The Open Page article “Caged in a matchbox apartment, I pine for the pyol” by P. Esakki Muthu (Dec. 4) was touching. The thinnai indeed played a very important role in our day-to-day living.
My mother's house also had a beautiful, multipurpose thinnai. It became the seat for the innumerable people who came to visit my grandfather. There was no need to be invited to sit on it. During annual temple festivals and other occasions when relatives poured in, children would play kallu — with stones kept in columns drawn of chalk — on the thinnai. Many preferred to sleep on it for the breeze from the mango tree and the sheer joy of gossiping throughout the night.
However, the freedom got restricted with changes in society. A grill gate was put up on the thinnai some years ago as cases of robbery started to spread in the neighbourhood. Although all of us miss the old-age thinnai, it is my grandfather who misses it the most as he has to strain himself from behind the grill to spit out his betel leaf juice.
I went back 40 years, when I thoroughly enjoyed the pyol and all it had to offer in my grandfather's house at Chidambaram. Thinnai was where I used to exchange reviews of the latest MGR movies with my neighbours till midnight. I do not remember using even pillows and bed sheets. A small elevation on one end of the pyol was our headrest. When Sanskrit pundits visited Chidambaram during the annual Lord Nataraja festival, they would stay with us for about 10 days. They had the first claim to the pyol. I would somehow squeeze in, in the garb of attending to their needs.
During holidays, the thinnai served as a platform for all sorts of discussions — from film gossip to municipal elections. During rainy days, when our movement was restricted, we used to play on the pyol. Additional duties such as peeling onions were assigned to us. Above all, the pyol came to our rescue when we silently sneaked out for night shows, which was not possible if we slept in the house. The humble pyol was an instrument of social interaction. I pity the present day people, confined to their apartments.
Till the middle of the last century, the thinnai was a place where wealthy landlords got together to chat for hours or play cards, chewing betel leaves and spitting the juice on the street. Many of them had the habit of inhaling snuff too.
The article reminded me of the days I spent in a Palakkad agraharam, where every house had a thinnai, spacious and comfortable enough for friendly gatherings, gossip, card play and transaction of minor business such as buying daily-use items. As pointed out by the writer, those were the days when the front doors of houses were kept open from sunrise to sunset. Old-timers continue to crave for a return to the golden days of the past.
As a class 11 student who has grown up in the city for years, I regret the missed adventures in my ancient land — the magical pure breeze, the infinite sky (which seems finite when I see it from my building), the mesmerising voice of birds, the award-winning, script-less stories of grandparents, the nutritious food given by mothers in moonlit nights, the high-spirited evening of traditional games and, above all, education without pressure.
A. Vinith Kannan,