When I was young, I aspired to become a paṭela (village headman, chief of a town). Not because the position would provide a lot of money. But because a paṭela is a free man; he need not wait for someone else’s orders. The respect of people for a village headman is immense; all the villagers obey his command.
In addition to these two attractions, there was another. A headman did not have the burden of schooling; no plight of exams and results.
Among my father’s and grandfather’s friends, there were four or five paṭelas. I had seen their imposing attitude and the respect with which people treated them. But I had no idea about their responsibilities and difficulties.
How should a Village Headman be?
It was my grandfather who cured me of my crazy ideas. He told me two things –
1. A headman should have life experience and an understanding of human nature.
2. In addition, he should be a person who gains people’s affection and trust through his behaviour and words.
Both these take time. No one will accept a teenage boy as a village headman.
The meaning of these words dawned upon me after a few years.
A paṭela is the head of the town. If he does not understand the characteristics of its citizens, his governance becomes chaotic. People should realize his ability and trust him. Without these two elements, a headman cannot successfully fulfil his duties and responsibilities.
Pāśampalli Ādèppa was a town chief. He was a Telugu-speaking brāhmaṇa, probably from Vèlanāḍu. He lived around eighty years ago [i.e., in the latter part of the nineteenth century]. I recollect seeing him once, from a distance, when I was four or five years old. I’ve heard about him time and again from the elders in my family. What I want to narrate now is the gist of what those old-timers narrated.
Pāśampalli was a village in the Telugu-speaking region of Kolar district. I haven’t enquired as to whether or not it is now in existence. The name Pāśampalli [Pasampalle] was earlier probably Pāyasa-palli or Pāyasada Haḻḻi. Over a long period of time, people started pronouncing it as Pāśampalli.
Ādèppa was the headman of four or five villages in that area. His income was a poṭagi of twenty rupees per village and so a sum of a hundred rupees from the five villages in total. Poṭagi was the ‘commission’ or 'allowance' that the government credited annually to a śānubhoga (village accountant) or a paṭela. Typically if the revenue from a village was a hundred rupees, three or four rupees from that would go to the accountant and more or less a similar amount to the headman. This poṭagi was the cash income for the headman.
But no headman subsisted on this income alone. Ādèppa owned lands. His family received an abundant quantity of grains and pulses from the lands. They were generous; they continued their family tradition of donation and charity. Pulses and grains required for these acts of charity were cultivated in their own fields.
There were fifteen to twenty people in Ādèppa’s household. His brothers, their children, nephews, elderly women who had returned due to broken marriages, widows – all these were part of his family. Along with this, there were always two or three guests or needy people. This is Hindu Socialism or the socialist way of our country.
His standard of living was middle-class. He did not have to buy any groceries from a shop. From sesame seeds to jaggery, every item was produced in his fields and gardens. At home, there were always a couple of cows and buffaloes. Hence, milk, curd, and ghee were always available in plenty. Since there were three to four women at home, they took care of the cooking.
In this manner, good food and peace of mind were the characteristics of the surroundings.
In spite of Ādèppa having inherited lands and the title of town chief, it is not possible to say his life would have been so satisfactory had he not been endowed with his personal charisma. His fame came from his charm and personality. A few words about that.
The main feature of his physical appearance was his limp. The main feature of his demeanour was his authority and discipline.
I don’t know whether he was a cripple by birth or whether an injury caused the deformity or whether it was due to a disease. But it was impossible for him to walk.
His special durbar took place in the portico in front of his house, on the jaguli (raised stone platform). The village accountant, common folk of the village, and his close friends would gather there. This typically took place in the evenings or at night.
Perhaps after seeing this spectacle people came up with the proverb ‘Kuṃṭoṇi pārupatyaṃ iṃṭa muṃdara’ – ‘A cripple’s sovereignty is only in front of his house.’ This proverb is in use even to this day.
