Paper Boat by Ken Kerkhoff and S.M. Pejathaya

By November 1968, I had harvested my six acres of rice crop. For Deepavali festival my small hut was filled up to the roof with freshly threshed ‘paddy.’ My sister and brother-in-law came over to the farm to celebrate the ‘Dhaanya Lakshmi pooja’, (Worshipping the granary).


Electric power had come to our remote farm due to the relentless efforts of my brother-in-law. He knew the top officials in the MSEB (Mysore State Electricity Board) and the State government had given top priority to provide power to the irrigation pump sets.


My man Friday, Cheempa Naika, had settled for good in the farm. I had fitted three electrical pump sets by the riverside and built strong sheds with granite stones to house them. I joined hands with the masons and the carpenters in transporting the building material on my power tiller trolley and together we built a two-bedroom cottage on the same knoll that housed my hut. The cottage was designed by my brother-in-law and my sister and it was very comfortable. The cottage stood next to the huge cattle shed. We had electrified all the buildings. After getting the electricity, our farm shone out with dazzling lights though it was surrounded by the thick jungle on three sides and the Swarna River on the fourth.


I taught Cheempa to operate the electric pumps. The pumps discharged water through 3 inch diameter pipes just outside our fence. In fact, from that level, water could flow down to all our coconut saplings and paddy fields by gravity through narrow channels dug for irrigation. Three laborers working at the water delivery points could irrigate the whole farm in one day. I encouraged a boy called Shastry, a Commerce graduate, to stay with me and taught him to look after the farm. I was certain that Cheempa, Shastry and our permanent laborers could look after the farm.


I thought that my mission was almost complete at Shiroor. I had done my duty of setting up a farm for my sister. I thought the time had come for me to say good-bye to Shiroor and seek my future elsewhere.


I applied to the Service Selection Board of the Indian Navy to appear for an interview for the NCC commission, as a career officer in the Indian Navy. Then, bad news arrived. I was informed by a letter that I had exceeded the age limit by six months for NCC entry. The same letter informed me that I could appear for an interview to take up a short service commission of five years with the Navy.


I was a bit disheartened. I had always dreamt of becoming a career officer with the Indian Navy and wanted to serve until my retirement. The India-Pakistani war had ended and I seriously thought of opting for the available short service commission entry.


At this juncture, I happened to meet Sri K. V. Biliraya, who headed the newly formed Agricultural Finance Division of the Syndicate Bank Limited, Manipal, during a progressive farmers’ meeting of the Syndicate Bank’s Agricultural Foundation. I had met Sri Biliraya earlier, during many farmers’ symposiums. During the lunch break, I told him about my plans to join the Indian Navy under short service commission scheme.


He heard me patiently and did not comment. Within the next two days, I received a letter from Sri T. A. Pai, the managing director of the Syndicate Bank, stating that he wanted to offer me a job and I had to see him in this connection as early as possible.


Sri T.A. Pai was a well-wisher of our family and so was his brother-in-law, Sri K. K. Pai, who held the post of the General Manager of the Syndicate Bank. During my father’s time, Udupi was a small temple town where everybody knew everybody. My father had loved, respected and always appreciated these two sharp young men who hailed from the highly industrious and popular business families of Udupi. The seniors of the Pai Family of Manipal were my father’s friends. Sri T. A. Pai’s elder brother Dr. T. M. A. Pai, the founder The Canara Industrial Banking Syndicate Limited, which later came to be known as Syndicate Bank Limited with its head office at Manipal, was my father’s contemporary and a friend. Furthermore, two of my elder brothers were already working for the Syndicate Bank.


I appeared before Sri T. A. Pai. He said, “Kesari Pejathaya, when shall you join our farm at Raichur district?” All the members of the Pai Family called me by my pet name. I had great respect for Sri T. A. Pai and when this question came from him, I felt I should reply in affirmative only.
I said, “Sir, as soon as you would want me to be there.”


“Please, go to Sri K. K. Pai to discuss further details,” he said.


