A gift of trees from ajja

In a culture steeped in patriarchy, I couldn’t have asked for an inheritance richer or a legacy more meaningful than the coconut trees my grandfather gifted me.
Last Updated 18 February 2023, 20:30 IST
Kannur ajja, the author’s grandfather
Kannur ajja, the author’s grandfather

My paternal ancestors farmed for generations in Malenadu, the verdant Western Ghats of Karnataka. These ancestral roots entwined for aeons with nature have shaped my worldview. They nudged me towards nurturing Navilu Kaadu’s natural farm, even if it lacks the luxuriance of the land of my forebears.

My ajja, Kuppa Naika, hailed from Holenakoppa near Hosanagara, where his father Siddha Naika lived. In the early 1940s, when humanity was besieged by the cataclysm of World War II, ajja, along with my ajji Bangaramma, moved to Kannuru, a tiny hamlet near Sagara in the vicinity of the famed Jog Falls, to escape the tyranny of a feudal landlord. Bangarajji passed on when my father was barely out of his teens.

Ajja was a polymath despite modest means. A small farmer, self-taught astrologer, a voracious reader with an insatiable appetite for the scriptures and the epics, and a gifted naati naidya (herbal healer), his knowledge of native medicinal flora was prodigious. People thronged Kannuru for ajja’s treatments for venomous snake bites and sundry ailments. Ajja was Malenadu’s own druid and dispensed treatment free of charge.

In his heydays, Kuppa Naika was an ace marksman too. His proficiency with the rifle was unrivalled, and in demand among British officers, as they cagily tried taming the impenetrable rainforests of the Western Ghats, teeming with tigers, leopards, bears and wild boars.

Eventually, my doddappa (older uncle), also a good shot, took on the mantle of ajja’s naati naidya practice.

And thanks to ajja’s foresight and resolute efforts, another of his sons, my father, continued his medical legacy in a different form — as a surgeon.

Ajja was mellow by the time his grandchildren came along. ‘Kannur ajja’ was our loving moniker for him. To us, he was the patriarch of a brood of 10 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

During one of my summer visits, Kannur ajja called me to his side, “Thangi, baa illi.” He said he had something to show me. He took my tiny hand in his and led me to the family fields. The wrinkled skin on his forehand felt soft and comforting.

Ambling along hand in hand, him matching his slow steady steps with my tiny strides, we crossed the road between the homestead and the family fields. We walked across the kana (paddy threshing yard), treaded over wooden logs across the little rivulet and came upon an arc of tall coconut trees.

Ajja paused and fondly looked at the sturdy trees swaying to the lilt of the wind, trees he had planted and raised. Pointing to a few trees he said, “These are for you.” A coconut tree was deemed a source of income.

I was well into my adulthood when I learnt that Kannur ajja had a few coconut trees set by for each of his many granddaughters, his own immensely beautiful way of continuing to care for his female progeny, long after his time.

Nearly four decades and several family partitions later, I haven’t a clue where my trees are, nor if they are around at all. But the grandness of his gesture still leaves me overwhelmed.

Years after his passing, the radiant memory of that summer afternoon enfolds me in its glow. In times of both anxiety and peace, I have come to rely on this one memory of ajja’s affection — unconditional, unprejudiced, and timeless, and I once again morph into that quiet, shy little girl, ensconced in my ajja’s loving arms under the cool shade of the coconut trees he gifted me.

The warmth of that embrace lingers beyond the inexorable march of time and keeps me moored along life’s meandering path.

In a culture steeped in patriarchy, I couldn’t have asked for an inheritance richer or a legacy more meaningful than those of the gift of trees from Kannur ajja, my wellspring of untarnished love and inspiration.

And as we attempt journeying in Kannur ajja’s footsteps and navigate the ebbs and flows of raising Navilu Kaadu, I know he watches over us from beyond eternity.

Note: Thangi (little sister) and Thamma (little brother) are used as terms of endearment when conversing with children in rural Malenadu.

Rooting For Nature is a monthly column on an off-kilter urban family’s trysts with nature on a natural farm.

The author chipped away at a software marketing career before shifting gears to independent consulting and natural farming. She posts as @ramyacoushik on Instagram. Reach her at bluejaydiaries@gmail.com

(Published 18 February 2023, 20:18 IST)

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