Kaldoddi: Where the peacocks dance

From among the sea of faces that were looking at us curiously when we got down in front of the tea shop at the entrance to Badaavne, was one that looked so very familiar. “That looks so much like Kaval” I thought to myself. Kaval Rani and Havlayya, two of the gentlest, oldest and drunkest couple of HP Colony Bannerghatta. The face perched atop a four foot nothing body, also tentatively smiles back until mutual recognition strikes and then we explode into laughter and hugs. It turns out that the face and smile belongs to Chinon, Kaval Rani’s sister who had also lived in Bannerghatta many moons ago. The other relative we are happy to reconnect with is Bijli Bai, Suresh Rani’s sister. Suresh Rani is Kaval Rani’s daughter in law.

Chinon’s son, Banian, married to Permanent’s daughter, Revathi, is just as thrilled to welcome us to their young and tentative settlement that is spread out on the banks of the stunning Rameshwara lake. It is an endless road that winds through the hill side with deras and government built concrete matchboxes on either side. Left to the construction lobby, Hill View Homes or Lake side Manor would perhaps have been the name for this glamorous ungated community instead of the more generic, Badaavne (Extension) or the more down to earth, Kaldoddi!

Not surprising that even in these very urban surroundings, the naati (local) Hakki Pikki gene is still flourishing.As evidenced by the Jagajeevan Ayuvedic Aushadhalaya being run by the inabsentia Dr Rajan, husband of Bijli Bai. The clinic/shop is a treasure trove of herbs and roots that Gundamma is delighted to go through, examine carefully and recognise. Incidentally the suited Dr. Rajan whose photograph we see on his dusty table seems to have been as inspired by the Russian revolution and Soviet practice of medicine as from the Ayurvedic college from Saharanpur from where he has got his certificate to practice. Bijli Bai’s daughter hovers around with her delightful little daughter Bhoomika. Her husband, Veera earns a livelihood through doing tattoos in Tamil Nadu.

Survalli speaks eloquently and with pride about the hardy health of her people. ”Our women are so strong we can just give birth and get up and walk away”. But she also rues the changing times and the impact on their ways of livelihood. ”How long can we go around selling our naati medicine. Everybody now, even for the smallest ailment, goes to hospitals”

Her husband, Shivappa, one of the leaders of the community speaks of the history not only of this particular settlement but of the clan itself. “Caught in the fight btween Rana Pratap and Akbar we ran away and came down South. It was Tipu Sultan who taught us how to hunt. We would also make bags from the skin of the foxes that we would catch, kill and eat and go begging for survival”

In Badaavne only 21 sites have been sanctioned to those who were cast out from Malenahalli. The others are still living in jhopdis he says. He also regrets the lack of a school anywhere nearby. ”Where can our children go” he asks. Since they have to walk so far away only 3 girls and 2 boys go to school.

Educated or not, as always the children delight with their inventiveness and intelligence. Divyashree, Snega, Kavyashree, Radhika, Nandita, Jyothika…. and the numerous little ones gather around the aunties, Shakun and Chitra eager to share their stories, sing and dance. Snega speaks animatedly about their love for animals and birds like the peacocks that we see strutting around. ”Earlier our grandparents used to catch and eat them. Now we catch and rear them!” She tells us delightful stories of the two peacocks they have adopted, Toink and Poink who live in their houses, watch Television sitting on top of it and dance when the music is playing! ”When Toink got caught in a trap, Poink really started crying and we all cried with her!!”

We end the long day with a simple yet sumptuous meal cooked with much affection by Banian’s wife Revathi. They wanted to honour us with the ultimate gift of alcohol that we politely decline. But high on a heated discussion between Kumuda, Banian and Srikant over technical issues related to lineage that has cropped up between their families we leave. Chinon is fast asleep and we can not bid her farewell.

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