Friends from Dharwad visited us last week. They stayed at Kenchanahalli and spent a couple of days. During this time, they met Karunakar who was one of our true friends who went out of the way to help us 22 years ago. During the course of the conversation he recounted those romantic days and told them many a story of what we went thru then. They insisted that I share a few anecdotes with them.
It was the 28th of August 1988. Ramesh, Devaraja Acharya and I were posted as interns to our yet to be started hospital at Brahmagiri tribal colony. Dr.Kulkarni was the Head of the Department of PSM at the Government Medical College, Mysore and he fully supported us. Swami Sureshanandaji was the correspondent of the Sri Ramakrishna Vidyashala then and he gave us a jeep belonging to the Second World War days! Thrilled that we would have a 4-wheeler to help our soon to begin medical work, we blindly accepted it. Little were we to know how expensive this jeep would be to maintain and that it would need a driver to negotiate this ‘left-hand drive’ vehicle. Luckily the roommate of Devaraj was Nagaraj Sharma. Though younger than us by a few years, he belonged to a family that owned an estate in Dakshina Kannada and had learnt to drive. He drove us down to N Begur. As we reached our destination, we realized that we needed a place to stay in. We took our chance and approached the Range Forest Officer who also oversaw the Forest Bungalow located opposite his office. Mr.Ravindra, the RFO was kind enough to permit us to stay in the Forest IB, as it was called.
Nagaraj left us and returned to Mysore the same day. Now we had a jeep and 3 medical interns who had no idea of driving, leave alone a ‘left-hand drive’ vehicle at that. But then, we had no choice but to learn on the job. As the leader of the team, the burden fell on me. With God on my lips and hope in my heart, I drove the jeep. Luckily we survived, though my negotiating the jeep was indeed an adventure. It was so horrifying that Ramesh would wake up in the middle of the nights screaming “Balu – use the brakes, …brakes” for many days after that eventful first day.
It was here that we first met Karunakar. He had run away from his village at the age of 8/9 and come down to Begur and ran small errands for the forest department personnel. Gradually he became a permanent unofficial fixture of the department at Begur. A kind hearted ACF ensured that he got a temporary job as a caretaker of the IB, where he ensured that all visitors were treated to his culinary skills. He also turned out to be our most valued friend and well wisher who filled our evenings with stories of the tribals, the animals and the different officers that he had served. He had married a year ago and his wife had returned to her village in Kerala in order to deliver her first child.
Enthusiasm and energy were our only assets in those days. Money was something that we just did not have. Food had to be paid for and Karunakar somehow realized our predicament. Deftly and without causing any embarrassment to us, he continued to feed us and told us that we could pay him when we found the money. This favour of his went on for more than a month. Soon the forest department higher ups realized that we could get to be thorns in their flesh if we pitched our tents in their domain. They instructed Ravindra to evict us from the IB.
Shailendra was a student who was visiting us on that fateful day. Thrown out of the only home we knew, we had nowhere to go. Being relatively unknown and friendless, we had no one to turn to. Returning to Mysore meant accepting defeat. Motivation was ebbing and the ‘Jeep’ turned to be our next home. We put all our stuff into it and drove it down to a little beyond our present hospital at Kenchanahalli and parked it under the Tamarind tree (it still stands today) beside the road. Ramesh was too embarrassed lying in the jeep and wondered aloud what the villagers would think of their ‘new doctors’. To avoid any further embarrassment, we left the bonnet open and told many a inquisitive villager that our vehicle had broken down and that we could not leave it and return to our non-existing accommodation.
It was during these days, when the forest department had an unofficial order of non-cooperation issued against us that Karunakar turned out to be our friend and help. He quietly smuggled out food from his home and ensured that we at least had 2 square meals a day. He was expecting to be made permanent and he could easily have suffered an unimaginable fate if his superiors knew of his quiet help. Despite what he could lose, he continued to help us out. His logic was indeed simple. He felt that doctors venturing into rural areas was indeed a rarity and needed to be supported. He never saw himself as helping us out. He kept insisting that all that he was ensuring was that his village continued to have these young doctors to serve them. He said he was obliged to the community and this was his way of repaying them.
In all these years, we have had many friends who have helped us without any desire to be known, without any expectations and without any advertisement. Many have silently ensured that our work not only survived but also grew. Karunakar easily stands out amongst them.
– Balu (firstname.lastname@example.org)