Mission Delhi – Aslam, Gandhak ki Baoli
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The afternoon is so humid that it seems like even fish can swim in the air. Aslam struggles out of his shirt and pants, throwing them into a heap behind him. Stripped to his black shorts, he approaches the edge of the land. Complete silence reigns inside the walled enclosure; the traffic sounds feel too remote to be substantial.
The young man slowly raises his arms, nods to himself, and jumps. His lean body plunges (see photo) into the water. A splashing sound as the glassy surface breaks into ripples, here at Gandhak ki Baoli in Mehrauli.
Like a boatman’s oar, Aslam’s legs continually flap through the green water, disrupting the unclear reflections of the surrounding neem and kikar trees. He reaches the end of the pool in a few long clean strokes, dives underwater, surfacing a moment later. He vigorously shakes his wet head; a multitude of water drops fly off his hair. After a few more rounds, he emerges, water rilling over his chest. He sits on the stone steps.
The kuan was locked for four years… opened two months ago.” Aslam refers to the 13th century baoli as a mere well, not honouring it with the reverence it commands in guidebooks as Delhi’s oldest surviving stepwell. “I started swimming in this kuan when I was a little boy… our kuan never gets dry, not even in the summer’s peak heat…. the water is always cold.”
He waves an arm. “Another kuan some dis- tance away is larger than this one, I go there too sometimes for a dubki.”
Aslam drives a rickshaw for a living, but he says this in an uncertain tone. “Because these days I’m not working…” He feels undecided about life, he says. “My days are spent doing… nothing.” If he is not in the “kuan,” he is either hanging out with friends in the lanes of Mehrauli, or “we board the Yellow Line (of the Metro) to go to the mall (in Gurgaon).”
Picking up a small stone, he tosses it into the baoli water. “This kuan is very deep, you might drown if not careful.” He talks of a personal crisis, and of his family helping him deal with it. “What if tomorrow this crisis comes back?”
Aslam gets up, goes up the stairs, and jumps in again. A splashing sound.
[This is the 554th portrait of Mission Delhi project]