Everyone has their own experiences of travelling to a new place for the first time, especially if he/she is an unseasoned traveler and is alone. This is a guest post by Mr.S.M.Nanjappa. Through this post, he reminiscises his first experience from back in the time. He narrates his story of travelling to SOMEWHERE outside his little village for the first time. Over 5 decades ago, his first time outside his little village was to a metropolitan city of Bangalore.
A brief background:
Kodagu (or Coorg as the British called it) is one of the smallest districts in Karnataka state in India. ‘Kodavas’ form the majority of the native communities that is endemic to this region with a total community population of around 1.5 lakhs. In spite of their small community size, the Kodavas take pride in maximum number of its people having served in the British & the Indian army. They say that the forces and hockey runs in their blood. Mr.S.M.Nanjappa is from a generation that has seen at least one son from every Kodava household serving in the forces and the times when recruitment officers periodically visited every Kodava household looking out to induct the boys into service.
I had just graduated from Secondary School, in a small town in Kodagu district. Since I couldn’t join college in the same year due to some reasons, I decided to join the Indian army like most other people from my district did. Accordingly, I planned to attend one of the army recruitments that were scheduled in Bangalore. That was my first journey to a city from the remote village and also the first time that I was seeing trains, auto rickshaws, and double-decker buses among many other things. I found myself having stepped into a New World and everything around me appeared to be strange. On the following day of my arrival at Bangalore, I visited the army recruitment office near Mayo hall. However, I was rejected after my medical examination due to poor eyesight, which I didn’t know until then. I came out of the recruitment office with much disappointment.
Just while I was crossing the gate of the center, a stranger asked me, “What happened young man, are you selected?”. He was tall, well built and smartly dressed and spoke English.
“No, I am rejected due to my eye sight”, I replied to him in my broken English.
“What are you planning to do now?” he asked.
“I will return to my native place”, I told him.
“Which is your hometown?” he asked.
“Coorg”, I replied.
To my utter surprise, this stranger started to speak Kodava language.
“I am from Kokeri village. I am currently working in the Indian Air force as a sergeant. I have come here, to the recruitment office to enroll one of my friend’s sons”, he introduced himself in the only language that I was most comfortable to speak in.
He then thought for a moment and after a pause, offered to help me if I didn’t mind.
“I know a Kodava who works as a Major in the army. He will definitely be able to help you with my army job!” he suggested.
I was so glad that I had met a person from my own community and thereon, believed him with my stay in the city. After I nodded an agreement to his suggestion, the two of us started our walk down the boulevard of M.G.Road. I was taken into a small hotel and offered a cup of coffee. From there, we proceeded towards sub-area office, where the Kodava Major worked.
“I live in a big bungalow provided by the air force. I have two servants, a jeep and a driver at my service. You can stay in my house for as many days as you like.” he informed me as we continued our walk.
People of Kodagu, especially me, have always been awed by the fancy lifestyle of the army men. The soldiers who came on home leave were always well dressed and smoked expensive cigarettes. It was hard to say the soldiers with their behavior as compared to from the officers of higher ranks in the army. I always wondered if even a soldier in the army lived a classy life. So, when this person told me about the benefits he was provided by the forces, it wasn’t hard for me to believe his story.
Politely rejecting the offer to stay at his house, I informed him of my plan to return to my native by that night’s bus. He asked me to stay back and told me that he would certainly be able to get me enrolled in the army. Even as we continued to walk, I was taken to a big shop that sold fabrics. There, he enquired about certain materials that he needed to refurbish his bungalow. “The air force wants every house to look modern.” he said. Sadly, he couldn’t find anything that matched his taste.
“Since this is your first visit to the city, I will show you around. It will be convenient to travel if the jeep is available.” He said, before walking across to a telephone booth to call his driver. He returned to where I was standing and expressed his irritation. “These bloody phones don’t work when necessary!”
We arrived at the sub-area office in a bit. He told me to wait outside the gate and that he alone would meet the Major and talk about me. As this man walked inside the office, he was greeted with a smart salute from a sentry standing guard there.
The sergeant returned in ten minutes. If my memory is right, it must have been around 11:00.a.m. that day.
“The major is enjoying drinks right now and I too was offered a glass of rum. But, I refused the drink and informed him about your job matter. The major has asked us to get a medical certificate from a competent doctor in Bangalore.” I was informed about his meeting with the army officer.
“Do you know any doctor in Bangalore?” I was asked.
After getting a negative reply from me, he thought for a few minutes and told me about his acquaintance of a doctor who worked in Bowring hospital. As per the suggestion of this god-sent man, I agreed and continued to walk with him towards the hospital. On our way, I was taken to a market from where this man wanted to purchase a few things for the interiors of his house. After enquiring the rates of a few things in the market, he came out from there informing the vendors that he would return on his way back. However, as we walked out, he told me about the things being expensive in that market as it was frequented mostly by the officers.
As we were passing the market, this man’s eyes fell on a vendor who was selling puppies. “Seven rupees per puppy”, the vendor informed upon the sergeant’s enquiry of the price. Although he intended to buy two for the company of his Alsatian dog in his bungalow, he expressed his unhappiness over the quality of the canines and left the place.
He again went into a telephone booth and tried to call his driver to get the jeep, but returned blaming the phones that were out of order.
We finally arrived at Bowring hospital. I was again made to stand outside, where the sergeant went in alone to the cabin of one of the doctors and returned in about 10 minutes. “There is good news. The doctor has agreed to give you the required medical certificate. But, he has demanded an amount of Rs.100/- for the same.” he informed me.
“Give me Rs.100/- so that I can get your medical certificate.” he asked me politely after a pause of a few seconds, with his palms stretched in front of me.
It was that moment, in which I was struck by my sixth sense. “I have only Rs.5/- with me.” I informed him.
“It is a matter of getting a job. Don’t lose the opportunity. Check again if you have at least Rs.50/- I will adjust the remaining amount.” he told me.
“I have kept all the money I had in the hotel room itself. I now have only Rs.5/- “, I expressed my helplessness by showing him my wallet.
After hearing this, the sergeant grew furious. He forcibly searched the pockets in my trousers and my shirt. After finding no other amount, he took that Rs.5/- and walked away. I was trembling with fear while I was helplessly watching this man walk away with my money.
In my head, I was thanking all the gods that I knew of, in my prayers. God had saved me that day from a conman. In villages, we had grown up listening to stories conmen and thieves in big cities. Because of that, I had hidden all the money that I had inside my socks. I had lost only Rs.5 out of the 300 rupees that I had carried with me from my native.
Later in time, I learnt that this gentleman was a professional cheater. He often robbed people on the Mysore and Bangalore train route. Army soldiers who were coming to Kodagu on home leave and Kodava ladies were his prime targets at bus stands and railway stations.
This article was featured in ‘Coffeeland News’ Sunday, January 26th 2003 edition.
What is your memory of travelling alone? or out of your home for the first time? have you ever been conned or mugged? Share your thoughts in the comment below.