Frogs of the Well - Vivek Sharma

Once there was a well in the village. It's water was contaminated and the villagers had stopped making any use of its water. The abandoned well was in the dilapidated condition, the inner walls of which depicted the English bond of bricks over which the outgrowth of algae was clear. Through the crevices of the wall, the saplings of banyan were peeping out. Some wooden pieces and some empty cans of soft drinks and snacks were floating atop the water level. At the base of the well was thriving a community of frog population, of all age groups and all genders.
Representative Picture
The frog community was ruled, controlled and monitored by an assembly of elders through legislations and traditions. The well had two establishments resembling some sort of notch in the lower end of cylindrical wall facing each other across the floor of well, each for community school and an assembly hall. The assembly hall opened daily in the morning to assign the daytime work to different groups of frogs and the whole process was presided over by the seniors of the realm.

The school was opened once a week to teach the young ones, and to take a pledge of allegiance to the regulations and laws, enforced by the assembly. The youth had to observe the laborious daytime work for inscribing graffitis of laws of the realm on the walls, like “obey the laws of assembly’, “obey the elders”, “surface water recreation -1 hour during night”, “violation of traditions is a punishable offence”etc.

Apart from this, they had to assist in the personal work of assembly members, along with cleaning and maintaining  the establishments of the realm.

A little far from the village, flew a wide and deep river, which was used by village children for recreational purposes. One day when a few children were playing on one of its banks, one of them caught a frog from the shallow waters of the river bank and put it into the glass vessel and closed its lid.

On his way back to the village, the child named the frog Azaad and dropped him into the well, by opening the lid of vessel and dropping it like Americans dropped Little Boy and Fat Man over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to may be, see the mere impact of dropping something from a great height.

On landing at the base of well, Azaad found himself against the wall which read “violation of rules is a punishable offence”. The graffiti was appeared blurred, from the angle he was looking from. He therefore leaned forward to see it clearly only to feel uneasy. Before he could stable himself, he felt the sensation of a hand over his right shoulder which made him turn back immediately. He saw a little frog with a broomstick in his hand.

The well frog, which seemed like a cop on duty, shooted Azaad with a number of investigating questions about identity and purpose.

"What are you doing here? Are u not aware of your work and duties? Were you not present in the morning assembly?" were the questions shot at Azaad. Nonetheless he remained mum for a while, pondering whether to disclose or not to disclose his truth. His identity.

“No”, azaad uttered. "I think you are aware of the consequences, of violating the protocol of not attending the morning assembly" the well frog threatened Azad, with a peculiar look of any cop with a baton. "Yes", Azaad lied, in hurry and worry, and urged the cop to help.

The well frog took Azaad with him and engaged him in the assigned work of cleaning the hall, along with workers of different colors,and sexualities. After finishing the daytime work, when all frogs went back to their respective resting places at different crevices of the wall, Azaad followed his group and expressed his urge to live with them.

The well frogs first resisted slightly, then adjusted a little to accommodate him. Azaad was very tired as he hadn’t done such a laborious work ever. So he fell asleep and missed the only recreation hour he could avail, with other group members or now his coworkers.

The next morning while Azaad was in deep slumber, a harsh voice stuck his ears like alarm bells of a dungeon.

“Its time to get ready for the morning assembly”, a well frog croaked loudly near the crevice. Azaad woke up by rubbing his eyes.

As Azaad came back to his senses, he realised that he had lost all his freedom and space, which he cherished and loved, at the river. He hurriedly prepared for the morning assembly along with and his group of coworkers.

One fine day their group was assigned the task of inscribing a graffiti which read, “honor the assembly members with a salute”.The group picked up working equipments and engaged itself in the task. By the time they completed their work, Azaad had summarised the overall well atmosphere and called it an “organised monarchy”-where afew were exploiting the majority. But Azaad was still unaware about various facts which were going to be cleared on the very next day.

