January 12, 2014
During childhood I had come across a long line of uncles: paternal and maternal. They were the best of uncles; they were the worst of uncles, fortunately, Uncle Louis was the best. For quite some time I thought otherwise.
Uncle Louis was my father’s elder brother. As a boy I always noted him the man in a hurry. Needless to say that he was a good man and his goodness often spewed over as and when I had this amiable chatter with him years ago - a goodly sixty odd years! Gone are those happy days when he was beside me when I used to feel over the moon, for he was a tall, stately person exuding an aura pervaded about him was such that even a little kid like me would feel quite emboldened by being transformed into a macho man?
What I liked about him the most was his sense of no nonsense. He wasn’t curious about others, he was only concerned about bringing up his large family of eleven children, and the way he went about it is a thing to be admired and relished with awe, and practise.
My uncle Louis had only a small part of his share of the property but his incessant plodding on his dear land from dawn to dusk turned the soil, the red mud, into yellow gold. He practically grew everything possible on this small now fertile land of his and thanks to his plodding day in and day out; he managed to unearth enough food to feed his large and loving family.
Uncle Louis married young, way ahead when my father a good five years younger did, and naturally he had children aged around my age. Delphine was one of them and she was a brilliant girl too, like the rest of her siblings.
One of his sons became a priest and two daughters, nuns and one of them was none other than my once friend next enemy: Delphine. She was of my age, no, she was younger, may be by a few days may be a few months; I am sorry I can’t give her any span longer than that.
The root cause for this friendship and enmity was our contention for the same guava tree, which Delphine thought was hers and I thought otherwise, and we really meant it in deed. This brought a lot of torment to my dear Uncle for he always saw us virtually at each other’s throat simply because of this guava tree.
Whenever I saw Delphine on this tree plucking some juicy yellow guavas, I would scream that she had lain her hands on a forbidden fruit and would rush up the tree, and reach her, of course not before tumbling down once or once more in my hurry and then pinch her in the elbow.
Now, as I said, Delphine was a brilliant girl, and she knew how to corner me: she would give out an ear-splitting yell or a scream or whatever, to Uncle Louis, calling “Papa, papa”. She did not have to say anything further, for this has been by now, a familiar signal that I was up to some mischief and poor uncle Louis would rush up to the foot of the tree before I would clamber down and he would thunder at me “I will break your back right now”.
I was too innocent, yes innocent, to comprehend that he did not mean it. I would meekly submit myself for him to carry out his breaking my back. Poor man, he would have nothing of it at all notwithstanding all his love for Delphine, he would simply step off the place to resume his digging, and unearthing the red soil to turn out into yellow gold. And yellow gold he did turn his red soil by the sheer dint of hard work. I would say it was nothing short of a miracle that a single man’s toil on such a small piece of land should see through the future of his eleven children. Not to be outdone, all his children did extremely well in studies – you know children are always very observant – they saw how ‘papa’ toiled day in and day out for their sake.
I remember once, in those days when a truck load of goods were being unloaded in front of our shop, uncle Louis asked the truck driver to give him a lift to Bantwal from Bellore and the greedy fellow demanded a greedy fare which uncle Louis declined to pay and preferred to walk from Bellore to B.C.Road, a good distance of 10 Kms. That is what my uncle Louis was. Call it his lack of resources; call it his sense of justice. I would say it was the latter.
As I grew up and my father confined me to a boarding in Nanthoor, I always used to wish to go and relish the food served in Shiv Bagh in Kadri but I did not have enough resources. It so happened that once Uncle Louis happened to meet me at Kadri and he took me straight to this very own Shiv Bagh restaurant and fed me to my heart’s content. “You are growing and this is the time when you must eat well” that is what he said to me. I will never forget that. I know he was not rich but does anything matter one when one has such a heart as he had in him?
The relationship between my father and Uncle Louis had never been close, it had always been fluctuating and yet, when Uncle Louis saw that my father had fallen in hard days, he secretly put in a word on behalf of my father to the priest related to us in favour of my sisters who were boarders there and it worked wonders. Such was the ways of Uncle Louis, that he would do things with utmost caution couched in secrecy.
Despite working over 12 hours a day in his farm, he remained not rich, yet on looking back, I would say, he was richer than most other people in and out of my village, Bellore. His only love was his family, and his small farm that he virtually doubled in size by digging and leveling the low lying hills about his farm and fields. Those were not the gulf days and those were not the days when money filtered in either from Mumbai or from any adjacent quarters to fortify the income of a humble farmer, and yet the people were happy to plod on the fields and lead a placid and peaceful life and end the day sipping the poor man’s home made brew, after a hard days plodding in the farm, then recite the unfailing rosary and go to bed after a tasty dinner over rice and fish curry.
As the days rolled on, one by one, Uncle Louis saw off his children: some to religious order, others to matrimony and very wisely he retained one of his sons back home to prolong the family profession. However, a time came of late when even his son left the farm and fields to leave them to wilderness. His son had turned too old to look after the farm and the Gulf and other places of attraction had sucked in all his four sons – the grandsons of uncle Louis.
Uncle Louis and I parted ways, way back in the sixties and finally in the late eighties I went to visit him and he has is now a changed man. The vagaries of time had its toll on him, and he had little or no memory and I parted from him with a heavy heart only to hear soon after that Uncle Louis was no more.
However, even though physically he was no more, his spirit still lingers on the soil that he plodded on for several decades. I visited the place only recently, and was shocked to see the desolation of the place that was once the envy of friends and the foes alike.
I was simply shocked to see the wilderness that was once a fertile land. I lingered on beside the farm, beside the fields and could visualize the vivid vision of my uncle Louis and felt his spirit all about the silent place. The eeriness of the place was frightening, yet I lingered on and on over the wilderness. As I tried to retreat from the place, I had to blink tears away. I couldn’t bring myself to leave, for my legs by now turned wooden, and finally with a heavy heart forced myself off the place and clambered up the vehicle that was waiting to ferry me from the place to my hotel room in Mangalore to reminisce over the era that has slipped into history.
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