Unlike Corinne, who has spent her early years in different parts of India, courtesy the Indian Army, I have always lived in one city, viz. Mumbai. And I grew up in a quaint suburb, just on the outskirts of Greater Bombay, as the city was earlier referred to.
The suburb was and is called Bandra. Of course, the Bandra of my youth no longer exists except in some sepia photographs in old albums. No, I am not referring to music albums…..
Today, Bandra has merged into the city. And all the old beautiful cottages that dotted the landscape have disappeared to make way for high rise buildings. I guess it is the price of progress.
One of the highlights of any year for Bandraites, especially those who had lived there for generations, was the Bandra Feast and the accompanying Fair. The Bandra Feast is a religious occasion and is celebrated in a Basilica on a hill overlooking the sea, and referred to locally as the Mount and still attracts crowds from all religions. The Bandra Fair, on the other hand, was eight days of fun, music, dancing and eating.
I deliberately use the past tense because the Fair as I remember it no longer takes place. Something masquerading as a fair is still held on a road leading down from the Mount, with apartment blocks on both sides.
In the days I am reminiscing about, there were open plots of land on either side of this very same road and stalls were set up in these plots. And one of these plots had something we schoolboys looked forward to visiting and that was the Well of Death.
The Well of Death was literally a well constructed of wooden planks with a viewing gallery along the circumference at the top. You bought a ticket and climbed up to the gallery from where you could look down into the well.
At the bottom of the well were parked three or four well oiled motorbikes, brilliantly painted. Remember, these were days when Mr. Munjal was still manufacturing only Hero cycles and had not yet tied up with Honda Motors to set up Hero Honda Ltd. And those were the days when I did not even own a bicycle. Actually, I think I was still engaged in raising capital to buy one.
So our eyes used to light up to see those bikes parked there in all their glory. As the gallery filled up, all eyes would focus on a door in the wall of the well. And abruptly, the door would open and three or four young men in tightly fitting clothes with dazzling jackets would enter, in single file. Sometimes, they would be accompanied by a young lady, dressed identically.
And without much ado, they would proceed to mount the bikes, kick start the engines and then increase the revs to a crescendo, till all other sounds were drowned out. Oh, what a thrill is was for us youngsters craning our necks to get a view of the daredevils below.
Once the crowd had been mesmerised, one of the riders would slowly roll his bike forward towards the base of the well that was slightly sloped or curved. And he would ride around the base, gaining speed with each successive lap.
And then, suddenly, without any warning, he would angle the bike upward and ride round the vertical walls of the well. In quick succession, another rider would roll his bike and after repeating the preliminary maneuvers, join the first rider, but traverse in the opposite direction. Our hearts used to be in our mouths anticipating a collision.
After the first pair had returned to earth, (pun intended) another pair would perform similar acrobatics on their bikes. And as a finale, all the four rides would be riding along the walls, each shooting off in a different direction and scaring us no end.
Whilst we boys would have liked to go to the shows on a daily basis, our financial position was usually quite unstable! So we could afford to take in one or at the most two shows a year. As we grew older, I guess we just outgrew the thrill of the Well of Death. But the memories of those swashbuckling daredevils will always remain with me.
Corinne tells me that even today, in fairs in other parts of India such shows are held with lots of modern trappings, like music and lighting. Maybe I will one day revisit a Well of Death, if I get an opportunity. And hopefully the thrill will still be there.
Today we’re on W of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.