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Dilli Baoli, 1870. Jumping Wells at Delhi. Still.

Jumping Wells at Delhi, Frontispiece of 'Letters from India and Kashmir' by J. Duguid, 1870. The illustration is by Mr. H.R. Robertson, and engraved by Mr. W.J. Palmer, principally from the writer's Sketches.
At the Kutub, and near Delhi, there are wells of various sizes, but on an average twenty yards square, surrounded by brick walls sixty feet high, of which forty are above the surface of the water. For a backsheesh men and boys - old men down to young boys - collected on the parapet, leap one after another into the air and descend in all kinds of positions. A moment, however, before they touch the water they quickly bring their feet together and their arms over their heads, pointed upwards, so that they enter the water in a reversed attitude to that of a header. The sensation caused by the sight of these men, with their arms and legs outspread and their features distorted by wild grimaces as they leap from the walls, surpasses any produced by Blondin or Leotard, and could only be equalled by them if they added a tumble to their usual performances. A small backsheesk is sufficient to induce them to perform, but you are afterwards pursued to some distance by askings for more. And this' leads to a word on the wide-spread use of the word " backsheesh." Where its line of demarcation crosses Europe to the north is not clearly ascertained, but in the south it runs eastward by southern Austria to the Italian frontier. In the west you have a medley of " una limosna por el amor de Dios;" " datenii qualchier cosa;" "baiocchi, baiocchi;" "quelque chose pour boire," "pour boire" peremptory; "summut to drink your honour's health;" "remember the waiter, chambermaid, boots ; " in short, endless variations on the well-known theme. But Hungary, Servia, Turkey, Greece, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, and in a broad wave the East, acknowledge one word common to all, amidst their confusion of tongues the mighty "Backsheesh." The sight of an Englishman at once evokes the unquiet spirit of this potentate, which cannot be laid until the Giaour departs. The word, used also by the North American Indians, proves incontestably a common origin between them and their Asiatic brethren.
Fascination continues.
Sam Miller in his 'Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity' (2008) recalls meeting a man, his guide at the Agarsen ki Baoli near Jantar Mantar, who, it turned out, was once famously photographed jumping into the well by Raghu Rai.


Agarsen ki Baoli
Feb, 2015


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