Monday, February 13, 2006Even though we are having floods in parts of Malaysia now, it was very hot in Kuala Lumpur for a while. The recent heat wave made me think of wells. I did not think of cool mountain streams or copious streams of cooled air but wells.
How many of you ever bathed at wells? You have to be in a certain age bracket to experience wells. Most of my cucus have not seen a working well. They grew up with piped water and unlike their parents, completely missed the well. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, only they can tell.
In Terengganu wells are called telaga and never perigi. If you go asking for perigi in Terengganu, you might end up unbathed. In spite of the rapid development, there are still telaga in Terengganu although many have and will be out of commission. Many will be telaga burok - disused wells.
Wells in Terengganu range from just a hole in the ground to elaborate fenced cement structures. Some wells can be intimidatingly deep. The well at the old Istana Kota Lama at the foot of Bukit Keledang was the deepest that I can remember. I remember peering over the ledge and could not see the water below. It was so deep that timba (bucket) was not used. Instead, water was hand pumped up. Other wells did not have this luxury. Timbas (buckets) were used and they came in various shapes and sizes. There are timbas made of upih pinang. I have a temporary brain fart and I can't remember what the English word for upih is. It is not fronds because a frond is pelepah. Anyway, you tell me. Back to timba, the standard, off the shelf bucket is a wedge shaped container made of galvanized iron sheet with a wooden handle at the widest end. There are also timba made of cooking oil cans. These are usually box-shaped. The handle has a hole somewhere at midpoint. You fastened a length of coconut coir or tali timba through the hole. You draw the water out of the well by dropping the timba into the water, scoop a bucketful of water and then drag the bucket up using the rope. In Terengganuspeak, this is called kara air. Even though you do it alone, this drawing of water has nothing to do with sebatang kara. Sometimes the knot in the hole came undone or the coir broke and you have to retrieve the timba with a hooked pole which would be a standard telaga accessory.
There was a timba which did not use ropes of any sort.. The bucket itself looked like a brass cooking pot and could easily hold five gallons of water. The bucket moved up and down into the well by the use of a wooden crane-like contraption. Like a crane, it can also move sideways to pour the water into the koloh for ablution. I am talking about big bucket at Mesjid Putih in Kuala Terengganu. After I saw this big bucket, I finally understood what Mr. Verghese was talking about when he spoke about fulcrums and levers.
My well of memory has run dry except for a silly story about the 3 wells. Have you heard it?
The story goes like this:
"Well, well, well!"
I told you it was silly, didn't I?