Solitary Song of Shimoga
The only thing most people in Shimoga discuss these days is real estate. The real estate bug has bitten the people of Shimoga. Wherever you go in this booming town in the south central Karnataka, you witness construction work in full progress. Shimoga is no longer a sleepy, quiet provincial town once known for its great intellectual wealth and its people's unending quest for knowledge.
Shimoga has always been a politically very important district contributing four chief ministers to the state. The latest contribution is the current chief minister B S Yeddyurappa. With his "ascension" as the first BJP CM in the entire South, Shimoga's real estate fortunes started to soar.
A close family friend of mine whose family has been in Shimoga for over three centuries told me that a small piece of land he bought 15 years ago for just Rs. 2 lakhs in the central part of town is now worth over Rs. 2 crore. The town is now full of such astounding stories and brand new, gleamy towers.
Another friend of mine was joking that chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and the BJP state president K S Eshwarappa (he is Shimoga MLA!) have divided the district into two parts and buying every inch of available land depriving the common people of even a small roof over their head.
I felt sad for my beloved district and its sweet natured, easy-going people.
Shimoga has a special place in Karnataka's cultural life for its vibrant literary and cultural atmosphere. Shimoga is the birth place of some the greatest writers and thinkers, from Kuvempu to U R Ananthamurthy.
It is also the birth place of socialist movement in the south. The landless people's fight for land started at Kagodu village in Shimoga in the early 1950s. The movement forced the state governments across India to amend their land laws and distribute feudal landlords land to the landless. The Communist legend the late M Basavapunnaiah once told my father that Naxal movement in Telangana was greatly influenced by the poor Shimoga peasants' fight for land.
Exactly the opposite is happening after 60 years. Corrupt politicians who once fought in the name of socialism and poor farmers are now buying the same land as commercial real estate by spending their ill-gotten wealth.
Most of Shimoga's firebrand and colourful public personalities have died long ago, leaving the field wide open for petty politicians and their brokers.
The place has seen a huge economic 'development' in the last ten years. But, it has lost its preeminent position as the main hub of Karnataka's socio-cultural and political life and also the conscience keeper of the state. As the old adage goes 'change is always accompanied by tragedy', Shimoga is also going through a tragic phase.
I have fond memories of Shimoga. Shimoga is my hometown. I was born and brought up in the beautiful Western Ghats of Shimoga. I still own land in the evergreen, virgin forests of Shimoga. My family lives there. I always consider myself to be a very lucky man to belong to such a great place. I grew up in a socialist atmosphere at home. My father was a die hard socialist turned Congressman. He was one of the most vocal critics of RSS and its right wing politics. He had forbidden everything that was remotely connected to RSS including Rakhi and Kakhi cheddis or trousers at home! He had a pathological hatred for RSS' right wing politics. But, he was a practicing Hindu!Fortunately, BJP made huge political gains and occupied number one position in Shimoga's politics only after my father's untimely death in the early 1990s.
Vasudeva Bhupalam, a revolutionary thinker from a prominent Vysya family in Shimoga (Baniya family) shook the entire state in the mid 20th century by writing a book ' Devaru Satta ', an atheist treatise (meaning God is dead). He is still remembered for his fearlessness, extremely strong views on religion and eccentric nature. He led a lonely life fearing for his life every day at a huge mansion on Lavelle road in Bangalore before he died many years ago. Right wing Hindu zealots had issued death threat to him for 'killing' the god even then. Ironically his nephew is now a top leader of the state BJP!
Many hard core Congress people with strong socialist roots have now joined BJP for power and money. Nobody talks about socialism now. Only money talks or the talk is all about money.
Shimoga is one of the most beautiful districts in India. The gigantic Western Ghats have covered most part of the district. It is known as 'Gateway of Malnad '. In Kannada Malnad means hilly region. Agumbe, India's second most wettest place is also in Shimoga. For that matter Shimoga is one of rainiest places on the earth. The last Monsoon ended only in the first week of December! Its virgin forests have 50% of World species. UNESCO is planning to declare its forests as ' World Heritage natural sites '.
A 6 hour drive or a five hour train ride from state capital Bangalore take you to Shimoga town by the river Thunga. Yeddyurappa is now building an airport at Shimoga.
The real Shimogaites concerned about the non - stop exploitation of its resources, lament that the land sharks now fly into Shimoga with their bottomless suitcases containing cash!
Shimoga's neighbouring district Chikmagalur (known as Coffee bowl of India) is a hot tourist destination. But, the organised tourism is yet to take off in Shimoga due to lack of basic amenities and places to stay. Some say it is a blessing in disguise and Shimoga should not become another Chikmagalur or Kodagu.
Because original Shimoga people consider themselves intellectually much superior to the rest and abhor the thought of their precious place being turned into yet another tourist destination.
The place has managed to retain some its old characters. Theatre is vibrant and doing well. Local newspapers and magazines devote a lot of space to art and literature. Young and old alike furiously discuss Shakespeare to Milton, Thomas Hardy to D H Lawrence, Tolstoy to Gorky, Satyajit Ray to Akira Kurosova, M F Husain to Van Gogh at seminars and symposiums.
People still take pride in the fact that they belong to a place like Shimoga. I am also equally proud. Because, Shimoga will always remain the closest to my heart and mind. Recently a businessman from a neighbouring state offered "at least Rs 10 crore" for my land. I turned down his tempting offer saying that my land was priceless and Shimoga, where my ancestors made their home at least a thousand years ago more tempting than his Eight figure sum!!
More about D P SatishD P Satish has been a journalist for the past 14 years. Born at the picturesque Jog Falls in Shimoga district of Karnataka, Satish did his graduation in English Literature. He is a post-graduate in Journalism from the prestigious Asian College of Journalism, Bangalore (now in Chennai). After a brief stint with the Indian Express Group, he shifted to TV. He also worked for an American news magazine called ' Image '. He has widely travelled and covered some of the biggest events from South of Vindhyas in the first decade of the 21st century. He is passionate about English literature, classical music, cinema, history, photography, jazz and Cricket. A self-proclaimed centrist, Satish keenly follows major political developments from across the World. He blogs regularly and spends hours searching for readable material from the Internet! He belives that journalism is a calling and a person meant to be a journalist, can't escape from it. A hillman at heart and by birth, Satish lives and works in New Delhi. But, loves Bangalore more than Delhi!
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