People living in the multistoried apartments would perhaps not have an idea as to what a well is. They might be aware of sumps, water tanks, borewells etc but not a traditional type of well, some built for public and some for private use. The wells of yore dug on the roadside not only helped to quench the thirst of the weary travelers on the road, but they used to be gossip centres for the nearby villages too. Whatever they were, they certainly provided an alternate source of water and were treasured for their art and utility. On the minus side, a well would be a matter of great contention as the ‘lower’ caste people were not allowed to use the wells belonging to ‘upper’ caste.

There was a method to dig wells. A water diviner would be employed to detect the best spot for digging it. He would set out with a Y-shaped twig. He would be holding on to the two legs of the inverted Y. As he approached the subterranean water table, the twig would vibrate violently thus pinpointing the best spot for digging.

At my in-laws’ place, the well had been situated in the open courtyard. The wall was high enough not to allow kids to fall into them accidentally, but not high enough for them to throw things in blindly. This well had not been provided with shutters which would have kept birds and things out. Only the regular use of “patala garadi” –a multi hooked iron gizmo would fish out the things thrown into the well at regular intervals by the children. Apart from the pulley fixed to the slab on top to draw water using a rope, an electric pump fitted to the well would bring water into all the taps in the house when switched on.

The area around the wall had been concreted well. The steps leading to the well with a cement bench and parapet walls provided an ideal place to sit and gossip in the evenings, which our brothers-in law and their cricket friends would make best use of to do the postmortem of that day’s game.

Once, my 3 year old son (a deadly age) threw my daughter’s notebook into the well. His budding engineering brain had connected the well with the water coming in the taps. He mocked her, “I have thrown your book into the well. It won’t even come out of the taps when the pump is switched on!”

The next generation was even more action oriented. Once my aunty wanted to purchase big jari bordered thick Kanjeevaram silk sarees for her three daughters and herself. The owner of the best known shop in Bangalore being a friend of theirs had sent the sarees and a few more to provide them a wider selection.

All the sarees_ selected and others had been stacked in card board boxes, pending billing, and kept on top of a steel almirah, out of reach of everyone.

But not to their three year old grandson! When everyone in the family was enjoying a siesta, the highly motivated child got on a stool, reached the boxes, carried them to the well and threw the whole lot in! By the time the missing sarees were traced and retrieved, they were sopping wet. Courtesy demanded that they buy the whole lot of sarees! One consolation was, their shop owner friend empathized with the situation and allowed them maximum discount possible over the already exorbitant prices.

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40 responses »

  1. nadi says:

    Vimala,
    in a humorous way, you have told us so much..

  2. Indrani Talukdar says:

    My grandmother’s house in Allahabad had a well which had to be covered because my little sister, all of two, insisted on exploring it. I can’t recall the number of times I had to fish her out. She should thank me for being her saviour!

    • vimala ramu says:

      You had to fish out your sister? Well, if any one falls into our wells, with 15 ft deep water, there is no question of fishing out people alive ! Most of the wells have now been closed due to Vaastu. What a waste of a resource !
      Thanks for visiting, Indrani.

  3. J S Broca says:

    Dear Vimalaji,
    I have a few nostalgic memories of a well, from my childhood/school days.
    First one is the delightful nursery rhyme about the pussy being thrown in a well by a naughty boy.
    The poem was like this :
    Ding dong bell
    Pussy’s in the well
    Who put her in?
    Little Johnny Flynn
    Who pulled her out?
    Little Tommy Stout
    What a naughty boy was that
    Try to drown poor Pussycat,
    Who ne’er did any harm
    But killed all the mice
    In the Farmer’s barn!

    The second one is about a common village well where women from the nearby localities come to fetch water and simultaneously exchange gossip while they are waiting for their turn.Thus, the well is a centre of communication and a reliable means of the latest”affairs” of the village -mainly who has eloped with whom,whose mother-in-law is a witch , whose getting engaged , who is getting ” chchutta chcheda” (Gujarati word for divorce) etc–all the latest and spicy” breaking news” like on the TV today ! Alas ! With piped water lines and bore wells in many village homes,this well-meaning source of information seems to be vanishing.
    Enjoyed !
    J S BROCA
    New Delhi

    • vimala ramu says:

      I am totally and pleasantly surprised to see your post on my ‘well’. When I heard that you are joining 4iw, I was telling my husband that now Shail has an alternative author to me in similar trend.
      Well, the nursery rhyme seems to have undergone quite a change since my days. For one, It used to be Little Tommy Thin instead of Johnny Flynn. The last line used to be to kill the poor pussy cat. Things seem to have been added later by SPCA !
      Thanks for visiting, Mr Broca.
      Yes, with the wells disappearing, we seem to have lost a major source of info and gossip.

  4. M J Bhat says:

    Can you please send the pictures of the Pathala GaraDi if available.

    • vimala ramu says:

      Since I thought all the comments had already been given, I hadn’t checked the site for quite sometime. Sorry for the delay. You can check wikipedia for the word. (I got the equivalent for ‘vel’ from there. Thanks for visiting.

  5. Varun Reddy says:

    Hey some people use a chicken’s foot instead of the Y-Shaped twig right? I’ve never experienced a well as such, but my dad and grandma have told me about wells in their childhood villages 🙂

    • vimala ramu says:

      This is news to me. I didn’t know about the chicken’s leg for water divining. I don’t know about the scientific explanation for this. ‘Water finds its own level’?! Thank you Varun for visiting.

  6. Tanuja Chatterjee says:

    I liked your interesting blog. It’s inspiring as usual ‘coz it makes me realise that every little thing within and outside is worth appreciating. What a fine way to recoolect those lively action packed yester years! Thanx for enlightening me by vividly describing the procedure of the excavation of a well during olden times. Your writing propels me to realign with my true self.

