During summer vacation I would go to my grandmother’s place with my mother. A village far from the maddening crowd of the city I lived in. I would wait earnestly for the summer vacation, which would slacken the enormous burden given by the unrelenting syllabus taught at school. In the village, we had a big house. In front there was pyol, where my grandfather would slouch in an armchair, rock himself and read his newspaper line by line while sipping his morning tea, unaware of the slow cadence of the summer days. A dark corridor would lead us to a huge courtyard, through which the slant sunrays of morning would crawl up to the roof.
The village was exciting, but my favorite place was a deep well and my favorite timepass was peeping into it. It seemed mysterious with its darkness and the water so far down. I loved seeing my reflection in it. My cousins would stop me from going near, they told me there was a ghost inside, but I would ignore their pleadings and drop a stone every now and then to see the bubbles coming out. Looking at those bubbles my friends would say, “see ghosts are breathing”. In the daytime it wouldn’t affect me much, but as the smoke would be visible coming out of the chimneys and the dark, silent night would gradually start enveloping the whole village and there would be monotonous sound of insects only, singing like a group in a concert, a shiver would run down my spine, thinking of the ghost in the well. There would be no street lights and the darkness would add more to my fear. Other than small flickering lamps the only source of light was the moon peering through the trees. I wouldn’t leave my mother’s hands for a minute.
This deep dark well fascinated me so much that I would wait for people to finish off their baths and leave the well for my own use for the entire afternoon. However, in the afternoons my mother wouldn’t allow me to go out under the scorching sun. She would persuade me to stay in by telling about a monk who sported a long beard and roamed around to kidnap children who wandered in the afternoon. However, this made my strong yearnings evaporate only for a short period of time, and the desire crept back into me again. I would start waiting for the lassitude of the hot afternoons to take my mother away from slumber to deep sleep, so that I could sneak off to the mysterious well.
Along with the invisible inhabitants of the well there were some visible inhabitants also. There was a turtle inside who would pop his head out of the water every now and then to fill his lungs with air; his existence there was a mystery for me. When I dropped a stone inside, a flock of pigeons would come out flying who had built their nest in the crevice of the surrounding wall and their soft cooing would fill the tranquil afternoon. There was a young Banyan tree which had shot up from a crevice and little squirrels squealed, nibbled and slept on its branches.
There were a few stories of death also associated with the well. Girls would gossip that a lady tormented by her husband had jumped in the well and became a ghost later. It seemed like a heaven for all the ghosts of the village. Just like me it was their favorite place also and this was the reason why I never went there alone or in the dark nights.
Many years went by, I got married and had a son then. Due to my busy, hectic work life in the city, I couldn’t get enough time to visit my village. However, last year when I decided to take a small break from the tedious drudgery and went to visit my village, the well was the first place where I took my son. Unfortunately, it wasn’t mysterious anymore, there was no vibe of invisible ghosts, turtle couldn’t be seen, the banyan tree was withered and the squirrels had disappeared. Weeds had grown in profusion around the well. They had completely covered the well by dumping garbage into it.
I know it’s preposterous to blame the inexorable change, however, unknowingly they had buried all the mysteries and stories associated with it and my heart pained to tell my son that the mystery of the well is no more a privilege for children of the twenty-first century.
Vivek Nath Mishra is a city flâneur walking through stories. His short stories have been published by The Hindu, Indian Ruminations, and the Australian publication Urbaine and Insane, and are forthcoming in Prachya Review.