History & Culture

Blood in the lake!

The khooni jheel on the Northern Ridge is brimming with water because of the recent rains, but hidden deep in it are many mysteries. As one walks towards it through a veritable jungle, one sees a signboard warning visitors not to venture there after sunset. Many believe the jheel is a haunted stretch of water, though the commonsense explanation may be that it is the haunt of anti-social elements – murderers, thieves, drug-addicts and rapists.

Urdu scholar, writer and journalist, Khaliq Anjum, recalls that in the 1930s and ‘40s his father and uncles used to go for duck shoots to the jheel during the winter season when a lot of migratory birds also flocked there. They went in the morning and came back in the evening with their bags bulging with game. Those were days of peace and tranquillity when except for the occasional forays of the freedom fighters into the streets of Delhi, there was not much else to disturb the even flow of life. To shoot ducks on a cold December afternoon could be an adventure, for if the birds fell into the jheel the hunters had to wade in it, sometimes waist-deep, to retrieve them. But when they fell in deeper water, they had to be left to their fate, for then it was not possible to reach them. Once a boy trying to earn a few paise dived into the water to retrieve two ducks and was fortunate enough not to get drowned as he was pulled out by some anglers just in the nick of time.

The khooni jheel meaning bloody lake got its name in 1857 when several Indian sepoys and British soldiers, women and children died there. First the British trying to escape from Delhi were killed and later sepoys fleeing from the avenging firangismet their end in those surroundings. Besides the bodies of dead people, the carcasses of horses and mules were also dumped in the jheel. The water remained bloody for many days and the stink was enough to drive away anybody who approached it.

Would you believe it if you were told that dead men, women and children sometime mysteriously cast their shadow on the lake? A girl, wearing a tattered frock, keeps waiting in the moonlight, while running after her mother, trying to escape from the clutches of a would-be rapist. An old man in army uniform emerges from the water, riding a horse without a head and a skeleton, armed with a long, rusty sword tries to thrust it in the back of the weird horseman.

Whatever the reality, fancy too can spin deadly yarns to scare the wits out of even rationalists. Blame it on the tragedies in the jheel or on the tales of the times of uprising, Highlanders who could hear the cries of their dead countrywomen, like those of Lord Ullen's daughter drowning along with her lover, the chief of Ulva's Isle while fleeing the wrath of her (later repentant) father. The khooni jheel reflects such memories and it's better to stay away from it when darkness descends, though duck-shoots may still be a pastime on chilly afternoons if you can hoodwink those enforcing wildlife laws.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 8:46:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/Blood-in-the-lake/article15900136.ece

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