Ādèppa’s day would start early in the morning at around five. He would freshen up, apply the vibhūti, put on the armour, tie a turban, wear the long angavastra on his shoulder, and then be ready for his tour. A couple of people, from his household or some other helpers, would lift him and seat him on his horse. As soon as he sat on the horse and held its reins, Ādèppa was no more a cripple but became a man of valour. A cripple on the ground; a hero on the horse.
Once he began the tour, he would not get off the horse until he returned home in the afternoon. While journeying from Pāśampalli to the next village, on the way, chieftains and others would join him from nearby places and narrate their pains and pleasures to him.
When Ādèppa desired to meet anyone, he would send for them through the village assistants and helpers accompanying him.
Thus he would understand what was going on in peoples’ lives in his villages. A feud in one family, grain inadequacy in the other, shortage of earning in yet another, and some other troubles in another – all these reached Ādèppa’s ears. He was happy to help out—to the extent possible—people who shared their tales of woe and troubles. He would console a few; teach a lesson to a few others; and assist some others with loans. All families in those four or five villages were like branches and sub-branches of Ādèppa’s own family. The life of the people was his life. The main portion of Ādèppa’s life was woven into life of people in villages around.
Did I not mention earlier that he would teach a lesson to some? There was a significant need for this. Even during those times, there were liars, cheats, and mischief-makers. It was Ādèppa’s dominating nature that brought them under control. Though he was the well-wisher of all, people had a feeling of fear and devotion towards him. Not a single person in those five villages under his jurisdiction dared to go against his word.
Therefore, a proverb created in that region was commonly in use. The proverb is in Telugu; the style is a bit rural, readers have to bear with the rusticity and pardon me. It goes thus: “Pāśampalli Ādeppagāru pittamaṇṭe pittāla” – meaning ‘If Pāśampalli Ādèppa asks you to fart, you fart.’ His word was the ultimate command.
Normally, these words were said with reference to his tax collection. Among the headman’s principal duties, the first was tax collection. The headman’s first task is to collect tax due from the farmers to the government. To maintain accounts connected to them is the job of the village accountant. Without the dogged peristence and pressure of the headman, it is not possible to collect the taxes.
Ādèppa was extremely strict in collecting tax from the farmers for the government. For several farmers it was difficult to pay taxes in time. Such people would request Ādèppa for more time. Ādèppa would not be hard on them the first time. For the first instalment and second instalment he would allow as much time as the farmer wanted. By the third and fourth instalment, he would become ruthless. Once he became hard-hearted, the farmer had no choice but to pay up. And so when Pāśampalli Ādèppa said, “Spit it out,” one had better pay up.
During those times, there were no documented rules that laid down the fiduciary jurisdiction, duties or responsibilities of the village headman or other village officials. Everyone followed the regulations established earlier. The bārābalūti, a system of administration that has twelve branches—dvādaśāṅga—is said to have come from the time of the Vijayanagara Empire. The headman used to follow this ancient system. The people allowed it to continue unhindered. The village was the paṭela’s family. The paṭela was its head. Because his words were respected and valued, it was possible for him to administer and improve the villages. Since all public works were running with the compliance of the people, there was no need for copious laws.
This is real swarajya or self-rule; this is democracy.
True democracy and true independence of the people can survive when people voluntarily accept a few traditions and institutions and when the citizens—of their own volition—are loyal to these traditions and abide by the rules of these institutions. As the laws increase, the government’s interference in people’s lives increases. When the government’s interference extends into public life, the independence of the people naturally diminishes. Our people must deeply contemplate about this principle.
This is the seventeenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 7) – Hrudaya Sampannaru. Edited by G S Raghavendra and Hari Ravikumar. Thanks to K K Subramaniam for his valuable inputs.
 The original has the word ‘dhoraṇè,’ which refers to a grandiose stance, a commanding presence, or a flamboyant demeanour.
 The place of origin of the Vèlanāḍu sub-sect of Telugu-speaking brāhmaṇas.