Angadihalli: On the highways of change

After a soul stirring stopover to soak in the temple complex of Belur last evening, we reach Angadihalli in the night where we are welcomed by some of the leaders of the community like Hooraj and Mayura who escort us to the Ashram school where we are fed and made comfortable. We sleep and wake up early to get to know another settlement, which like Pakshirajpura and Chikmatti is well known for it’s enterprise and ‘development’, Hakki Pikki style.

Angadihalli: a highway town bustling and bursting with unexpected sights and sounds. As the buses whizz by on the main road, Indrani, one of the elders of the community sits painfully on the kerb in front of her house unconcerned about the urban rush around her. She is recovering from a surgery. Mayura, resplendent in his colourful shirt, sitting aside his motorcycle pledges undying allegiance to Kumuda who has inspired so many he says within the community with her guts and initiative. He speaks of taking his family to the UK shortly for a holiday. He is already well travelled. Angadihalli has come a long way from being a small dirt track about 65 years ago when about 3 families came and settled down here and were given title deeds a few years later, along with about 10 other families. Till date nobody else has title deeds though many are cultivating to the extent that they can. But today it is a relatively thriving community of about 350 families.

The road is also a veritable ramp walk. Old men holding hands and cell phones with affectionate familiarity. Women, striking in their looks and attire, colourful nighties and heels, walking around doing their morning rituals nonchalantly… combing hair, brushing teeth…. young men and women strolling around, striking poses that does the spirit of this generation X proud!

As always we make some unecpected reconnections. Reshma has a reunion with her old class mates Theni and Vidya. We also meet Hindu’s brother Sairaju and nephew Pillu who had told us to connect with them when we met him in Shankarapura.

Like Chikmatti, this settlement too is a hub of  diverse communities living together….the Hakki Pikkis, Shille Kyathas and the Idigas.

The inside lanes open up other worlds….related to both their domestic and entrepreneurial life.

The local and the global come together in the unique way in which they have upgraded their ‘deras’ without succumbing to building ostentatious concrete structures. A huge tarpaulin tent looks like it has been transported from the deserts of the Bedouin!  The insides are vast and impeccably clean with the decor minimalistic. In the inside corner given pride of place is their ‘paaji’ or bird traps while their thornas and plastic bouquets and flowers provide the unexpected colour. The cooking on the conventional fire is done outside. . The idea of the tent has come from South Africa where many of them have traveled extensively. A young boy we meet, who has not yet traveled there, recounts the story of apartheid in South Africa and the heroic struggles waged by leaders like Mandela and Tutu who were inspired by Gandhi! Oral history is alive and well!

Riveni, one of the few educated girls is refreshing in her candour and clarity of thought. While pride in her community way of life is evident, she is not so happy with the way in which their matriarchal traditions are being transformed into patriarchal practices as far as the status of women and the increasing violence against them is concerned. Child marriages, multiple marriages and abandoning of wives who are being domesticated and mainstreamed into becoming traditional housewives…are some of her concerns that she wishes to address in future. She too has been greatly inspired by Kumuda and they have a heated discussion on marriage and what it is currently doing to women in terms of restricting their mobility and creativity; the older generation matriarch who has negotiated her way successfully through the odds that threatened to overwhelm and the younger firebrand who sees spaces closing down for dissent and dialogue for the younger generation!

Riveni, along with Hooraj, another respected leader of the community are doing a status survey of their community for a research that is being coordinated by Dr. Banjagere Jaiprakash on behalf of the State government. Hooraj gives us perhaps what is a truly trenchant ‘subaltern’ critique of development that tribals like them are sought to be mainstreamed into. ” What is this development that ngos like you, the government and society is trying to pull us into? Malls, pubs, big corporations, fancy clothes?? You tell me in which other community can you have women and men sitting together at 11 in the night and drinking publicly??” Pulling together older insights and new visions, he said much more which made imminent sense.

The youngsters from Bannerghatta are hugely impressed and inspired!

Following a series of bone shaking massages executed on some of us by the skilfull Champa and Indrani’s husband Amavasya, we come away from Angadihalli poorer by couple of thousands but richer by some bottles of ayurvedic oil guaranteed to grow hair and remove all body pain. Richer also by insights gained by a community that is able to simultaneously occupy several worlds on its own terms.

Also deeply touching was the affectionate and excited farewell from Riveni who took us to her house to introduce us to her parents who she is proud of since they have struggled hard to educated all their daughters and have not succumbed to the pressure of getting them married early like most other families.

We head back to Bangalore knowing that we have but scratched the surface of a ferment of change that is as deep as it is unpredictable.

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