At a counterpoint

Through Eerappa Kambali’s book looks at the city through the eyes of a village dweller

Chacha Nehru Mattu Eechalu Mara by Eerappa M. Kambali,

Charvaka Prakashana, Rs. 75

One of the greatest Kannada poets, Gopalakrishna Adiga, once wrote a poem called “Nehru Nivruttaraguvudilla” (Nehru will not retire.) The poem rings true even today. The book under review is no doubt inspired by the poem: it places the eechalu mara (wild date tree) – the author himself – right opposite the suave, sophisticated Nehru, with a rose in his buttonhole.

Nehru was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, while the author had to make do with silavar (aluminium) spoons and other utensils. Around the time Nehru passed away, children were then made to believe that his house was so big that trains passed through it and currency notes were burnt to make tea.

Kambali, who hails from the hot, dry plains of north Karnataka, wonders why no one is reverential about the wild date tree, which, according to him, is a kalpavriksha of the plains. It yields liquor that relaxes the tired bodies of labourers, and is good for health if consumed in the early hours of the morning before it ferments after sunrise. The unfermented toddy (called neera) is particularly good for tuberculosis patients. Its fronds are used in making mats and in the construction of huts. Its thorns provide a shield of protection for rabbits and beehives. By cutting down wild date trees, the government has only replaced country liquor with other kinds of liquors.

The author employs the “wild date point of view” to look at everything. In the Majestic area of Bangalore, he has watched everything from the modus operandi of pickpockets, motor accident fixers, beggars, parrot card astrologers, palmists – and even sex workers who slip into thinly attended cinema halls in search of clients.

Kambali has a good eye for detail and leaves no stone unturned in his survey of Majestic. But he writes hardly anything about landmarks being demolished, and new, posh buildings coming up. Also, he does not extend his survey into the posh, M.G. Road-Brigade area. But he does deal with how cell phones are turning everyone into a cybernaut.

The author deals at length with the tricks and stratagems employed to establish gods and goddesses in nooks and corners of the so-called metropolis. There are references to goddesses like plague-amma and cholera-amma. He also suspects there may also be an AIDS-amma somewhere.

True to his self-declared eechalu viewpoint, there is a certain rawness and rusticity about his essays about both rural and urban subjects. He also has his soft, touching moments. For instance, he writes a touching piece about his parents and other elders. He bears no grudge against his father, who was given to bohemian, drunken ways.

In many of the essays, Kambali describes the hunger pangs he and his family suffered. Even when he joins college, he is not free from hunger pangs as the classes are in the morning and food is served in the hostel in the evening. It is this hunger and education which have made him what he is.

Leafing Through is a fortnightly column that introduces Kannada books. You can send books (two copies) to Leafing Through, Friday Review, The Hindu, 19&21, Infantry Road, Bangalore 560001.


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