Our member Mr A. C. Chatterjee is an engineer by profession and worked for Northeastern Frontier Railways. He had faced several hardships while constructing the bridges and railway tracks in the remote areas of Assam. He shared one of his memories with us.
I was posted at Lakhimpur, a district located in the Northeastern part of Assam. It was late 60s and the area was not developed and covered mostly with forests. I was in charge of constructing a bridge over the Ranganadi or Ranga River at Lakhimpur district of Assam. The job of the construction engineers is quite challenging as they are based in remote areas with minimum facilities. We had to stay in makeshift tents for months together by the river bed to create the bridge.
I reached there with my team and settled in the tents. We had an assistant railway staff who cooked our food, and took care of our daily needs like washing clothes, utensils etc. Green grocery and other raw materials were bought for almost a week and stored, as the nearest market was a few miles away. The fish was locally available and fresh. It was fun to catch them with the cane baskets.
The heavy surveying instruments like Theodolite were difficult to set up in loose sand for measurement and calculation. Any miscalculation would result in severe loss of lives and property in future. We had to clear the forest to start setting the pillars on both sides of the riverbed. Due to frequent rainfall in Assam, the river water used to increase and the job became extremely challenging to set up pillars on the river. But it was the team’s expertise and calculating mind that always helped to complete the job without any flaw.
Once there was torrential rain for a few days and the water level of the river rose beyond danger level and we had to shift to a higher altitude where there were abundant houses which were used during this type of situation. Originally those were the quarters built for the railway employees. With all our belongings we left the tents and reached the quarters by evening. With nothing much to do and with no electricity we slept after an early dinner. It was dark, surrounded by forest and swamps all around. The only life existence other than us were the fireflies and a couple of street dogs.
Suddenly during the wee hours when it was still half dark, my sleep got distracted by the howling of the dogs. I thought it to be a normal case. But just after a few minutes one of the staff who was assisting me came running and shouted, that we had to immediately vacate the house. The river water had overflown and had flooded the house. There was knee deep water everywhere. We rushed out and got an emergency boat which the villagers used during flood. The boats were made by a single plum tree stem, a very common transport for the villagers. We jumped into the boat, but the problem was, it was swampy all around and almost impossible to move an inch. The local bamboo trees came to our rescue, and we pushed the bamboo in the marshy surface and somehow escaped the danger of that night. I would have been swept away had the dogs not alerted us and the workers rescued me.