I have travelled to more than 28 countries, and the place closest to my heart and soul is my hometown, Koppal. Koppal is located in Karnataka State, India. Even though I was not born in Koppal, this place is significant to me. During my childhood Koppal was a small town with a population of less than 50,000 people, you could walk from one corner of the town to the other end in less than hour. There were hardly any vehicles on the streets of Koppal everyone either walked or bicycled in the town. There were horse driven carts called Tanga in Kannada, which took people around the town. Our only mode of transport to the school was the Tanga and 10-15 students crammed in this small Tanga. The lucky ones got to sit on the edge of the Tanga and I was one of them, the last one to be picked up.
My life was very simple growing up, we didn’t have television, nor any electronic gadgets. The only entertainment was playing outdoors and running around in the streets. We didn’t have a telephone at home, and only 5 houses in the whole town had their own telephone. There were no public payphones as it was unheard during those days. It was safe to play outdoors even late in the evenings as everyone knew everyone in this small town. When my parents were looking for me and my brother, they would ask people walking past the house to inform us to return home if they happened to see us somewhere on the streets. I spent most of my spare time at my grandparents house, often with my cousins. My cousins were much older than I, but I accompanied them to the markets as my grandfather wouldn’t allow my female cousins to go out on their own. My eldest uncle looked after my grandparents and had a big family and they all stayed at the ancestral home. My grandfather was well-known in the community and he had a lot of visitors everyday, and no one went home without having food. My aunt always made sure to cook extra everyday as she knew that there would be many visitors dropping in unannounced.
Our ancestral home is still in Koppal and currently no one lives there. Its not a modern abode as we the younger generations long for modern, contemporary and sophisticated houses. The ancestral house was warm, elegant, relaxed and foremost very inviting. Our ancestral home is a traditional and beautiful hand crafted home, with wooden doors and windows. There were beautiful handcrafted teak pillars inside the home, and it had a grand entrance. Unfortunately due to town planning we lost the front part of the house and we were all devastated to see it being torn down by a bulldozer. Our once a grand ancestral house is now a vacant home haunted by old memories longing to be called a home again.
Our ancestral home in Koppal
My grandfather was very protective of his grandkids and I still remember one incident that my mum reminds me of again and again. I was 9 years old, and it was school time and as usual I was ready to be picked by the horse cart. I hadn’t done my homework for one of the subjects. My teacher was Miss Isabella, and I was sure that I would be punished. She was the strictest teacher in the school and everyone was scared of her. I was feeling anxious about going to the school that day. We had a another floor, it was rarely used since it was infested with bats. I sneaked in there and hid under a bed so that I could feel safe from Madam Isabella. The tanga came on time as usual, and the tangawalla (carriage driver) didn’t find me standing in front of the house, and without informing my mother he drove off.
My mum always came to school with my brother’s and my lunch everyday. We always sat under the tree and had lunch with other friends and their mothers. When I didn’t show up for lunch, my mum was worried as my brother and friends mentioned that they haven’t seen me at the school on that day. She immediately contacted the school headmistress Ms. Mary Vaz and she checked the school attendance and the register was marked absent. The school principal re-checked year 6 and both the sections and confirmed that I was not in the school. There had been an incident few months earlier, a small boy was kidnapped and taken to another town to be sent to a big city, but luckily he escaped and was returned back to his parents. Nobody is sure if the story was true or a made up story to get away from school. My mum panicked and didn’t know what to do. She immediately returned home and informed my dad and he searched our premises. We have a huge factory and huge warehouses located next to the house, so he sent everyone working at the factory to look for me. I could hear all the conversations from the first floor but was too nervous to go down as I was afraid it was too late and would get into trouble. My mum sent the factory mechanic to my grandparents house to see if I was there instead of going to school. My grandfather found out that I was missing, so he immediately arrived at my parents place. He saw my mum crying and immediately summoned the Commissioner of Police and the town police superintendent. They arrived as soon as they could and a search party was sent to search for me. I could hear and see from the window, many people gathering in front of the house. After hearing the news my relatives started pouring in and also some politicians, one of whom is my uncle, a well known politician. The news spread throughout the town and since our house was located on the main street of the town I could see people standing in groups and chatting amongst themselves. I was pretty sure that I would be in trouble once they found me. There was one way I could get out of the house, but was risky. It was the balcony outside. I wasn’t worried that someone would see me, but outside our balcony there were lot of monkeys hanging around. They lived there most of the time, and they were a nuisance to the neighbourhood as they stole fruits and vegetables from the vendors. So there was no chance I could venture out, and I was sure the monkeys wouldn’t allow me to pass to get onto my neighbours roof and then use the back alleyway to go to school. I had already made up a story to tell everyone, that I was kidnapped and ran from the clutches of the kidnapper. My plans didn’t work, so I had to sit under the bed and think of something else. It was mid-afternoon and more and more relatives started arriving. There must have hundreds of people outside the house and the factory was shut down as the factory workers went looking for me.
It was almost late afternoon. One of my cousins would smoke in secret, as he would get into trouble if my grandfather ever found out. So he decided to come upstairs to smoke, as he was climbing the stairs, he spotted me hiding under the bed. He immediately called my mum and asked her to join him on the stairs. She saw me hiding under the bed, instead of feeling happy and joyful, she was feeling very embarrassed and regretful that she forgot to check the house first. The search party was called off and then everyone went back to their daily routines. I still had to go to the school that afternoon and guess what, Ms. Isabelle’s class was the last class during that day and still got punished for not doing my homework. The plans of hiding didn’t work and embarrassed my parents. The one things I learnt that day was how protective my environment was and the support received from my extended family. I never attempted this again as I didn’t wanted to embarrass my parents.
The first floor of our house where I was hiding