Delhiwale: Beyond the baoli, a simple well
The city has a village. The village has a square. The square has a well.
Delhi is well-known for its centuries old step-wells, or baolis. But in the Capital it is a rare thing to chance upon an average well, without picturesque stone steps—a well that resembles those thousands of other wells spread all over the country, in as many villages. The Capital itself has hundreds of villages within its limits, but who amid us ever bumped into a well in, say, fashionable Hauz Khas Village?
But here in south Delhi’s historic Chirag Dehli village, an entire square is devoted to a well. Alas, nobody uses it any more in our era of running water supply. In fact, the well has been covered with a metal netting a few years ago, preventing its use, after a peacock (of all the creatures!) accidentally fell into it—according to a shopkeeper.
Surrounded by groceries and snack joints, the well is nevertheless nestled within a vibrant social life. Bengali Sweet Center advertises chhole bhature in bold white wordings as its “Sunday special.” Chhetri Chinese Food Center has a momo steamer on its plain plywood counter. There’s even a small shop named “North Eastern Grocery”, just another manifestation of the cosmopolitan character of the village, in which Bengali and Nepali are easily heard, along with Hindi, and where in fact almost every third shop offers “money order service to Nepal.”
The well’s other notable neighbours include a spindly neem, with a bench under it, and the so-called “teen tarike ka ped”, or the tree with three types—neem, bargad and peepal are growing out of the same trunk.
The well itself is a kind of monument. A low circular wall is built around it on a raised platform, painted with a caution not to toss broken idols or flowers inside. The most eye-popping decor consists of a large pickle jar, used as a flower pot. The place is silent this evening, except for the barking of a suspicious dog from an adjacent house. On peering through the metal netting, it is possible for the gaze to travel down the seemingly bottomless tunnel. Whether it ends with water or continues into infinite darkness is impossible to determine. Meanwhile, the sky itself starts getting dark.