“Is the cement ratio adequate?” The senior engineer Dombe hollered over the roaring construction machines around him.
“Yes sir, it should be!” Aakash Ambe tried to respectfully shout back.
He didn’t understand why his senior had to get into every minor aspect of the 500 megawatt hydro project. But Aakash had learnt to be patient with seniors who never really reciprocated the gesture. That was after all the only way to survive.
Dombe and Aakash then walked back to the planning tent. Dombe spread out the structure drawings.
“You know Aakash, I was just thinking. What if we expand canal C by a little?”
Dombe drew out the ‘little’ expansion.
Aakash gulped. Random changes in the project - This was the part that he hated. What he hated even more, was knowing the logic behind the ‘little’ expansion.
Over the last few days, Dombe had been having extensive meetings with the new MLA Malati Shahane of Sambepur. What was clear was that Malati wanted to get water supply for her region. What was even clearer was that she didn’t care about the tribal lands that would have to be drowned for this to be achieved.
A 38-year-old Aakash wished he could still be a naïve engineering graduate who could be proud about constructing marvels of engineering. Now he only felt like a corporate hitman.
Sighing, he nodded.
“Yes sir, I think there should be no issue with that expansion.”
With a revolting smile, Dombe patted Aakash on the back.
“Good! Then inform the execution team and get it done please.”
“Uh yes, I will get on it sir.”
Aakash stumbled out of the tent and wondered how he would explain all this to the execution team.
In the darkening forest, howls of the night creatures were already beginning to grow loud.
Aakash decided to postpone announcing the ‘little’ expansion until early next morning. He kick-started his muddy motorbike and made his way to the company quarters.
Over the last six months Aakash had learned to navigate through the potholed jungle roads. They no longer troubled him so much. But what did, was a deeper sense of loss.
What the fuck am I doing here? He wondered.
Soon a thin sliver of a moon rose in the sky and Aakash halted the bike outside a decrepit building. The officer’s living quarters for Dreambuilders Corporation was not much to look at, but it provided warm beds and digestible food.
Aakash hardly remembered when he finished his meagre dinner, had a bath and lay in his bed. The night was only too alive with the howls of wolves, hoots of owls, growling insects and other sounds that barely made any sense to the city-bred engineer.
As sleep clouded his mind, Aakash couldn’t help thinking that this jungle was perhaps the oldest project of the planet, constantly renewing itself in fascinating ways. When would engineering achieve such a spectacle? What would such a factory or a city look like? What would it feel like to live there?
All the questions inter-knotted into a growing restlessness and Aakash opened his eyes. Suddenly the jungle wasn’t just a presence around him, it seemed to be present within him.
Without even realising he was doing so, Aakash stumbled over to a shelf and found what he didn’t know he was looking for – The Jungle Book.
On a whim he had picked up the book at the railway station near the Sambepur Hydro project site. He now began reading through it.
The words seem to quieten his mind and by midnight Aakash was sound asleep.
The harsh sunlight splayed out as a knotted red blanket across Aakash’s closed eyelids. He finally grimaced and opened his eyes.
Looking around for a moment, he tried to understand what felt so strange. Something seemed to have changed. But the room was as messy as always. Then Aakash noticed the book besides him.
There was work to do. Bad news to deliver. Money to be earned.
Yet that didn’t seem to matter so much.
Aakash slumped into his bed and got on with reading the next chapter.
Eventually before he finished the book, Aakash would decide to leave Deambuilders Corporation. He would work with firms that believed in a sustainable and inclusive approach towards engineering. He would find that though his parents were proud of him for being an engineer, they would perhaps be more proud of him for being a good person.