Manja

October 30, 2017 at 9:15 PMOct (Friends, Literature, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

Few days after my book rooparoopagaLanu daaTi, in which 74 poems from various languages and cultures have been translated into Kannada by me, was released in June 2016, I met a friend who is one among the few schoolmates I have stayed in touch with. This friend very casually asked, after congratulating me for the book, “In school you were never interested in reading and writing. When did the enlightenment happen finally? And why were you not interested in reading and writing back then?” I just smiled saying, “May be something was wrong with the school.”

Why I was disinterested in reading and writing in school can have various reasons; the system of education, the environment at school, my own nature, my growing up atmosphere etc. I who was disinterested in reading and writing going on to become a writer is not a great feet actually. But then at one level it is a sort of small leap given the fact that I am a second generation educated OBC boy. Still, the world need not stop and assess itself and its order of things when presented by this story of my disinterest in reading and writing, being branded as a dull student who went on to become a writer, whatever the literary quality of the writing be. But the world certainly needs to look at itself in the mirror for how the life of Manjunath, a batch-mate of mine during school, spanned out.

The school where I studied had two sections, one where the medium of instruction was English and the other where the medium of instruction was Kannada. We, for no justifiable reason, felt we were superiors and looked down upon the students who were from the Kannada section. Some of the students there had earlier studied in the primary school (Government school where the medium of instruction was Kannada) where my mother used to teach and were her students, including Manjunath who was popular as Manja.

My first memory of Manja is from the football ground where Manja was known for his rough game. Though small in physique I have always been a head-strong fellow who would never be cautious and avoid Manja. As a result of this nature of mine I was injured several times, thanks to the forceful kicks of Manja. This went on for some time.

When we were in class ten for the first time the school organized an extempore poetry writing competition. I was surprised when I went for the competition and found Manja seated on the same bench allotted to me on the other end. The reason for my surprise was that it was difficult to imagine the rough and tough aggressive football player Manja holding the pen to write poetry. We were given patriotism as the topic for writing poetry, if I remember correctly. Also I remember seeing from the corner of my eyes Manja writing poem with great concentration and focus. Its only when the results of the poetry competition were announced that I got to know that the aggressive football player Manja is also a poet!

The poem written by Manja was published in the college magazine of that academic year which was handed over to us when we went to either take admission for class eleven or take a transfer certificate to migrate to another college for class eleven. I was mighty impressed by the poem written by Manja. When I looked for him to congratulate him for the poem I got to learn that he had failed in the 10th board exam.

I did not see Manja in college and also conveniently forgot him till he suddenly I met him one day in the college. When I met him and told him how much I liked his poem he thanked me and said he had cleared the board exams in the supplementary exam and would be joining college soon opting commerce as his stream. I had opted for Arts stream and Manja and I would be in the same class for Kannada language class for the next two years. Its during this course of time that we actually got to know each other better and became friends, though we dint speak much to each other in comparison to the conversations we used to have with others separately.

When we were in class 12 one day Manja came home in search of me and speaking to me about general matters very hesitantly told me that he had written a novel and asked me if I could read it and give him my feedback. On listening to me say, “Will be happy to read it,” Manja said he would quickly go home and bring the manuscript. I said he need not go home and come back again and suggested that he and I can go together and he can give me the manuscript. He immediately changed the plan and said he would give it to me the next day in college, which made me ask then why he couldn’t have spoken about this in college. “People might listen to our conversation and that would make me uncomfortable,” he said. “Wont people know when you handover the manuscript tomorrow?” I asked Manja to which his answer was, “No. They will think it’s just a note book.” I was not able to understand why he quickly changed his mind and pushed the matter to the next day and to college. But when he forgot to bring the manuscript the next and I insisted he takes me home and hands over the manuscript that I understood why he was trying to avoid taking me home.

Manja’s house was a small shack like structure. His sister was heating water in a corner. Taking out a 200 page long note book from an old trunk Manja said, “Come lets go out and talk.” When Manja handed the book, in which he had written the novel, to me I opened it and saw the title of novel written in bold letters in blue ink on the very first page. ‘Shaanta’- was the title of his novel. “It’s a story about a lady like my mother. While writing I could see my mother in the place of the protagonist, which made me cry profusely while writing it. You read and let me know what you think of it,” said Manja and when I was about to leave added, “Be careful with the book. I don’t have another copy of this work. Its impossible to sit and write all of it again.”

I couldn’t read the novel for a long time. But finally during vacations I picked it up from my shelf and read it. I have forgotten the details of the novel by Manja which appeared very autobiographical to me back then.

After the results of class 12 was announced I went to a different city, not very from Manipal, for higher studies. I used to come home every weekend. On one such weekend Manja came home and asked me if I had read the novel and if he could take it back. On telling him that I had read it and liked it he said, “Its an ordinary story based on the life of my own family. Nothing extra ordinary,” and asked if it is readable. I said it is and he was happy. Manja went home that evening after telling me that he was doing his BA in Manipal itself and had learnt from other common friends that I had joined a college in Mangalore.

On that evening Manja had asked me if anyone would publish his book. I knew no publisher back then and said I don’t know but also told him that I would inquire and find out. But I dint inquire anyone or made any effort in finding out. Not because I dint want to but because my access and circles were limited and also because I was trying to focus more on my own growth.

In the time that followed whenever I met someone from the same college as Manja’s I would ask them for updates about Manja. But slowly my world became more and more distant from the world which I belonged to earlier and the chances of me crossing paths with older friends decreased.

Over a year and half later once while driving back home I saw Manja having tea at a push-cart shop. I stopped my scooter and went to speak to Manja who was wearing a faded shirt and lungi. He had quit college and had started working a daily wage labourer at construction sites. “It was impossible for two members from the family to get educated. So I decided to drop out because she is very bright. If I shoulder her then probably she can cross this fence. If we both try to jump then the possibilities of both not being able to cross it is higher,” said Manja. I dint know what to say. Manja bought me a cup of tea. Sipping hot tea I asked him if he still continues to write. “I had bought a fresh note book because I had a new idea for a novel. But gave that note book to my sister for she would need it in school,” said Manja. When I was about to ask him about the novel he had already written Manja cut me short to say, “It is a matter of bygone days, an old story.”

New story was flowering in the life of his sister. Manja had scripted the story of his mother’s past taking pen into his hand. To script the story of his sister’s future he had dropped the pen.

That was the last time I met Manja. I guess he left not just Manipal but also coastal Karnataka long ago. Later on when doing my masters in journalism I had written about Manja for the fortnightly magazine we had to bring out as a part of our course. Reading my piece on Manja the faculty in-charge for the fortnightly had said that the article had no story value and also went on to suggest that if it was a story about success against all odds then it could have been considered for the fortnightly.

The world which likes only success stories and “inspirational stories,” cant ever pull the courage to look at itself in the mirror of the lives of people like Manja who have been defeated by the structure of system and order of things.

Once while speaking to my mother I had asked her if she remembers Manja. She said she cant. I tried reminding of him by narrating his story. My mother who served as a teacher in Govt school for 24 years listening to the story of Manja said, “That is the story of most of my students. If they had the right atmosphere, right encouragement and right facilities they would have done so much better in life. But most of them couldn’t even complete their primary education.”

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