My grandparents’ home was a sprawling bungalow, surrounded by a huge garden, full of mango trees, and scary sheds, beautifully laid out gardens, and sundry nooks to hide from cousins and adults alike. And as the crown jewel, at the center of my grandfather’s carefully planned symmetrical garden, was a well. The adults called it a houdi, just four feet deep, but at the age of six I knew, and I still maintain, it was a well, similar to the pit Bruce Wayne had to descend into in the Dark Knight Rises. All in all, the perfect home for summer and winter vacations alike, as you can clearly tell.
It was one of those rare summers when my grandmother had all three of her sons visiting, which meant all six grandchildren were in the house. Which also meant there were secret gardens being dug, secrets being whispered, rickety ladders to the roof being climbed, and snacks and sweets being wheedled out of the adults. The afternoons in particular were when we were left on our own – the adults would be snoozing, snoring, or pretending to read while actually snoozing, and we cousins – those who managed to escape being caught and held down for a nap – would gather in a room. We weren’t allowed to go out in the afternoon – eto gorom e kyo baaire jaaye?! – so the afternoons were about either playing now long-forgotten made up games and/or giggling over now long-forgotten stories.
One afternoon, three of us may have gotten a bit too exuberant, and our incessant giggling and squealing may have gotten a bit too loud. We suddenly saw my uncle storm into the room, pull his son into the next room for a stern talking to, and storm back off to resume his interrupted slumber without so much as a glance at my cousin’s co-conspirators. Being reprimanded by his father naturally made Dada stalk off to sulk in private.
Left on our own, Didi and I shrugged and parted ways to find other amusements. An hour or so later, Didi and I both ended up in the garden; she, to have important conversations with the parrot who had his own cage in the garden, and me, to sit on the edge of the well and splash my feet in it – another favourite pass time.
As I was sitting on the edge and splashing my feet, I somehow – and the details of this escape me now – slipped. I have a very vivid memory of being surrounded by water and flailing my hands to try and catch something – anything. And I was successful – one hand caught one of my slippers which had followed me in, the other hand caught the edge of the well, and I was able to pull myself out. With absolutely no assistance, I might add, from my cousin sister who was standing three feet away with her mouth agape.
I got out of the well and stood next to it, dripping wet and wondering how I was to explain this to any of the adults, when I suddenly heard someone cackling with laughter. Dada was standing on the balcony, doubled over with laughter. As it turns out, my antics were exactly what were needed to bring him out of his sulk.
That was the first time I fell into that well. I wish I could tell you it was the last, but it really wasn’t. I will tell you, however, that every time I fell into it, I was doing something entirely different from the previous occasions. And yet somehow no adult in my entire family ever thought of banning me from going near the blessed thing.