A dry well of painful memories

Swarna Rani

Days of relentless struggle for nights of ceaseless work but all in vain. One more innocent life is lost! The untimely and unfortunate death of Fatehveer, the victim of a borewell tragedy, jolted me and painfully pushed me back to my own childhood memory. We were living in a small village of Punjab. I was barely seven. We had a small well, which had run dry, in a secluded part of the house. We children were instructed not to go near the well as our parents feared that we might fall into it while playing.

Forbidden fruit is always sweet and children try to do all those activities against which they have been cautioned by their worldly wise parents.

During our play hours, we would furtively go near the well and peep into it. Several times, my grandmother would catch us red-handed and complain to my mother. Those days, parents firmly believed that if you spare the rod, you would, indeed, spoil the child. (No child counsellors were there to explain about the detrimental impact of corporal punishment on children.) My mother would cane us to her heart’s content over our act of disobedience.

Grandmother had her own way of dissuading us from that perilous pastime pleasure of ours. She would weave mythical tales about the well, which we immediately believed. Her version was that once upon a time a girl lived there and while playing near the well, fell into it and died. Now, the evil spirit of that dead child had made the well her permanent abode.

But no tricks worked. One evening when all family members were going out for some social ceremony, I made an excuse of being sick and stayed back alone at home. In their absence, I wanted to meet the spirit of the child. I looked inside the well, but found nothing. I stood erect on its boundary wall. Thereon, I do not remember vividly how I fell into the well. When I gained consciousness, I found myself in a hospital bed with multiple injuries and a broken leg in plaster. It took me several months to recover and be fully able to walk back to normal life.

Unlike the governments of today, my father had immediately learnt a lesson and got the well filled with bricks and cement, once for all.

Today, after 80 years of that incident I can fully feel the pain of the little child, Fatehveer, and his parents, too. It is not an isolated case. Many children have fallen prey to such tragedies in the past, but all were not lucky like me. And the worst part is that no heads among the authorities roll. My commiserations to the bereaved family.

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