I went to the General Manager’s office. Sri K. K. Pai asked me to take a seat in front of him. “Kesari. I am going to visit Raichur district day after tomorrow. Can you join me to have a look at the farm which is owned by the directors of our bank and their associates at Jawalgera? If you like the place we shall employ you and, your emoluments shall be at par with that of a bank manager. You shall get quarters and a cook. The accommodation is farm style. You shall be given actual traveling expenses when you have to travel on duty. You shall be solely in charge of the farm. This being a private farm you shall not be a part of the bank’s staff. Being a proved farmer you shall easily follow the farming practices of the black soil, where we grow cotton, hybrid jowar (sorghum) and Mexican wheat at Jawalgera. Our farm is called the Tungabhadra Farms. You shall be answerable only to me and you have to correspond with me. You do not have to take orders from the Board of Directors. Sri T. A. Pai has just told me that you have accepted his offer without a question. We shall look after you and you shall look after our farm. You shall work hard as if it were your own farm and show us profits. We wish you all the best!”


For the first time, I went to Sindhanur, Raichur district with Sri K. K. Pai. It was evening when we reached the ‘taluk’ headquarters of Sindhanur. The local Syndicate Bank manager had arranged for our stay in the Circuit House (Travelers’ Bungalow) at Sindhanur. That night all of us were invited to partake a sumptuous dinner at Dr. K. Anand Hegde’s house. Dr. Hegde was a leading medical practitioner and a progressive farmer of Sindhanur. He had founded a cooperative society—the Tractor Society of Sindhanur, for which he was the honorary president. The society was hiring out tractors, their implements and spraying equipment to the farmers of the ‘taluka’ (taluk) at most reasonable rates. This was a great help to the farmers who had small acreage. Dr. Hegde owned a farm about a mile away from Sindhanur town.


We visited the farm at Jawalgera the next day. It was an expanse of plain land irrigated by the Tungabhadra dam’s left bank channel. I could see miles and miles of open fields from our farmyard. We had all the machinery and labor required to run the agricultural operations. The dwelling houses were made of mud walls and the roofs were thatched with grass. There were a few thorny trees of the arid region, called ‘Naganagowda Jaali’ trees, along the field bunds. The trees had one inch long thorns and contained sparse leaves. They gave a very thin shade from the blazing sun. These trees of the arid region were very hardy and local people depended on the twigs of these trees for firewood. They used the hard wood to make implements. The soil of our farm was deep black, known as black cotton soil.


The staff and labor were very obedient. We had a wonderful pair of prize bullocks called Surya and Chandra. Sri K. K. Pai told me that these bullocks were the pride of the farm and they were not given the hard work of tilling or sowing the fields since we had tractors to do that work. They were treated as the farm’s prestigious pets. They would be hitched to a beautifully crafted Bellary Cart (very expensive bullock cart custom made at the neighboring district headquarter city of Bellary) and had an exercise run of a few miles every day to keep them fit. I took a liking for the huge sinewy bullocks instantly. There were a few milch buffaloes and a watchdog called Lixo.


Sri K. K. Pai and Sri Baliga assured me that we had full support from the Agricultural Department and technical support from the U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers. He wanted me to take up the challenge of running the farm and prove my capacity as a good farmer.


That noon we had lunch at the farm cooked by my future cook Rajanna. The food was palatable and I thought his cooking was a margin better than that of my own. I really hoped to survive in the farm. As explained by my boss, the accommodation was rustic, yet functional.


Sri K. K. Pai asked me again as to whether I would accept the challenges and prove my capacity as a farm manager by growing the field crops like cotton, wheat, jowar, etc. at Jawalgera.


“Sir, I shall try my level best to grow the crops that I have not grown so far. I am sure that I would stay and survive in the farm surroundings. I have attended 14 training camps as a junior and senior NCC cadet in my high school and college life. I had stayed under canvas in the open with NCC and I may not resent having taken up a tough field job. I hope to work hard in the new environment to bring better profits to the farm. I am not hindered by the fact that there is no electricity or other urban amenities nearby as I have lived and proved myself as a farmer in the remote village of Shiroor,” I said.


He asked me to report for the duty the next week.

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Paper Boat Sample Chapter: Goodbye to Shiroor

by S.M. Pejathaya

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