Gowripura: The urban fantasy park

On the way to Gowripura we pass the urban fantasy entertainment park Wonderla that lies adjacent to the land that has been granted to the community here. Little wonder that this settlement has contributed to adding real estate business to the existing livelihood strategies of the community! And that much of the land granted to them has found itself both by hook and crook, into the hands of the real estate lobby.

We see a group of striking workers from the park sitting on a dharna inside a tent and standing on the main road, distributing pamphlets. We take one and make a note to go and talk to them on the way out.The pamphlet is a heartfelt appeal to those who visit the park to question and condemn the Management about the injustice they are doing to the workers whose only fault is that they have decided to stand up for their dignity and their basic rights to unionise and fight for their security of job.

The more organic craftiness of Bhadrapura is upgraded to a more sophisticated  enterprise here in Gowripura. Infact a  lot of the raw material required for making the elephant hair jewelry that has a great market abroad is supplied from here to places like Pakshirajpura from where it is marketed in person overseas.  A lot of women and men from here have also traveled abroad…many more than the other settlements around Bangalore.

The village is buzzing in the morning with almost everybody at work…some busy twisting little copper wires into jewelry, some filing the materials required for the rings and bracelets, some putting together the  ubiquitous plastic thornas and flower bouquets…. young and old, women and men, inside their homes and on the streets.Many are also dressed up in their uniforms and on their way to the park where they are working as security, in the canteens etc. We meet Degul, Ramkrishna’s son who is on his way to work too. He had done his MA from Christ College and has now started his own little company selling fire safety and security systems. A motley spread of survival strategies that indicates a vibrant vernacular economy spanning both the local and the global!

As Ramkrishna, one of the local leaders, is busy trying to figure out where we all can sit and talk we wander into Iman Reddy…. an unexpected if hilarious encounter ensues. It was a meeting after a long time and he obviously had much to offload on us vis a vis the land in Bannerghatta to which there are many claimants from this settlement too. For it is a fact that many of the older generation who had settled in Bannerghatta came away and made a life elsewhere…largely in Gowripura and Bhadrapura. Which is why very few of the older generation are left back in Bannerghatta despite the fact that it has been the original and oldest settlements around Bangalore. His father Kargatta and grandfather Dodda Baloji were amongst the original settlers.Legend goes that when the revenue authorities came to Bannerghatta to give them their Hakku Patras, his grandfather asked them to keep the papers in safekeeping for them since “we have no place in our deras to keep them!”

We settle down in front of Iman’s house amidst the ducks and chickens that form part of his household. He tells us the story behind his name which originally was Viman (aircraft) since he was born somewhere near an airport. Like his friend Wagon, so named because he was born near a railway track. Or another friend, Jailor, for similarly obvious reasons! His own sons are called Pineapple, Samosa and the less exciting Arjun, Shivanna and Metha.  For whatever reason Viman got transformed to Iman and then finally to Iman Reddy since otherwise he was being taken as a Muslim! While we laughed we also mourned the loss of innocence. Older fluid cultures succumbing to cooption of dominant acts of naming and defining.

He speaks of how about 32 families came here on the promise of land. Of how without understanding its value and not being able to take to cultivation many of them sold it off for as low amounts as Rs. 1 lakh an acre. The money went into into doing their annual ritual for their Gods. For ” if we take care of God then God takes care of us.” He speaks of how they got their land back after they were advised to put a case since tribal land can not be alienated. Then he gets down to the real business of berating me over the non inclusion of so many older names in the current list of beneficiaries for the Bannerghatta land. He refuses to listen to reason when I remind him that so many of his family have got land elsewhere. “But there are some brothers who can get in the name of my father and grandfather” he insists. As I make mild noises of saying that it is not fair to those who have stayed back and continued to struggle on and for the land he raises the stakes by threatening to kidnap me and either feed me to the animals in the forests and feed the animals to me if we dont heed his words. As the bantering continues he concludes laughing with “We dont want your ooru (city), we want our kaadu (forests).” The forests still call out to the Hakki Pikkis…..atleast the older ones. He breaks into a typical Hakki Pikki song as he leads us out from his lane into the main street. We follow him like the rats followed the dancing pied piper!

