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The Coffer DamsThe Coffer Dams by Kamala Markandaya
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A book based in post independence India. A British company comes to India to build a dam across a river somewhere in south India. The company wins the bid after great haggling with the officials of Government of India. The company comes up with an aggressive plan of finishing the dam in a short period of time. A Britisher leads a joint team of Britishers and Indians. The dam is to be built in a forest region. The tribals from the area forcibly evacuated to another location to make place for building of houses for the British and cabins for the Indians.
The leader Clinton comes with his young wife. Some of the other members also come with their spouses. The Indians are mostly without their family. Clinton’s wife is out trying to understand the pains of the tribal people while rest of the spouses are partying around. Over a period of time differences crop up between her and Clinton. While Clinton’s only goal is to get the dam constructed on time, she wishes to help out the tribals to the extent possible.
There an accident in which two Britishers are killed. One of the other British Engineers insists that they be fished out even though it would have been a difficult job. The Indians fish them out and the tribals dress them for the funeral as nobody else is ready to deal with their pulpy bodies.
Clinton’s wife takes a liking to Bashiam, the only tribal who can speak English and can operate the machinery used for building the dam. He is considered an outcast by the tribals, by the Indians and the Britishers.
As Clinton is pushing the team to finish the coffer dams before the rains an accident causes the death of 40 of the tribals. Two of them are buried under a large rock. Clinton says they will become part of the dam, but the tribals want them extricated so that they can be cremated as per proper norms. The Indians insist and have their way. Bashiam volunteers to operate the crane to lift the rock so that the bodies can be washed out by the river. The crane to be used is a one that had been damaged on the way to the site and had been refitted at the site. The earlier engineer had been unhappy with the refitting as some parts used were different from the original design and the testing was not rigorous enough.
Bashiam says he will take chance. His first attempt fails as the safety mechanism in the crane is triggered and the crane refuses to lift the rock. He tries for a second time. This time he switches off the safety mechanism and manages to lift the rock and the bodies are washed out from under the rock. But the boom of the crane collapses and he is crushed under it.
A nun is brought to try and restore Bashiam back to normalcy. Clinton’s wife ends up spending a lot of time with him as he is recuperating. In the meantime the rains have started in earnest. The river threatens to breach the coffer dams. Everybody looks up to the tribal chief for indication of when it will start raining or if they should breach the coffer dams to prevent flooding of the new tribal settlement. The chief gives and indication of what to watch out for as an indicator of the stoppage of rain and dies. The others observe that the condition that the chief had described has come about and as predicted the rains stop and the coffer dams remain intact.
A readable book, but expect nothing much.

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