- Vrunda Moghe Dev
The red State Transport bus dropped Deepak near Dapoli bus stop at an unearthly hour. He was to first proceed to his aunt’s house and then join his friends to explore Konkan. While in the bus he realized that he had forgotten his mobile at home. More than him his parents would be worried about his whereabouts. He adjusted his backpack and tried to walk on the unlit road. The gentle March breeze was refreshing after a rough ride in the crowded bus. It must be around three in the morning and Deepak stepped cautiously. It would be a good forty- minute walk to aunty Ragini’s place. Should he wait at some point till day break? The main road at least had some vehicles passing and there was some light. He thought of walking slowly. Once he reached his aunt’s place he would call up his friend to get his mobile and also talk to his mother that he had reached safe.
The stars blinked, some had dimmed and the sky was moonless. He heard some noise and he turned his head and in a fraction of a second he had slid into something deep. Some hard stone-like protrusion was close to his head and had hurt his forehead. He held on to the stone almost dangling into what he guessed was a blind well. Gosh! He heard the rustle of dry leaves and it seemed like the sound of a strong wind. He held his breath. Then he shouted for help. There was a ghostly silence. Whatever he remembered of some prayers he muttered and intermittently shouted for help. His limbs were sore and the burden of the backpack was getting unbearable. He heard footsteps and he shouted again. No response. The sky showed light grey strokes with a tinge of pink and orange and Deepak looked down. He could not make out whether the well was dry or had water in it.
When the sky was a little brighter, he heard footsteps. A few men and women appeared on the other side and peered at him. He pleaded for help. A man raised his hand in assurance. Collectively after lowering a ladder, they were able to help him out. He sat on the ground and removed the water bottle and had a few sips from it. He told the group about how he had fallen there. They helped him to his feet, dusted his clothes and one of them accompanied him to his aunt’s place.
“In this area, this is a common occurrence,” said the rugged man. “Remember, even if anyone calls you by your name don’t turn just walk ahead. In the morning someone told us that some ‘gentleman’ had fallen into the mystery well. We couldn’t make out who the messenger was. So we came in a group. Hope you’re alright now.” Deepak reached his destination and the man bade him goodbye. Not to get his aunt worried, he just said that he had fallen on the road in the dark. Messages about his reaching Dapoli and asking his friend to get his phone along were done. Ragini took him to the local doctor to get his wound properly dressed and also get him an anti-tetanus shot.
“You seem sore all over,” Ragini observed.
“Yes. I slipped and hurt my forehead and then while trying to get up I rolled to the road side and there seemed to be some hollow. I scrambled up with difficulty. All limbs are paining now,” he mumbled.
Ragini aunty was observant. A confirmed rationalist who had worked with the most deprived sections of people, she did not believe in any religion or ritual. Besides an old faded image of Ganesha on her main door frame, there was no hint of God around. She was happiest with gifts of books. After her retirement, she and her husband had shifted here. She proudly declared that they were the happiest childless couple! She was instrumental in starting an adult literacy classes for village women.
A couple of days later, during the day. Deepak took a stroll towards the deadly well. It had no water. It was filed with leaves and other rubbish. Perhaps some snakes moved around which he could not see. The binding wall must have collapsed years ago, he guessed. He went round and saw a woman, thirtyish, staring at him from a distance. Matted hair, dark skinned, weird attire and with a scythe in her hand. He was scared. He doubled his speed and ran towards the tiny tea shop. A rickety stool was all he could find to regain his breath. He asked for a cup of tea and asked the stall owner, if they were still people around who cut grass in the area for cattle.
The stall owner was silent. Then he asked Deepak if he had seen a woman with a scythe. He nodded. “Don’t go towards that area. You are new here I think. I have told the ST people also to change the bus stop location. Thank God, you’re safe. Many times we have found people dead in the well. No one knows what the mystery is. My grandparents and parents knew about the woman with a scythe but the secret behind it is still uncovered.” Deepak got goose bumps. He vowed never to come by the late night bus again.
Deepak left for his next destination where his friends were to join him. They visited the beaches which were fairly empty. March being the month of school and college exams, visitors were few. One evening when, Deepak ventured out for a little stroll he spotted the scythe woman again. He broke into sweat and rushed back to the home-stay cottage. His friends thought that he had had a vigorous jog.
The trio returned to Mumbai but Deepak was restless. He kept recalling the strange figure of the scythe woman. “I’d go mid-April, I think, to Dapoli again,” he planned in his mind.
“You just spent some time with Ragini, didn’t you? Now what is drawing you to Dapoli? You never liked to go to that boring place,” charged his mother, “unless you have fallen for a village lass there…!”
“Oh, no. Mother dear. I had a rough week at work and I wish to take a few days off. I can look at some land or a cottage there as a second home, can’t I?” Deepak put forth an excuse. Mother shook her head.
This time Deepak took a luxury bus that dropped in broad daylight. He found an autorickshaw and landed at Ragini aunty’s tiled house. On the pretext of looking for some property for his company guest house, he moved around and again at the well stood the mysterious figure. He approached the person who had escorted him from the well to the house and asked if they could work on closing the well and seal it permanently for the benefit of travellers. He was silent. They decided to meet some people in the panchayat to discuss this. All remained quiet for a long time.
Then a former village elder spoke, “That well has some weird and eerie stories around it. You’re lucky that you came out alive. In the past, only dead bodies were found in it. No one knows what is the suspense but many have seen a tribal like woman with a scythe appearing and then suddenly vanishing in the area. The occurrence of entities like these is common in Konkan.” He paused and continued, “If you seal the place, there could be unwanted repercussions on us. You’d go away.” The apprehensions were obvious.
Deepak offered to pay twenty thousand rupees. After much deliberation, they agreed. There would be a box for contribution. No one would know how much any one has chipped in. Before the rains, many people discard old tiles and they could be used for filling. A few were hesitant but then they showed enthusiasm. Some villagers raised fears but Deepak said that it would be for the good of all. The work went on with some villagers seeing a running figure around the area. A proper concrete slab was in place before the rains. There were rods tied around with wires to avoid any tampering. A couple of days later, they were removed. It was not necessary for Deepak to come to the site now.
However, he decided to go visit the place once before he left for Mumbai. As he walked towards the once deadly death trap, he saw a bundle of torn clothes and a scythe right at the centre of the slab.