I remember that night very well. It was one of those rare emotional moments that I cannot forget. It was early 1992 and I was living in Hosahalli. Shailendra and Vivek were in Kenchanahalli. I had just returned from a long and tiring trip to Mysore and was fast asleep when I heard someone knocking on my door. Only a few days ago I had seen a leopard on the verandah of my house and this was still fresh in my mind and I hesitated to open the door. It was then that I heard the voice of Masthi. He was popularly known as ‘hostel masthi’ as he had worked in a Government tribal hostel many years ago. He was a very senior tribal elder and the chieftain of the Jenukurubas in Hosahalli and was held in high esteem amongst all the Jenukurubas. I had always known him as a perpetual drunkard, but a very effective ‘medicine-man’. As I opened the door, Masthi asked me to have a bath and change into a clean white dhoti and join him as early as possible. I was puzzled and concerned whether Masthi was his usual drunk self. In reality, it was one of those rare moments when he was actually sober. Not sure of what to do, I stood there looking for a explanation. Masthi told me that it was the auspicious day when the Jenukurubas would all congregate at the Masthamma temple and pray. The temple was actually a 5 X 5 feet mud-walled and thatched roof structure with nothing inside. To me, it somehow symbolized the high concept of Advaita and I was always astonished how this tribe that worshiped the trees, plants and rocks, could relate to the concept of nothingness. He told me to come and participate in the prayers and celebrations.
Keeping in line with his instructions, I joined them after a cold-water bath and shivering, with my upper torso uncovered and only a dhoti draped around to protect my bare essentials. I found that all the Jenukurubas of the area had collected at the temple. The women were all standing some distance away and Masthi started the poojas. After their usual sacrifice of many hens and a couple of goats (my protests were as usual ignored) Masthi suddenly announced that the spirits had told him that I was to be ordained a Jenukuruba that night. My consent or concurrence just did not matter and I was asked to step forward. After some ceremony, which included a violent shaking of his body, he announced that I was a Jenukuruba from that day onwards. As the final part of my initiation ceremony, I had to accept the sacred offering meant for their spirits. I seemed to have no choice in the happenings around me and meekly accepted what was given to me on a teak leaf. I still laugh to myself when I remember how I felt when he told me that the sacred offering was a piece of uncooked venison (deer’s meat) soaked in honey.
And I was a Jenukuruba from that day onwards! It was indeed a moving moment for me. This wonderful set of reticent people, who I felt were struggling to come to terms with the pressures of modernization and the demands of acculturation had found it easier to make me a Jenukuruba rather than become like me!