It was Sunday. The community school remained open, as per the law of the realm. Before going to bed, Azaad joined other group members in the recreational hour, which he had skipped last night. He went atop the surface of water and raised his head out of it, along with other members only to find that the whole surface is covered by the heads of other frogs looking towards sky and enjoying the moonlight. Many of them had rested their heads over wooden blocks and empty cans, thrown by villagers. Then suddenly all croaked in a single rhythmic voice, “let the light take away our fatigue; let the light bring prosperity". As the pitch raised higher and higher, a siren broke the monotony of chaos of voices, and all the delighted faces turned into despair. It was a signal that recreational hour is over.

As soon as they heard the sound of repeated sirens, all the frogs disappeared into their resting places, in various crevices of the wall.

Next morning, all young ones prepared for the school and Azaad was very anxious about the day. He reached the community school with his group, where all the frogs were sitting on ground and looking towards the raised platform made up of a broken brick.He too accommodated himself with other members of his group. Then there appeared coming a few assembly members from the obscured crack, beside the raised platform and all frogs stood up in their honour.

One of the members, began to speak about the  reason for Sunday Class, and relevance ofthe legislations framed by the members.Everyone took the pledge. “We, the frogs of well will protect and follow each and every law of the well, till the last breath of our lives.” After the traditional pledge, all members disappeared except the teacher who taught the repeated lessons every Sunday. The teacher started asking questions from the class. What is the maximum depth of water in the well? was the first question thrown at the class. One student replied 10 feet, whereas another estimated it to be 15 feet and still some others surmised it to be 20 feet, with minor variations during monsoon. All frog faces glittered with happiness and joy while listening about rain. A whisper echoed in the class. Azaad noticed ecstasy of his companions while talking about the fresh drops of rain.

All their happiness turned into despair as the teacher shouted, “keep silent” in an authoritative tone. Azaad was filled with unhappiness on seeing their blissed faces turning into despair. He for a moment thought to interrupt teacher but decided to keep mum in order to conceal his truth.

Azaad fantasised about the freedom and space of the river he lived by. As he was enjoying the memories, he received another shocker from the teacher. "What is the shape of sky?". Circular sir,  responded the class in chorus. This time Azaad couldn’t resist himself and shouted, "no". "Its not true" he added in a louder voice. All the frogs along with the teacher haphazardly moved their heads here and there, to recognise the one who had uttered these words of contempt. They're all were stunned. Azaad stood up at his position and started speaking without a single pause. He opened up the secrets one by one.

“I am not a well frog and I was caught by a child who from a river and dropped me here, in your realm". "Yes", he continued, "the river which flows just a few kilometres away from this well, which is so deep and wide that thousands of frogs have enough space to move freely". Azaad spoke with a remarkable confidence. "The water is so fresh that every drop that passes by you will never meet you again. There is nothing like laws and restrictions for any frog, and everyone is free with his/her space. The sky isn’t circular and its being circular for you because of the circular brim of the well" Azaad spoke in a didactic tone. "The sky is vast and limitless and therefore spreads throughout the cosmos. There is no fixed time for recreation. During night when moonlight falls on the running water, it appears like sprinkling pearls on the surface of river. The night cool breeze pampers our bodies while sitting on the river bank, and fills with joy and happiness, in the rhythmic voice of love" he added.

He then began to throw further light on his experiences in the realm. Azaad said, that "when i came to the well, I felt its air filled with the suppression and exploitation, of majority of frogs, by a few assembly members". Everyone was looking at him in complete bewilderment. "You have no freedom and all of you are being exploited and controlled by a few”, Azaad expressed himself without a pause.

As soon as Azaad completed his monologue, different reactions came from the fellow frogs. Some of his mates took strong objection to his 'blasphemy',  whereas some others  considered him a 'psycho' as his yelling seemed nothing to them, except the fanciful made up story. A few of them including  one of his companions, who got inspired by his speech, but chose to remain silent. On seeing the expression of well frogs, Azaad felt himself in total despair. Azaad looked at his teacher, only to receive a ridiculous and sarcastic smile. The teacher, subsequently, announced the school off and summoned Azaad in the next assembly.

