The well in the house

Travelling back in time, I recall having lived in homes where there was no running water. All our water requirements had to be drawn from a well. While the women in the house were tasked with the job of drawing water from the well for cooking purposes since ritual purity was involved here, for other purposes such as bathing, washing clothes, watering the garden etc. the older children in the joint family were assigned the task.

Today, looking back on this chore through the rosy tinted glasses of nostalgia it seems like a pleasurable activity. But when we were actually at it we hated it. At first we needed to master the art of tying a noose knot. The knot was simple enough, but the thick and coarse coir rope on which the knot had to be made, made the task difficult for young hands. Then again we had to ensure that the shorter end of the rope was first passed over the pulley wheel hanging down from a tie beam supported by two columns on the sides of the well. If you were a keen student of physics you would have learnt in school that this pulley was an example of a simple machine which provided the mechanical advantage of pulling the rope down while the vessel at the end of the noose knot went up.

A small note on the shape of the vessel: Made of brass or bronze, the vessel was an evolved form of the earthen pots made by prehistoric man, but still goes back a long way to the Bronze Age. This later transformed to the stainless steel variety but even this has all but disappeared from homes now. Its chief characteristic was its narrow neck around which the rope with the noose knot could be tightened or loosened.

As for the task proper, well the strenuousness of it depended on the seasons. The rainy season was the best since the water level in the well rose up nearly to ground level. Thereafter it kept going down. April was indeed the cruellest month. You had to literally plumb the depths to get water and by the time the task of filling all the large buckets and that large cement reservoir next to the washing stone was done, our hands would be really sore.

Every once in a while a minor tragedy would strike. You would have forgotten to tighten the knot around the neck of the vessel and it would go clattering down to the bottom of the well. Hearing the noise, grandmother would come out, curse you loudly for being a clumsy idiot and then send you around to the not-so-friendly neighbour to ask for that contraption which looked like a boat’s anchor but which had additional loose hooks suspended from its ends. After much humming and hawing the sullen faced lady would give you the contraption. Using this, you had to literally fish for the vessel that had gone down like the Titanic. If you were adroit enough to find it then all was forgiven and you got a hero’s welcome when you went back inside the house through the back door, triumphantly holding the much dented vessel up as a trophy.

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