Living with Tenants

Living in harmony with one another brings inner tranquillity

For little more than three years (1960–63) we lived in a small portion of our ancestral home like we were tenants, while our tenant Bowerlal and his family lived in the main house. We had an independent entrance to the backyard right behind the house and we went around our building to enter our portion of the house. Initially it was a little funny but we got used to it. As a student, I used the attic for my studies and sleep. During those years I spent some time in gardening as we had some empty land in the backyard. Living with a Marwari Jain family also helped me pick up rudiments of the Marwari language.

After moving into the main house, to make good for the rent that we were getting, my father let out the portion that we were occupying earlier. The rent he got for that small portion almost matched the rent we had been getting for the main house. Apart from living in the bigger portion of the house, our economic status remained the same – middle-class. But I could now bring my friends home to play in the backyard, which I could not do when Bowerlal and family were living. My playing was limited only with the sons of Bowerlal and his brothers.

During 1963–71 we had tenants of different characteristics. Our second tenant after Bowerlal was Visveswaran, a Tamil Iyer, who was employed with Defence Accounts. He had a habit of using snuff, which was followed by thunderous sneezing! His wife Kamala was a silent lady. The couple had three daughters; the eldest one Uma, a chubby girl, was learning Carnatic music from our neighbour, who also happened to be branch manager of the bank where my elder sister Vasanthi worked. In addition to being plump, Uma was not particularly a gifted singer. We had good fun at her cost.

Around this time, my maternal cousins Krishna Prasad (aka Babu) and Sreemathi were staying with us. While Sreemathi was doing her post-graduation in Zoology at Central College, Babu anna was working for Life Insurance Corporation. During late 1964 their father Gopala Krishnamachari, who was diagnosed with cancer, was admitted to Bowring General Hospital, which is in Shivajinagar (a couple of miles from our home). My other two cousins also joined their siblings to take care of their father. Unfortunately he passed away in January 1965. For the first time I was witnessing death at our ancestral home, although I had earlier witnessed the deaths of Rangaswami (Ramasawmi’s uncle) at Coonoor in 1959 and my own elder sister Kankalakshmi at Kadakavasala in 1957.

After Sreemathi completed her M.Sc in May 1965, my cousins shifted to another place. I moved into the front room where they were living. The feeling of being independent was kindled at the age of fifteen.

In 1966, Visveswaran got transferred and Doraiswamy, another Tamil Iyer who was also working in Defence Accounts moved in with his family. His wife was rather ferocious. We could hear her often shouting at her husband, children (three of them – a boy and two girls) and sometimes indirectly even at my mother! For some reason, she was terribly frustrated. Doraiswamy, who was almost blind due to glaucoma, silently managed his family life.

My cousins Sounder and Nagaraj who were managing a departmental stores at Coonoor got cheated by their business partner and lost heavily. So in 1967, my uncle Ramasawmi decided to shift Sounder (along with his wife and son) and the wife and two kids of Nagaraj from Coonoor to our house. Shifting to Bangalore was mainly to enable the education of his grand-children and the employment of Sounder. That year, our house was over-crowded. On top of it, Sounder’s brother-in-law, who was working in Coimbatore would visit us often on work and would stay back. After a few days’ stay, with the money saved from the allowances that his company paid him, he bought clothes for his family members!

Doraiswamy retired prematurely in 1968 owing to his blindness and hence vacated the house. In moved Keshavaiah, a Telugu-speaking Shetty, with his family (mother, wife, and three daughters). He owned a provision store in the building adjacent to ours. Keshavaiah’s wife Shakuntala was pregnant with her fourth child when they moved in. To the utter disappointment of Keshavaiah, she gave birth to a baby girl, again. He became furious and along with his mother started abusing his wife. My grandmother Kaveriammal, known for her strong values, one day threatened him in chaste Telugu armed with a broomstick in hand, “If you don’t stop abusing your wife, I will beat you with this and throw you out! What is her fault in all this?” He was shell-shocked listening to those words from an old brahmana lady and stopped abusing his wife. Shakuntala conceived again next year and to her luck, this time she gave birth to a baby boy.

In 1969, Sounder and his family moved to out-house after it was vacated by Muniswamy and his family who were living there even before we returned in 1960. Meanwhile, Nagaraj had got a job in Madras and his family shifted there.

In February 1971, my sister Vasanthi’s marriage with Narasimhan was fixed. The marriage was supposed to take place in early June at Tirupathi so that four of her siblings could complete their school/college examinations. However, as Narasimhan’s mother had a heart-attack in March, some of her relatives suggested that we conduct the wedding at the earliest so that she can witness her son’s wedding. My father had to organise the wedding in a very short span of time and could not mobilize the required funds. He did not have an alternative but to sell the backyard with the out-house and toilets. Vasanthi’s marriage was performed in our ancestral home itself during April. Because of the sale, both Sounder and Keshavaiah had to vacate their respective portions by May.

It was in June 1971, in between my sixth and seventh semesters of engineering course, that for the first time I ventured taking up a construction project: building a toilet and a store-room apart from shifting the water and sewage connections from the back of the house to the front of the house as we had sold away the back portion.

April  01, 2021 | Ravi 41