GADAG: At the age of 69, Mallikharjun Khandemmanavar of Kalasapur, a small village near Gadag town, is a colourful personality -- quite literally so, in his pied outfit of yellow kurta, red pants and overcoat. His house is painted in similar hues of Kannada pride, with more than 50 flags fluttering atop it. As does his moped.
Mallikharjun celebrates Rajyotsava every day. He has been spreading awareness of Kannada in the Gadag district for the past 45 years. Dressed in his trademark bright outfit, he hops onto his moped, which is done up to look like a chariot in similar colours of red, black and yellow.
He visits villages and cities and teaches people to read, write and speak Kannada, and gives away storybooks, textbooks, Kannada newspapers and magazines to the poor for free. He reaches out to schools and colleges to promote Kannada, and is famous in Gadag and surrounding areas as a ‘Kannada paricharak’.
His journey as a Kannada flag-bearer started in 1982. Mallikharjun went to Mysuru and took part in a protest to implement the V K Gokak report. He walked with other activists, with a stone on his head, as part of the protest. Police arrested more than 150 activists on that day.
Veteran actor Rajkumar arrived in Mysuru and released all the activists. “Dr Rajkumar gave a speech on Kannada and inspired us, from that day, I decided to work to make the Kannada language popular,” said Mallikharjun.
Though he started his mission in 1982, he started wearing red and yellow outfits only in 1995. He visits schools and colleges at national and regional festivals and distributes vachanas, story books and literary write-ups to students.
Mallikharjun joined government service as a ‘D’ Group worker and resigned in 2008 after senior officials asked him to stop spreading awareness of Kannada. He opted for VRS and says he is now living happily with his family. His sons, Basavaraj and Chandrashekhar, run a KMF Nandini milk centre in Gadag town, while Mallikharjun keeps his mission alive.
The initial days were tough for Mallikharjun, as he used to get a low salary. He remembers the late Tontadarya Siddalinga seer, who had sent jawar, wheat and rice bags to his house during his days of struggle. The seer knew about Mallikharjun and his financial condition and helped him.
Mallikharjun’s wife Anasuya is a big support.
“My husband has been doing social work and promoting the Kannada language for the past 40 years. He is fondly called ‘Kannada manushya’ in the district. I am very happy about it. Some people have habits and hobbies, and my husband has social service, and many people love him for it. I have always been with him, and my sons and daughters-in-law support him too. I used to tell him to take some rest for a few days, but he is always busy, and organises functions every week at our house.”
“I have been a lover of Kannada since my childhood but didn’t know how to express it. I used to participate in speech competitions and other cultural activities during childhood. When I participated in the Gokak movement in 1982, I became famous in some parts of North Karnataka and used the platform to spread awareness about Kannada. My family is also supportive. Now I am 69 and I want to be a Kannada activist till 100.”
Student of Siddalinga seer
Mallikharjun has been a sincere follower and student of Tontadarya Siddalinga seer for 40 years. The seer is known to have helped many talented writers publish books in Kannada.
Small library at home
Mallikharjun got many books from the seer and also purchased Kannada books and Basava philosophy books, which are part of his small library in his house in Kalasapur. He gives books to poor students for free to read, and they have to return them after reading so that others can borrow the books.
Communal harmony award
Mallikharjun has been instrumental in creating awareness on harmony among youths and society in Gadag district. He received the Communal Harmony award by Tontadarya mutt, Akshardeep Sahitya Vedike, Seva Ratna, Dalit Sangharsh Samiti, Gadag district administration and other taluk level organizations.
Mallikharjun’s small moped is called a Kannada chariot after he spent Rs 12,000 to modify it. It is adorned with four big Kannada flags and some messages on the front. All sides of the bike are decorated with yellow and red flowers
Mallikharjun’s house is unmistakable -- it is painted red and yellow both outside and inside and is easily identifiable as a ‘Kannadiga’ house. It has 53 small and big flags flying on all sides, and on the terrace. The house is located at the entrance of the village
Small library at home
Mallikharjun got many books from Tontadarya Siddalinga seer and also purchased Kannada books and Basava philosophy books, which are part of his small library in his house in Kalasapur. He gives books to poor students for free to read, and they have to return them after reading so that others can borrow the books