Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Watch Tower on Vetal Hill

She met them after spending a year abroad, greeting them in excitement. Friends of old, the three had decided to spend the early morning hours with a short hike up one of the hills in the city. Paths connected the hill to others, as well as to an abandoned quarry. There was a pool of murky water lying at the bed of the quarry; the three had once skipped stones there. She had failed miserably.

Ye olde abandoned quarry. 

They trudged up the trail that ran through thick shrubbery, listening for faint calls of the peacocks that lived within, reminiscing about other times spent there.

"There's a tower on this side," one of them said when they came to a fork in the path. "It has an awesome view."
"Is that where we're going?"

An image of a turret immediately flashed into her mind. Two recent summer trips in Europe and watching Disney films since infancy had conditioned her imagination. She drew a mental picture of a high, (no not too high, she thought, the top would show from above the trees), of a medium-sized (she had no reckoning of height) tower, made of stone, with a pointed tip and a window - no glass of course. The kind of window from which Rapunzel would toss her hair down. There would be a wooden spiral staircase inside.
She wondered how they'd never stumbled upon it on earlier trips there. Then, she knew why.

"Here we are!"
The mental picture shattered.
"This?" she said, almost hysterically. "You call this a tower?"
What stood before her held no resemblance to European architecture. It was a rickety structure (high, not medium-sized), the frame was made of rusted steel bracing crisscrossing in the style of X's, over and over. Planks of wood ran up all around it at angles. It was leaning slightly on one side, as though the wind was commanding it to bend.
It looked like a dilapidated water tower. Without a tank of water at the top.

She said so in great disdain.

The other two looked at each other.

"Are you coming up?"
"Of course not! I have to attend a wedding in two days and I'd like to be there in one piece!"
"Come on! There's nothing to it, even my sister went up this. We've been up lots of times. And the view is just amazing."

She did want to see the view. She'd missed the hills.

"How am I even supposed to get up this thing?" The first step was at a height of about five feet, there were no stepping stones. Heaving herself onto it was out of the question, the plank looked like it would disengage with excessive force.

One of them hoisted himself up to one end of the 'tower', strode across the bracing at the bottom and onto the steps, comfortably ascending them. He waited at the 'first floor' stair deck, which comprised of a single plank of wood nailed across the ramshackle frame on either side.

She followed suit, gingerly climbing onto the frame, walking across while hugging the structure for dear life (she was three feet off the damp ground), and then advancing onto the first plank of the steps. She took another step up, and felt the entire structure lean to one side, as though it was being weighed down. She screamed and retraced her steps back to the safety of the earth.

"Dude! Come on! We thought you were more adventurous than this!"
"I'm telling you, the view is to die for! And the wind is just amazing!"
"I have to go back to work in a week, there isn't enough time for me to recuperate if I fall from this thing!"

A group of young trekkers stood some distance away, watching. She waved a fist at them.

The two beguiled her into trying again with fabricated anecdotes of the structure's safety and promises of the awesome view and wind. The rigmarole was repeated in its entirety.

"I can't do this! Just go up, I'll wait down here until you return."
"I'm telling you man, nothing's going to happen! My sister is the biggest darpok* and she went right up to the top!"
"Fine," she snapped, making her way to the steps again. "But if I die, my mom's going to kill me."

When she got to the first step, she ordered one of them to go on and the other to wait until she'd reached the first 'platform'. She went up slowly, there were spaces between steps where a plank had fallen through. She held the round railing tight and wished there was another one on both sides, running between the sole rail and the flight of stairs, so as to reduce the wide gap that a person could easily slip through.

She cursed the added kilos that had leeched onto her in Kuwait, and the wretched gym membership she had spent so much on. She deigned to work out once a week or two but apparently one had to be more regular for there to be an adequate effect.

Twice, she looked down. Bad idea. She had a sudden visual of slipping through the wooden boards and dashing against the steel. She forced her head up, muttering a prayer and concentrating hard on getting up to the platform atop the structure and back down with all limbs intact. There was more safety in bungee jumping, she thought crossly.

Finally, they were at the top. A lone rail on each side was all that separated them from certain death. The platform was missing a plank and she refused to go any further, declaring she could see perfectly well from where she stood and that the sights wouldn't improve by taking another three steps.

That isn't her foot. In case you thought so.

The trees of the surrounding hillside were still a lush green, courtesy of the departing monsoon. She was glad she hadn't risked her life for a browning view. The clouds rode low, shrouding the sun, and the morning mist threw a haze over the city that looked so distant from where they stood. There was a slight wind, although it wasn't as 'amazing' as promised. The view had been worth it after all.

Civilization obscured by the morning mist.

The derelict 'tower'.
After a few pictures, they descended, making their way to the bottom. There were no incidents except one, when the structure shook slightly. The climb left no physical evidence on her, but for jittery knees and a strong reek of rust on her palms.

She went to the wedding and enjoyed it. A week later she was back at work in Kuwait, a longing for the hills buried deep in the recesses of her heart.


*darpok [dar-poke] - fraidy-cat

Based on actual events that occurred at the watch tower on Vetal Tekdi (hill) in Pune city. 
Dedicated to the two maniacs that took me up that tottering pile of planks.
Narrative and dialogue may have been embellished (just a little) to increase reading pleasure.

1 comment:

Exercise your freedom of speech!
Go on. You know you want to.