I had the great good fortune to enroll for my post-graduate studies in English literature at the Kuvempu university.
It is nestled halfway up a leafy-green hill in a tiny suburb called Shankargatta, near the Bhadra River Project (B.R.P) dam, about 20 kms out of Bhadravati and Shimoga. I almost got into the Bangalore University for the same and then had to cow down to my maternal parent’s dictates unhappily at the time since I was totally new to the Malnad region and had not a single friend thereabouts.
Also I was just out of the Satya Sai women’s hostel where I had stayed for five years and after all the hustle-bustle, found it singularly lonely, being sibling-less, to be staying home.
All of this changed within a month of starting my post-grad course though and a different and beautiful life unfolded before me.
We lived in Bhadravati that lies on the banks of the river Bhadra and is known for the Visvesvaraya steel plant and Mysore paper mills. The 67 sq km town slowly drew me into its thrall and I began to enjoy living there and travelling to the university every morning with a horde of others in a private bus.
The simplicity of the small-town folk was endearing, neighbours became family. Little children in the neighbor-hood came and went as they liked, keeping my initial blues somewhat at bay.
Every festival was celebrated wholeheartedly, Shivratri saw us going in a little group with other women, from temple to beautifully decorated temple, admiring and paying our respects to Lord Shiva, His consort Parvati and their offspring, the warlike handsome Kartikeya and rotund God of intelligence Sri Ganesh. The harvest festival of Sankranthi saw the sharing of yellu-bella-kabbu (sesame seeds-jaggery-sugarcane), while the monsoons had their extra special grandeur in this area. Heavy rains, a green landscape, cool days and cooler nights had us happily trudging around with an umbrella at all times and water-proof footwear.
My classmates at the university saw that a girl from a different background, fun loving, friendly, in love with Literature but totally naive with the ways of the world had landed in their midst and wrapped me in a cocoon of caring, right away.
The lingua-franca was the local language, Kannada. Today I speak it fluently and with pride, but then I only knew a smattering of it.
It did not matter at all.
I managed with smiles and bits and pieces of kannada. With oodles of inspiration all around me, soon I was even singing kannada songs in the cultural competitions. I could converse comfortably, thanks to the loving encouragement I received from friends.
Lecturers were enthusiastic and friendly, always open to discussion, also made of the same material that others in that region were made of, sharing the common elements that shaped them.
The affection was immense, at times funny, at times warm, at all times touching. Each of my friends, from my department and from others showered me with caring. I contracted typhoid in the 2nd year and was stuck to a hospital bed for the better part of a month. One group or another made sure to visit me daily, lifting my spirits with tidbits about what was happening on campus, while the resident doctor had to play warden as he tried to keep noise levels down and me flat on my bed, instead of sitting up.
Cultural events were an eye opener. Talent was abundant and singers, speakers and actors took part with camaraderie and respect for each other’s art.
Malnad, is the name of this region and it has given us many a writer, singer and artist. Nature has been generous and this has translated into the human spirit somehow, making the most ordinary person a poet.
It was here that traditional folk art like Yakshagana was introduced to my curious palate. I lived in the university hostel for a while and it was a joy sitting through the night with friends watching consummate artists work their magic, all the while weighed down by their heavy make-up and clothing.
On the other hand movies were seen in what were called ‘tents’, filmed in ancient movie halls with wooden benches for seating. This marvel was right opposite the hostel and one could eat fresh dosas hot off the stove in the grounds outside where dosa makers set up shop every evening, especially for the student populace.
These lovers of nature, art, poetry, beauty, simple, down to earth people with genuine affections lasted across decades. The friends and acquaintances I made at the Kuvempu University are a lifetime treasure and left behind in me the real fragrance of mother earth, a perfume I cherish like no other.
Sunila lived in Australia for twelve years and all over India as a child. Now she lives in Bangalore, India with her family. She is a lecturer of Communication to MBA students and is a practising Yoga teacher. Sunila was introduced to books by book-loving parents at an early age and devoured them at every opportunity.
Nature, music and art mean a lot to her and she loves solitude and noisy fun in equal measure.
She expresses herself through a variety of creative channels-singing, pottery, sketching and writing. Sunila writes fiction and poetry both in English and Hindi. Her debut collection of short stories in Hindi, “Nirjharr”, was published by the Karnataka Hindi Sahitya Parishad.
Poetry and short stories authored by her have been published in a variety of medium. She is a Post graduate in English Literature from Kuvempu University in the verdant Malnad region of Karnataka, that has given the world a large number of writers and artists.
She can be reached through her FB page https://www.facebook.com/SunilaVigAuthor?ref=hl