THE WELL ON THE HILL

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The sound seemed distant, yet near.

A rhythmic, low sound – mingling with the sound of crickets and the breeze – and constantly pulsating in the depth of the night.

He walked to the window of his flat on the second floor and looked out. Beyond the boundary wall of the apartment building, lay a park. Adjacent to the park, was a large enclosed plot in semi-wilderness. The sound seemed to be coming from this plot.

It was a strangely soothing sound; like the sound made by winches on old-fashioned wells, when they were worked to draw water from the well.

As he stood at the window, listening; his eyes fell on the security guard – the Nepali, Thapa – sitting at his usual place. After a thought, he came out of his flat and went down to where the security guard was sitting.

The guard got up as he approached.

“Can you hear, from that direction, any sound resembling that of water being drawn from a well,” he smilingly asked the guard pointing in the direction of the semi-wild plot.

The guard listened intently for a while; then shook his head in the negative.

–2–

Next day, on his morning walk; he worked his way to the plot from where he had heard the sound in the night. There were no approach roads to it and he had to cross a number of plots – where building constructions were going on – to reach it.

It seemed to be a large plot, enclosed by a boundary wall broken in a number of places. The space inside resembled a mini jungle; thickly covered by bushes, trees and shrubs. He found a spot where the boundary wall was broken. Two women were cutting grass near it.

As he was entering the plot, one of the women called out, “There are snakes in there sahib. We have just seen a big, old Cobra.”

He smiled and nodded; and went inside.

Carefully he worked his way to the spot from where he had thought the sound had come last night.

At first, he did not see anything. But as he searched; he saw it – a small, dilapidated well hidden by thick shrubs. He walked up to it.

It was a monsoon month. The day was still young. The air was heavy with the damp pungent smell of the earth and the greenery around. Butterflies flitted around in the soft breeze.

As he stood there, looking at the old broken well; a strangely soothing, yet desolate, feeling enveloped him. He cleared out a small space at the edge of the broken well and sat down.

He sat there for a long time, his reverie finally broken by the sound of a heavy vehicle starting up in one of the construction plots nearby.

Slowly he got up and left.

In the afternoon, on an impulse, he went out and bought a small bunch of flowers. He made his way to the old, broken well – this time no one was around – and placed the flowers on the ground near the well.

After about a month, he left to join his special unit in the Army. But while he was there; he heard that sound – as when the winch is worked to draw water from old-fashioned wells – often in the dead of the night and, frequently, he would walk up to the old, broken well and sit there; drawn by that strangely soothing, yet desolate, feeling surrounding the well.

–3–

He scanned the hillside through his night vision binoculars. Nothing suspicious could be seen.

Scattered around him, as per his instructions, were the men from his special strike unit. The target lay in the valley ahead.

The valley was too narrow and the surrounding hillsides too close. An ideal place for any ambush, he thought.

It was time to go in to hit the target. Everything seemed to be in clear.

Yet he delayed.

From time to time, his second-in-command looked at him but said nothing.

There was a sense of uneasiness in him; making him delay.

And as he waited; suddenly, he heard it, again; – the sound made by the working of the winch on a well. It seemed to be coming from a number of spots on the hillsides.

He listened intently. There was no mistaking it. The sound was the same.

He turned around to his second-in-command and asked in a low whisper, “Do you hear any unusual sound from the hillsides ahead?”

The second-in-command took his time listening.

“No Sir”, he replied in an undertone.

But the sound was there, same as he had heard it before – pulsating rhythmically in the night, mingling with the other night sounds.

He took his decision and gave the command to withdraw. His men looked puzzled but no one said anything.

As he withdrew with his men, the message came from the base.

“WITHDRAW IMMEDIATELY. ENEMY ALERT AND SITTING IN AMBUSH ON THE HILLSIDES.”

He had the message shared with his men.

Back at the base, he asked his men if any of them had heard anything unusual on the hillsides that enclosed the target valley.

No one had.

–4–

Next day he met the mission commander.

“You know something interesting? Those buggers have cleared out from the area and they seem to have done it in great hurry”, the mission commander started.

“We have it from our source that they got spooked badly in the night by some strange sound and being highly superstitious; they have cleared the area in a jiffy,” the commander continued.

“Any information as to what kind of sound it was Sir?”, he asked.

The senior officer stroked his chin, “The sound seemed to be that when water is drawn from old-style wells and it seemed to be coming from all over the hillsides. At least this is what as per information given by our source.”

Both of them were quiet.

“Strange that none of you heard any such sound,” the other man then remarked.

He did not say anything.

In his mind’s eye, he saw that old broken well, hidden by shrubs, and wondered when next, if ever again, he would hear that sound…..

–x–

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