“Pranaams to you, respected uncle,” a passer-by said to the grand old man on the pyol.
“God bless you, Narayana! How my vision is playing tricks on me! I couldn’t place you till I heard your voice. Did the young man come down to take home your daughter?”
“No such good fortune for us yet, uncle. He is still cross with us and grumbles that he was slighted. It’s all God’s will and our own ill doings in the previous births,” Narayana heaved a sigh.
“All right, all right. I would go and see him one of these days and little Sukanya is after all my granddaughter. Let me look for an auspicious time to go and put some sense into the thick head of that youngster.”
“When shall I bring my bullock cart to take you to the railway station?”
“No need for that. The little fellow is coming in a day or two and he would take me on his motorcycle. That would make some difference, you know,” said the old man and turned to greet another man passing that way.
The pyol saw the males of the family, the patriarchs of the small place, hold something like a court there. She saw and heard the tribulations and joys of the people. Passers-by used to make use of the pyol when they wanted to have a breather setting down the loads they were carrying for a little while. Some would go into the house behind the vast front yard for a glass of buttermilk in the hot afternoon. The house builders of the old times made a provision for the platform at the entrance of the compound wall for anyone to sit there for a while. The grown-up men of the family made it their seat of public relaxation and also their centre of operation to carry out business. The pyol was invariably the place they laid down the dead of the family to be taken to the burning ghat. It was open and thus the most valuable part of the house accessible always to the needy specially to the barber and even the untouchable. Untouchability was gone but gone too was the concern for the fellow-being since times have changed.
The grand old man on the pyol was once the proud owner of two hundred acres all in one piece inherited from his father. The light in his eyes drew the passers-by for a happy chat though he was not the same grand man in his old age. His only son whom he had sent to England to be trained as a barrister turned out to be a traitor to the British. He was sent to gaol for violating the law laid down by the white sahib and from there he never returned alive. So many acres of land were converted into quick money first to put them on board a ship and then to find out what had happened to the young man in the gaol. It took quite some years for the poor father to realise that the mighty crush the week and merit does not necessarily save a man from what’s destined to happen. Everyone said the young man died a martyr’s death. The widow of the patriot and, again, their only son, saw the land reduced to a mere ten acres bit when the young man got his degree in Engineering. the large mat had been reduced to a mere little square to sit on, as the Telugu saying went.
The landlord was still held in great esteem, notwithstanding the shrinking of this holding, for he had a kind word for everyone around. His son was a patriot when patriotism was the passion of the young and his grandson though educated in places like Delhi and Bombay visited his family village every vacation and mixed with all in the way his forefathers did and won the love and affection of the entire village.
“The meal is laid,” announced a young woman who did the odd house hold chores. The old man stood up, gathered his upper cloth and shook it as if to shake away the dust on it. He laid it on his shoulder and walked into the house.
“No letter from the little fellow Raju even this morning,” the grand old man said to his wife before turning round the water in his palm (in offering worship to the Gods) around the served food in the silver plate.
A white saree* appeared to peep out of the kitchen at the mention of Raju but it quickly withdrew.
“No need to worry, little mother,” said Raju’s grandmother who sat on a low wooden plank fanning her husband.
“I wonder what is holding him up there,” the old man said after picking up a morsel of food and putting it in his mouth.
“Raju is not like the young ones of these days. He keeps his word. He would come today, in the evening, if not in the morning. Perhaps, he is busy consulting some of his teachers for the rooms you wanted him to plan”.
The old lady was waving the palm leaf fan gently while her husband went on eating his meal.
“Grandfather! Grandmother!” A young man came in rushing into the presence of the old people.
“Did you wash your feet first, little Raju? Don’t you know that Grandmother would be cross if you don’t leave your city ways here?” The white saree made her appearance at the kitchen door, now with a bold look.
“I came a minute after grandfather came into the eating room. That pyol there has to be demolished first to make the rooms more spacious. I was taking its measurements. I washed my feet the moment I came in. See for yourself, grandmother! Mother is always angry with me for small things,” he pouted in complaint as a lad of ten would do before his beloved granny.
