Grandfather and Granddaughter
Ponnan and Valli went to her grandfather’s house in the Street of Blacksmiths. He and his wife welcomed them in happily. Ponnan paid his respects and left as quickly as he could, claiming to have an important errand with the King.
Valli was talking excitedly to her grandfather when she cried out, “Oh my God! What is that?” Stacked in a corner of the veranda were several daggers, swords, and spears. Evidently, it was this array which had given Valli a fright.
“What indeed?” said her grandfather. “Why, swords and spears and tridents, of course, thirsting to chop Pallava heads like fruit! Not that you would have seen any of those. Why, in the old days...”
“Don’t scare me so!” cried Valli, alarmed.
“A few years like this, and even the men-folk of the land will be as cowardly as you. Valli! Do you know during the times of my grandfather and great-grandfather the forges were lit day and night, and sharp swords and spears were made, and tridents gleamed in the sun. Each smithy was alive and bustling. Even during my father’s time, these golden days were setting. In all my considerable days, this is the first time I have made swords and spears-or even seen them... Oh, why did this war not come twenty years ago!”
“Oh God! And here I was hoping that you would convince my husband that he should not go to the war...”
“Ponnan? Go to the war? Nonsense!”
“He keeps going on and on about going to the war.”
“You are the last of your line. He will not be allowed to go.”
There was a tragedy behind these words. Virabhadra Achari’s family had once been large and bustling. Four years ago, everyone in the family save Valli’s grandparents had gone to a wedding on the other side of the river. A sudden flood had arisen, and the small boat had capsized. Ponnan, who had been standing on the shore had swum to the boat and tried to save them. By some divine grace, only Valli had escaped. All the others had drowned.
“But why is the war taking place at all? I do not understand. It seems so unnecessary.”
“Why the war? Why? Have you heard of honour? That is why this war! How can the Tiger bow down to the Bull? How can the Chola nation bow down to the Pallavas? This dishonour is what this war tries to erase.”
“Look, I saw the flag today in the afternoon. It had a Lion.”
“Yes; they have changed the Bull to the Lion.
You see, twenty years ago, Mahendra Chakravarti was the ruler in Kanchi. Tales
of his valour were told in every country. At that time, the King of Vatapi,
north of the Pallava kingdom, who went by the name of Pulikesi, invaded the
Valli, who had been listening intently all this while, said, “Why does our King wish to fight this man? He should be a friend to him!”
A horse was galloping down the road. It stopped directly beneath them, at their door. “Virabhadra Achari!” an authoritative voice rang out.
Immediately the old man said, “It’s that Chandala, Marappa Bhupathi. Go in, quick, or he might see you.”