    • vimala ramu says:

      Of course, every little bit of the world around is worth watching and remembering. That’s what makes life a rich experience. Given your richness of vocabulary, I am sure you would be able to do very well as a writer.

  7. Smita Luthra says:

    Very delightful account, Vimala Ji. 🙂 Interesting to read about the adventures of the 3 year old. And the mere vision of zari Kanjeevaram saris being retreived from the well, soaking wet, was painful. The very idea that the well water would flow out of the taps was an impressive brainwave coming from a 3 year old. And your account of the Y shaped twig was something new I learnt. Do keep writing similar accounts from your life. They make such an interesting read.

    • vimala ramu says:

      Thank you,Smita. What was taken for granted in those days has become a totally new thing to the present generation. And of course, what is matter of fact for the present generation is a total mystery to the previous generation. Funny isn’t it ? Thanks for reading my blog.

  8. vimala ramu says:

    Thank you very much Pankaja for your remarks. Of course, I read Kannada. I would love to read your book ”Gagana” What an honour to have your book made into a film that too with Anantnag and Khushboo ! Yes, it is fun writing here more so because of the interactive comments. I shall look forward to your book.

  9. Nuggehalli Pankaja says:

    Vimala, like the others my mind also wanders towards the well of of our younger days. Apart from humour you have a wonderful knack of bringing to life old things forgotten!

    I enjoy the comments of your friends also; They are witty.

    By the way, can you read Kannada? If so , I would like to give you ‘Gagana’ my humourous novel. It was made into a movie with Anantnag and Kushabbo,
    but the humour brought out there was entirely different!

  10. Eva Bell says:

    The well! It brings back so many memories of childhood in a small town. We had an aunt who was always finding fault with us even though she was only a guest at our house. She was also a fastidious woman who brushed her teeth several times a day and powdered her nose just as many times. We had to teach her a lesson. What better way than to fling her tooth brushes and cosmetics into a place where she would never find them!

    In middle eastern rural areas common wells where women come to draw water, are also excellent places for match making and gossip.
    Nice blog Vimala.

  11. Sonal Shree says:

    Got to know the name of the culprit (one who threw sarees into the well)from one of the comments on your ‘wall’ on facebook. I am curious to know whether he was given a spanking or not or was he let off.
    I am sure buying so many sarees at such exhorbitant prices must not have been less than a mild heart attack for your aunty.
    Loved reading the blog. The well, of course, reminds me too (like others) of childhood days. I had once thrown one puppy inside one of the wells to show off before my brother (Thank God the puppy was rescued by some people)

  12. vimalaramu says:

    Thanks Shail, Wonder what is the ‘psychology’ behind this ‘throwing’ !

  13. Dear Vimala,

    Trust you to provide an informative blog filled with the humourous touch that is so very much identified with you and your writing.

    I remember wanting to throw a lot of stones in the wells when very young. And even succeeded at times!

    Enjoyed your post.

  14. Shernaz says:

    Your blog brought to mind the well, from which we used to draw out cockroaches and other insects with the water, in our boarding school. Once there was a snake too in it, harmless we were told. And ofcourse the frogs, our principal had put in, to get rid of the insects. Ugh! As kids we had a lot of fun around this well, though.

  15. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    As usual a wonderful blog. Reminded me of my nephew, when small, had this habit of throwing things from the second floor window – a huge bottle of Charmis cream which crashed to smithereens as soon as it touched the ground, a hundred rupee note which was lost forever and other such “riff raffs” that caught his fancy!

    • vimalaramu says:

      Yes, this throwing from the upper floor window even my grand daughter used to do. It was a bonanza for our doggie downstairs !

  16. isabel says:

    Re : ”lower caste…upper caste”

    I wish we all have the sweet and innocent thoughts of a child…everything are but honestly simple…no gender or status impartiality.

    • vimalaramu says:

      My dear Isabel,
      If you mean the picture displayed at the head of the article, it is courtesy Shail. In fact, what I was referring to was a narrower well which would not permit swimming.Well, if you mean the verbal picture, yes , the memories are worth preserving.
      As for the ‘castes’- low and upper, those were the words drilled into us in our younger days. I prefer our present , more broad minded attitude where we have no gender or caste bias.

  17. isabel says:

    I like the picture you’ve provided…reminded me of my grandparents place in the province. Love to pull the galvanized pail full of mossy water down below and full it again and let go at once!
    Any child could not resist it…

    Thank you for sharing … it maybe filled with lovable childish antics but so precious not to remember.

  18. beyniaz says:

    Well, well, well, Vimala. What an unusual and interesting blog! 🙂

  19. Sreedharan says:

    `PATALA GARADI` that takes me back some eons ! Wonder what in blazes happened to ours, the only one around our house in our ancestral place in Bellary, a much sought after contraption those days ! The only memory of my childhood days at a well is the swimming ( ye they were very large wells, almost pondish) we used to go for in the afternoons of our school vacations. I used always to be up front and gazing at the clarity and purity of water first, until on one occasion one of my close friends yelled out that a cobra lurked to have his bite close at my feet. We ran , like never before and never to that well ever. Thanks for bringing back nostalgia in my life Vimala.

  20. Sneha says:

    Very interesting encounters with the well, Vimala. I liked the fact that you mentioned about the so-called lower caste people not being allowed to access the wells. Reminds me of Premchand’s short story ‘The Thakur’s Well’.
    Hope your new year is going good.
    Best,
    Sneha

    • vimala ramu says:

      Sneha, Long time no hear! Very busy? You sound so formal.

      • Sneha says:

        No formalities with you my dear Vimala… May be my comment tone came across that way, but your one of the few people with whom I can be myself. I think I typed the comment thinking of Premchand’s stories and got somber. Nothing else at all !

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