The 'Well of Death', when I saw it in my childhood, was a part of the circus. It was a huge hollow globe made of stout iron wire mesh. A man would drive a motorcyle all around it, speeding up in no time to a dizzying momentum. He'd ride circles in all directions while the motocycle roared like an angry lion, and everything around it shook and rattled terrifyingly.
A favourite story in our family is about our mother's youngest brother disappearing from home one evening when he was a college student. He went along to the circus and rode the motorbike around the Well of Death, and then came back casually as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened! He must have had a deep understanding of the physics of it all, and such guts too!
These four handsome young men are daredevils if I ever saw any. Between them they rode two Maruti cars and two motorcycles in this Well of Death (picture below), which was the biggest draw at the Mela that was here recently.
This structure is made up of boards, which in turn are made of wooden planks nailed together. It didnt look too solid to me. See the gaps between the planks, and lights shining through from little holes here and there? The structure, which includes staircases, and a gallery with a railing around the top, is assembled at every location that the travelling fair visits. It takes four to five days to set it all up at each venue, said the organiser of the show.
Here's what it looked like from outside.
Took some courage even to climb this staircase of angle iron - but I didn't let on!
They must be doing a thorough job of setting it up; the boys drove without a fear. Two of them, I was told, were the sons of the owner of the show. Well that was an act of good faith! But I didn't care what my husband said about it being a simple matter of centripetal and centrifugal forces, and of the chances of an accident being close to nil. I was terrified throughout. The boys started up their cars and bikes, and climbed easily on to the wooden surface, which was almost perpendicular to the ground. They then raced madly around in circles, climbing higher and higher, until everything was shaking and rattling deafeningly like a high intensity earthquake. They were so close you could have reached out and touched them from the viewers' gallery right on top. That was about forty feet from the ground up.
As if all that weren't enough, one of the bike riders casually let go of the handlebars, and moved his frame so that he was sitting side saddle. He crossed his legs and studied his nails in a great show of nonchalance. The crowd loved it. Then the boys driving the cars opened their doors, drove side by side, and held hands. The next act - of unnecessary cheek - was the car drivers standing up, with only their feet inside the car. They rested their heads on their arms on the tops of the cars, feigning bored sleep!! I found myself wondering what could ever give them a high after this experience.
Not for the faint hearted! But no wonder the show was such a draw - see how eagerly these young girls climbed up to the gallery!