“You are harsh to the little boy, my dear little mother. He is a gem of a boy. Dear one, I was telling that you wouldn’t fail your promise and right at the moment you came in. May you have a life span of a full thousand!”
” Grandpa, I have here the plans for the four rooms. Two of them have attached baths,” The young man said enthusiastically. The grandfather only looked at the old lady.
“What is an attached bath?” The granny asked in wide-eyed wonder, full of admiration for her grandson.
Raju’s mother came out and saw her son beaming with a roll of some paper with blue lines on it. He was waiting for his grandpa to finish his meal.
“Won’t you have your bath quickly so that you could have your meal while it is still hot ? Go, my little one, the hot water is ready.”
“Raju is not like the young ones of these days. He keeps his word. He would come today, in the evening, if not in the morning. Perhaps, he is busy consulting some of the floor.”
“These are the rooms with the attached baths and all.” he showed.
“What? Would you have a toilet adjoining a bedroom? I don’t know what times we are coming to. A latrine! And inside the house! The old man clicked his tongue in sympathy for the doom that had overtaken the earlier values of the rural folk. Raju’s mother looked on silently for she rarely spoke in the presence of her father-in-law. But the old lady was totally confused.
Raju withdrew nastily rolling the print thoughtfully as he walked out. He was a little abashed. He wondered why his grandfather was so upset. He knew him only too well to brave an argument or indicate any shade of disagreement with him. He knew about the old times and the life the villagers led. Lavatories always were built as far away from the house as possible if they were built at all. Attached bath, apparently was an unacceptable idea to the old people with their idea of cleanliness and piety which invariably went with it. Perhaps granny could be of some help, he said to himself.
After lunch the old man read the newspaper for a while and then went to lie down for his afternoon nap. The old lady disapproved of her husband’s habit of going to sleep during daytime. As for herself, she would sit on the veranda with her heavy volume of the Mahabharat or the Ramayana kept high, reverently on a book stand. She read the verses with a musical drawl.
“Grandma, did I do anything to make him so angry? I respect him but don’t you think that we should change along with times? How can you walk that far to the bathroom in the sun and rain ? Won’t you tell him, my dear grandma?” Raju pleaded with her.
“I see what you have in your mind, but he is not easy to convince. Let’s keep mum and wait till he brings up the subject again”. She said lost in thought as to how to win the old man round to the youngster’s point of view.
“But, grandma, we have to lay the foundations first and we have to start with the demolition of the pyol...”
“You can as well do away with me first my dear fellows” said the old man who appeared on the scene suddenly. “We are not rich, not highly educated and not brought up in city ways. What is ours is not totally ours if we don’t let others have a bit of it. Within our means we always tried to be happy and keep others happy. Young man, there is nothing like contentment. A contented man is happier than the happiest king. You can certainly have a bathroom attached to your room if it really pleases you to have it so. But how could you ever think of pulling down the pyol? It is a symbol of our way of life; our concern for all around us. It is there for anyone to come and sit for a while, for the little kids to be taught the alphabet, for the load-ridden porter to rest, for the musicians to squat while the wedding guests arrive, for friend and acquaintances, for the neighbour as well as for the passer by. It has been the most lovable part of the house for your father and mine and his all these generations.
“Whatever may happen, whatever you may feel or think, keep this intact, as a contribution of the family for limited public use. Even when you need more space and more rooms, let the pyol remain untouched. It is the base of our goodwill. Wait and see where our inconsiderate neighbours would lay down their dead to prepare them for the ....”
“Stop it, my dear sir, don’t utter inauspicious words amidst full households. After all, he is a kid”.
“Grandma, allow me to speak. Don’t say anything more. Grandpa, I beg you to forgive me. The pyol shall stand and your room shall have a door which opens on to it. You can sit on it whenever you please, in the warm sun or the pleasant moonlight”.
“My little Raju is a dear raja,” the grandmother embraced him while Raju’s mother who stood watching the scene quickly wiped off with her saree end a tear of joy.
*Note: Pyol is a raised platform before a house used by visitors or people who can keep the weight they carry on it to regain breath for a while. The owner usually sits there seeing people walking on the road before the pyol.
 Indicates widowhood