We visit some of the houses of the other patriarchs. Hem Reddy (Wagon’s brother), Jaipu and Ramkrishna.

Hem Reddy has recently won the local elections on a JD (S) ticket. (Kumaranna is popular in Ramnagar and among the Hakki Pikkis here.) His father was Metur, also called Hannuri or the man who has killed 11 foxes. I had known Metur as a gentle soul and one of the earliest generations of leaders. He was called the Hallikatte Yajamana and was much respected and loved by the people in surrounding villages too. Hem Reddy speaks slowly and in chaste Kannada. Like his sister, our Kumari from Bannerghatta, who is also Pasang’s wife. He regrets that those Hakki Pikkis who live around Bangalore are not united. He feels they should all come together at the state level so that they can ask for their basic rights to land, housing and education. He is clear that he does not want to claim any land in Bannerghatta. “If those who are living there get it, then it is like we have got it” he says simply.

After a brief stop over in Jaipu’s house we land up in Ramakrishna’s house. One of the biggest and most ”modern” in the village. His three year old little girl, Poonam is running all around knowing she is the little princess of the house. It is obvious that she has her indulgent and proud father wrapped around her little finger… it takes very little whining from her for him to give her his phone. He takes the ribbing about being old enough to be his daughter’s grandfather in his stride!

Ramakrishna is a savvy community leader. One who, amidst the multiplicity of leadership, still has a fairly firm hold over this particular settlement that he has helped secure with substantial government supported schemes for roads, water, electricity, loans etc.  A leader  with who, we have had innumerable differences over the way in which he has led and participated in the struggle for land for the community. But that is another story for another time and another place!

Prosperous with a government job he has now retired from, he has not retired from his inner calling that takes him all around the country as part of exhibitions which he and his family continue to participate in selling their traditional wares…..massage oil, elephant hair bracelets, tiger claw necklaces. He has ensured that his sons are well educated. But as he says, not everybody who is educated is getting appropriate jobs. He also feels that the younger generation is getting rootless and alienated. He knows the intricacies of Government functioning and over the years has successfully accessed several schemes for tribal development through the Social Welfare department. But as he says “Earlier the officers were really concerned and they would come out in search of us to inform us about and facilitate the several schemes for our development. Now they are only interested in earning their salaries. The only thing they take initiative to do is set up hostels.” He believes that his peoples skills lie in doing small business and the Government should formulate special schemes to support this spirit of enterprise. When asked why, he as an “elder” does not take more initiative in addressing issues related to violence within families that is leading to deaths of women he says, with some insightful helplessness, that now nyaya panchayats which were usually done outside in public in the open fields are being done inside the privacy of homes. And that it has only become another way of making money.

The old matriarch, Sawankanne, Ramkrishna’s mother comes to see us off as we leave. On prompting, she repeats the story she has told us many times before. Of how the women of the clan used to deliberately look dirty and disheveled so as to arouse disgust in the men. It was their own version of the pepper spray protection app that has served them well down the ages since there are no reported incidents of Hakki Pikki women ever having been assaulted despite the fact that they have been mobile and independent much before the modern working woman on the move!

After some more catching up with old friends like Nahani Bai, Dephone’s daughter, Maikanne, Ragini’s mother and Manimala, Sawankanne’s daughter, Latha, Pasang’s daughter, we leave….unfortunately forgetting to meet up with the striking workers. We hope their demands are met. And that those who go to the Fantasy park think a little more about those who dont lead fantasy lives of their own but work hard to make other people’s fantasies come true; and also wonder a little more about the communities who live around Wonderla whose worlds are so far removed from their own!

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