Mallenahalli: Blessed by the Baba

Looking forward to this leg of the schedule….since we are off towards Chikmagalur and Hassan. Hassan is home to another large settlement,Angadihalli. This time the team has three welcome additions from the Iruliga communty….the resolute Gundamma, her other half, Daya and the idealistic young Attabariya. The others include young Thyagraj apart from Reshma and Srikant who are coming again and Chitra and Shakun from Vimochana. We look forward to being joined by Kumuda, Suresh and Mukundappa (all from Hasthapanahalli)  in Chikmagalur. It is an eclectic bunch of travelers this time. Thanks to Chitra we are looking forward to a lot of singing and fun!

The rain blesses us as we hit the highway but thankfully does not hamper our movement.

We climb into the slopes of Malenahalli that is perched prettily against the magnificent backdrop of Baba Budangiri.

The story of this settlement too goes back to the mid fifties when some families came to settle down to a new life in this forest land. Over the seventies and eighties about 18 families got sagoli chits, the title deeds. over the 2-3 acres that they were each cultivating. None of the others got since by then they got caught between the cross fire of the Naxals and the administration. After a move to push them out from this region, around 40 families were resettled with land in neighbouring Lakshmipura, while about 20 families were flung out to the outskirts of Chikmagalur town in Badaavne where they were given sites for houses. Others continued to live on in Mallenahalli surviving by the dint of their traditional skills of hunting, conducting their trade in plastic craft, herbs from forests, ayurvedic oil etc.

We are greeted by Jyothi, striking in a blue and yellow caftan who has many stories to tell us. Her family was one of the first few families to settle there in the fifties. They seem to have excelled both in their new occupation of agriculture are well as at what has come down to them through their ancestors. She is one of the few families who along with other families from Angadihalli has been travelling extensively over the past seven years to different parts of the world. The names roll of her tongue….Dubai, Abuja, Zambia, Ivory Coast….they are now planning to go to Malaysia, Moscow/Russia soon! She insists we go and see her 12 acre thotha that they have cultivated extensively….coffee, ginger, adke, coconut, vegetables. Gundamma, Reshma and Srikant who go with her come back totally impressed and with some deliciously fleshy and sweet Ramphal that we devour with delight.

Now, as Jeebai, the current Chairperson and Panchayat member and her husband who is the Chairman of the Forest Rights Committee, tell us, the atmosphere having becoming a little more conducive, about 103 families are in the process of getting their title deeds under the provision of the Forests Rights Act.

We have an interesting conversation with Jeebai’s son, Vishwa who is one of the few who has studied upto II PUC but stopped after he got married. As his physique shows he was a successful athlete who was a javelin thrower!

The survival spirit of the women of the Hakki Pikki community shines through the feisty and good humoured Poonam. She lost her husband to cancer and had to bring up her four children of who three are blind. Tragedy, it is clear, has not borne her down. Two of her daughters are studying in a school for the blind and are also excelling in sports, the elder daughter having gone abroad to participated in the Olympics for the physically challenged. Sunju, the younger one, who also wants to get into professional sports, in blessed with a beautiful voice that she shares with us through the lovely song that she sings.

The children as always sparkle with their energy, inventiveness and sheer joy of life singing songs, telling ghost stories, dancing around Shakun and Chitra the archetypal aunties!

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