,” she said.

“The Nataka mandali folded because of changing tastes with changing times. People were interested in loud disco music and we could not adjust to their requirements,” sighed Mr. Janardhanaiah.

Kamalamma was bitter. “They recognised only one artiste. But what the rest of us who too are talented,” she asked indicating that a majority of the original inhabitants of Ekalavyanagar are folk artistes who have not been recognised either by the State government or the society.

But, today the artistes are not hankering for recognition. All that they are looking for is a roof over their heads and this was promised years ago but is yet to be fulfilled. With elections round the corner they feel a sense of déjà vu – of fresh promises.

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