Hasthapanahalli and the Man with a Broken Hip

The Banyan Tree

We arrive in Hasthapanahalli to a warm welcome under the shade of the Banyan Tree where we are introduced to the settlement that came into being in the early sixties too. The story was told by the grand old man of the village, 103 year old Shanmangi whose father broke his hips near Hasthapanahalli and could not move. All his relatives who stayed in deras around this area would come to visit him and the settlement grew around him. Everybody spoke with great reverence about another patriarch of the community who had passed away,  Krishnappa,  who did tireless  liasoning with the government to get the 300 acres  which was granted in 1962,  regularised in the mid seventies. The village has grown to around 350 families now from the 150 families who are cultivating the verdant land on which is grown mango, adke etc. Krishnappa’s son, Mukundappa  is proud of his father’s legacy that he has taken forward in the leadership that he has provided for the community as a former panchayat member. But he is better known for his spiritual erudition and oratory in Kannada which  is indeed as unexpected as it is profound. A Hakki Pikki who has discovered Shiva and the mystique of the Anubhava Mantappa is indeed a revelation!

Life unfurls in the early evening around the Banyan tree. Women sitting around and gossiping. Children prancing around like monkeys and turning cartwheels. Partha’s still camera, Vinod’s rolling one and Srikant and the others experimenting with their own camera and mobiles capturing the informal meeting under the tree obviously  inspires other simultaneous if spontaneous performances including women who start singing and dancing around in a circle. A young girl softly sidles up next to me and whispers in a strange tongue into my ears. “What are you saying?!”I ask puzzled. “I am speaking Russian” she tells me proudly. She picked it up while selling her wares on the beaches of Goa. I am left speechless!

A visit to the fields impresses. Kumuda and her husband have worked hard to plant and maintain a mango orchard that they have sub contracted for cutting to a Muslim contractor. Livelihoods strategies it is obvious are multiple. Ranging from their traditional ones revolving around selling plastic thornas, lucky charms,  ayurvedic massage and hair oil around the State, country and now increasingly in different parts of the world. Many in the village are infact out travelling. Mostly within the country. But a few, abroad.

After chatting up some more people who are hanging around including Inspector, Hairpin and Sakre we land up in Shanmari and Shivangi’s house where we also catch up with Chocolate Bai. There on the Dinne, in light of the waning moon we are treated to an extraordinary singing duel between Shanmari and Suresh. Both voices strong and resounding despite the difference in age. They sing from the old epics like Mahabharata. Shivangi and Chocolate Bai regale us with traditional Hakki Pikki devotional songs while using the humble plate as the percussion like they normally do.

Ending the day with a screening that has ingeniously been  set up by the youngsters on the wall adjacent to the local tea shop. The Bannerghatta film draws delighted laughter while Vinod’s film on the nomads across the country draws awe inspired gasps. The expected disruption by the more tipsy friends draws an eventful evening to a close. We are not so politely told that we have come to make money by making a film on the community….a criticism that perhaps is warranted given the history and politics of both mainstream and documentary film making that often objectifies the ‘subject’ of its ‘enquiry’!

It is obvious that Suresh as the member of the Panchayat takes his job seriously as much as he does his role as a diligent farmer where every morning he is off to work in his thota. He speaks of all that he is trying to do for his community. Including getting Bager Hukkum Sagolis sanctioned for the extra families who are cultivating in the adjacent forest land under the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, getting borewells sanctioned, putting cases against parents for not sending their children to school….or against his defiant daughter who he wanted to stop from going abroad to widen her business prospects that he is very much against! While he may not have succeeded with his daughter the increased attendance in the local ashram school and the team of apparently committed teachers who live there point to a job well done.

After visiting and paying our respects to  Mukundappa he accompanies us to the Banyan Tree where we are given a warm send off with some more tea and huge bottles cold drinks. Apart from carrying with us the warmth and affection of the whole community we also carry out with us Mukundappa’s sage advice to the team from Bannerghatta on how they should mobilise themselves around the land and his offer of help should we ever want it. “Just call me and I will come” he assures us.

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