Raul stands in his balcony and stares at the new house. His mansion, with rusted grille, mossed and cracked walls, peeled-off plaster flashing bare bricks, has stood tall for three generations.
“Lentil- eating peasants are our neighbours now”, papa would have derided, if alive. His father abhorred the nouveau riche.
Raul’s small real estate business helps him scrape through. A sheep amongst wolves, two months back he had done a big business though he had lost a pound of flesh there, his heart. Like Bassanio, he was broke and had to sell mansion’s garden front. The dough had quietened moneylenders for sometime.
It pains Raul to see a wall where the hedges stood; the garden was levelled for construction.
Subi smoked on his terrace while admiring the elephantine silhouette of the mansion.
With his hard work and some bank loan, he has left the ‘thatched roof life’ behind. He has to work harder to repay the loan, but for now he is happy. This mansion backdrop pushes him to work more.
He sews till late in the night.
Raul and his wife shift on the mattress. The neighbour’s sewing machine noise stings them like mosquitoes. His wife murmurs, “ If only my father had not fallen for your pompous papa. All ham, no let.”
Raul doesn’t retaliate.
It is Subi’s house warming ceremony. The kids are running in and out.
Subi decides to share sweets with Mr. Raul, like a neighbour. Throughout the land paper formalities, Raul was taciturn and guarded, as his mansion was to outsiders.
As Subi enters the mansion gate, he hears loud altercations and then few men step out of the doorway fuming; burly weaponed men. Subi’s conundrum is answered by a thud. Mr. Raul is lying on the floor, unconscious. The purdah and rod come crashing after, succumbing to Raul’s weight as he had attempted to balance himself. His wife is frantically crying as Subi lifts Mr. Raul up.
He enters the hallway, his eyes wide with surprise.
Raul’s papa had not changed his opulent lifestyle, long after the princely states had acceded to the government. Soon the huge mahogany dining table, chandelier, porcelain vases were pawned one by one. The mansion stood as the only royal proof.
Once, Raul had argued with papa when his rosewood lectern was being sold. It was dear to Raul; the intricate carvings are still fresh in his mind.
Subi lays Raul softly on the floor and sits down next to him. The mansion is almost empty with no furnitures around. The purdah did a good cover up.
Raul slowly regains his consciousness but immediatley lowers his eyes to avoid Subi’s. The purdah that had guarded Raul’s dignity, lay torn, baring it all. That night Subi sits longer on his sewing machine.
By next morning, a new purdah is ready to guard the mansion.