Gopnala: The tree in which the birds nest

The Gopnala colony was also set up in 1962 as the entrance board proclaims.

Not many families have been granted land here. The few who have, cultivate. The rest are continuing with their vibrant and diverse trade across the country and world. The majority here are converted to Christianity, much to the discomfort of their compatriots in Hasthapanahalli.

It is a quieter and more organised space compared to Hasthapanahalli. The houses are bigger and more modern. An incongruous sight greets us:  a huge stockpile of stuffed monkeys on the verandah of one of the houses. Monkeys in all colours….pretty pink, bright blue, cheerful yellow…. peering at us through beedy eyes! Bhaskar and his wife Sabeena are working diligently finishing assembling the little creatures that they will be then taking around the State to sell.

Bhaskar speaks of how they conduct their ‘monkey business’ and then speaks also about why and how he got converted. “Nobody forced us” he clarifies. “Just that it helped people like my father and me to stop drinking and turn our lives around” he says quietly and calmly. “And no we did not throw our Gods away….we just handed them over in the safekeeping of others in our family who continue to believe in them” he clarifies. “Can you not hold on to your old Gods along with the new” we ask a little naively. That obviously is not a choice.

The stars of Gopnala are Kamlamma and Sabeena. The latter has just returned a couple of days ago from France where she had gone to “massa jae” the French population.  And Kamlamma is obviously more well travelled. How do they manage for language and food?? We are treated to a riotous performance of how. Sabeena….big and huge….in her nightie and towel thrown across her shoulders and Kamlamma, with her dancing eye, casually draped nylon saree  and fluency in almost all the South Indian languages apart from Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati are unlikely ambassadors of the Hakki Pikki brand of cosmopolitanism. “Dont you feel like staying back to these lands you have travelled to” we ask. Kamlamma smiles indulgently gesturing up to the tree we are sitting under and says “ this is where we belong…. under the shade of this tree which is our home.” Sabeena speaks of how she felt so very safe all over France where nobody attacked them. But the men in India are terrible she grumbles listing out all the major hot spots in the country and local areas where they have been subjected to lewd attention. However she and her mobility is obviously undeterred or intimidated by this attention. Only disgusted.

As we leave this casual camaraderie behind we wonder….has Christianity and conversions managed to clean up the cobwebs of a more ‘messy’ if complex culture. Or reengineer a new more ‘modern’ and manageable world view whose sustainability, if not agenda, is suspect? More immediately, the targeted and missionary zeal of the pastors is now being countered with the resurgent intolerant Hindutva lobby that is spreading like wildfire. Will mortal communities like the Hakki Pikkis be the collateral damage in this war of the god’s men and women, we worry.

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