March 31, 2008
Pics by Prajwal Ukkuda
“Although (my father) left us a sumptuous legacy of pride in his fine Virginian stock and its national distinction, I presently found that I could not live on that alone without occasional bread to wash it down with.” – Mark Twain (real name: Samuel Langhorne Clemens), US humourist and writer (1835-1910).
Unlike in the case of Mark Twain, the Bunt community of Tulunadu was blessed with stately residential complexes called Guthu Mane and vast lands which were cultivated directly or given out on annual rent ( geni ) designated in mooras of rice. For instance, the two Kodial Guthus in the heart of Mangalore, located on the east and west of M G Road, off TMA Pai International Convention Centre, were recipients of thousands of mooras of rice from tenants ( vokkel ) spread over Tulunadu. The joint families of the Guthu had a lavish lifestyle. It allowed them to indulge in sports like Kambla ( wet field buffalo races ), cock fights as also patronize Bayalata ( field dramas ) and other cultural and folk entertainment events.
The scenario changed drastically in the wake of land reforms, starting in the 1970s, and the consequent declaration and restoration of land to the actual tiller. The flow of thousands of mooras of rice dammed. Even in the urban setting, like Kodial Guthus, where once there were vast agricultural lands as far as the eye could reach, the once proud Guthu houses are now hemmed in by concrete high-rise monstrosities which dwarf the original landmarks. The Guthedars, who now no longer lord over large joint families, have responded to the ground realities by selling off whatever land they could. One of them rued: “We are landlords without land”. The Guthu houses are partitioned and one of them sports glass frontage to the chavadi (traditionally large, open drawing room supported on formidable, intricately carved wooden pillars).
In Kodial Guthu West, one of its inheritors under Aliya Santhana, Jyothi, elder daughter of Sarvotham Shetty, and her husband, Ashok Alva, have fusioned a modern concrete block to the main Guthu House. They have also walled in the front portion of the earlier open-access chavadi. But the chavadi itself and the inner courtyard, open to the sky, have been retained in their original avatar with spic and span maintenance. There is also a small diameter drinking water well ( guvel ) at the entrance of chavadi and a traditional square, stepped ritual pond ( kere). They are perennial sources of water supply – now aided by motor pumps.
Jyothi’s brother, Group Captain Pradeep Shetty, now retired from IAF and involved in training executives from his base in Chennai, is nostalgic about his younger days spent in the Guthu House and remembers how children were literally thrown into the pond and perforce learnt swimming. Even now, though comfortably ensconced in Chennai, he looks forward to a visit to Mangalore, though, with high-rises and concrete bungalows now has denied the Guthu House its front-page-solus status.
But, the most heartening and welcome development at Kodial Guthu West is the restoration work, currently nearing completion, launched by Jyothi’s younger sister, Pratibha, who has inherited the outhouse ( mogasale ), situated at the east end of the Guthu complex and the outer courtyard. Pratibha, (Dr Pratibha Karanth Ph.D., married to Dr Ulhas Karanth, front ranking tiger conservationist and son of legendary Dr Kota Shivaram Karanth ) has her residence and centres for autistic children – Deall – in Bangalore. But her heart is in Mangalore and more specifically focused on Kodial Guthu where she had a playful childhood romping and swimming in the pond and studying at St. Agnes College.
In the context of real estate prices galloping by the day, many have been tempted to sell their heritage bungalows to make place for high-rise apartments. But, Pratibha not only resisted temptation of easy lucre, but went one step further to restore the mogasale to its old glory – from the ravages of time, corrosive salty winds and now the all-pervasive atmospheric pollution. Thinking about her inheritance, Pratibha felt that she had to do something to save its glory for posterity. She initially thought that the project would cost a couple of lakhs. But, as months and years rolled on, there has been a significant over-run of the budget on which she shies to be specific. More than the money is the effort in locating replacements for the restoration process. For instance, sourcing replacement tiles dating back to the early 1900s was time consuming. While Mangalore-based Niren Jain is the architect for the project, Pratibha enlisted the help of Udupi-based restoration experts, Harish Pai and Vijayanath Shenoy. The restoration work involved lifting of massive, sunken pillars to align with the floor, as also sourcing missing/ spoilt wooden members from demolished heritage houses in Tulunadu.
Pratibha has crystallized her ideas on how to use the restored structure. She plans to have a gallery of period photos of the family as also houseold artifacts of Guthu households. She is contacting relatives to spare their heirlooms for the collection. She wants to bring to life the setting in which the guthu yajamana (head) lived in the first floor hall. Also on the anvil is the idea to use the restored structure as an office for her projected child and woman development project.
Pratibha has been spending a week in a month in Mangalore taking post-graduate programmes at M V Shetty College of Speech and Hearing. She has taken advantage of these visits to liaise with those executing the restoration project. Despite time and cost over-runs, Pratibha says an emphatic ”No” when asked if she regrets the missed real estate bonanza or the pay-out of hefty cost. The results of Pratibha’s restoration project are best reflected in the photos featured alongside. Also notable is that she does not consider her work heroic, though it involved going against the dominant trend of liquidating heritage in pursuit of tempting lucre.
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