Azaad next day presented himself before the assembly where all members were standing in a row. The teacher had already briefed them everything about the previous day. one of the member leaned forward at his position and asked by raising his right eyebrow , "are you there river frog"? Azaad remained silent for a moment and tried his best to gather the courage to bear the consequences and finally replied, "yes, I am". "You got the response from the well frogs", taunted the member. Azaad nodded again. "Well, we have suggested two options for you. "Either you bow down before the assembly members for their mercy and live like the other well frogs or you will be slaughtered at one signal, by the notorious well frogs", another member said smilingly.

Thinking wisely, Azaad went for the first option to avoid the merciless death and agreed with them all. The members appreciated his decision and told him to do the work honestly from then onwards.

Azaad left the assembly and joined his work group at their resting place. During night, some frogs who were influenced by his speech payed visit to Azaad, to know more about him. When they came Azaad stood up and welcomed them all. They all sat down in the circular manner.

Then one of the well frog asked Azaad about the truth of what he said in class. "Yes", Azaad nodded his head lazily. Then one of the frog expressed his aspiration to go out of the well with him. For sometime, all the frogs including Azaad turned into a numb silence. Then, suddenly a plan hatched in the mind of Azaad and he was filled with hope. Without wasting time, he disclosed his plan with others.

Azaad informed them that he has a plan to go out of the well, if he has their cooperation.  "Yes,we are ready" came the unanimous response.

Azaad felt encouraged and confident at their response. The plan of escape was revealed in a systematic manner, wherein the very next day at the same time, they had to gather at the same place.  "We would make a ladder by climbing one over the other and help the rest of us to reach at the brim" the enthusiastic Azaad told his friends in a low voice. He further elaborated that "on reaching at the zenith of well, the free frogs would bring out the rest of comrades by making a rope of themselves,  holding the ankles of one another down the well. I would place myself at the base of the ladder." After the deliberations, all frogs dispersed to their respective places.

The destined time eventually came and all frogs gathered at the same location, at the same time. Azaad, as per the plan, laid himself against the wall and supported the other well frogs to climb upon his shoulder to make the first step of the ladder. The first well frog climbed over his shoulder, then over his head and then jumped into the well. Azaad thought that he has slipped. Then another frog climbed and repeated the same. By the time, the third frog jumped into the well, Azaad suspected something to be wrong.

Azaad turned around, only to note that everyone was mocking him. He was shocked unpleasantly, to see all his partners laughing at him and repeatedly saying, “Azaad is cheater. Cheating is a crime. Azaad is frod. Frod is sedition for the realm."

Eventually, the disappointed Azaad found that a conspiracy was hatched by the assembly members to contain his plan to escape.  Azaad realized that he couldn't identify informers among his companions. And that one of his comrades had cheated on him, by disclosing plan with the assembly members. And a counter plan by the assembly members, convinced the rest of frogs that Azaad isn’t a river frog but a frog from another well and he's deceiving the realm.

Azaad felt so much pain and despair and sat down in helplessness where he was. All his comrades and companions disappeared to their respective crevices, except one. "My name is Kranti" said someone placing his hand on the shoulders of Azaad.

Kranti sat beside Azaad and started consoling him. Don't feel so disappointed 'river frog'? Azaad raised his head and looked into the hopeful eyes of the Kranti, sitting beside him.

"Do you not believe that i am a river frog?" asked Azaad. No. "I believe you. I recognized you the day I saw you first" replied Kranti. "I too was caught by some children and thrown into the well" she replied. "I have attempted many such escapes, and same has happened with me all the times" she said, with tears in her eyes. Azaad looked a little calm for the moment.

Kranti continued by saying that, "all these frogs croaked the same, as taught by the assembly members, each time".  Azaad asked her,  "do you miss the river too? The way I do". "Yes. But my friend, revolution is not an overnight task. It demands not only courage and wisdom, but  time too" came the reply. I am happy that we both have a companion, for the struggle, from now onwards. Both smiled while looking at each other.

About the Author: Vivek Sharma teaches Geography at GDC Poonch, as a guest faculty. He has done his masters from University of Jammu. He belongs to Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir (India).  Frogs of the well is his first short story.

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