Pratima looks out over the approach to the bridge. Then Pratima looks from the plan to the fort. With its approaches, their work is half a kilometer in length. The defense works back against the lattice-girder bridge, trussed with trusses standing on seven-and-twenty concrete piers. Each one of those piers is twenty-four feet in diameter, capping concrete and iron sunk deep below the shifting sand of the Yamuna bed. The 1.6 meter broad track railway-line stretches across the river and beyond. Across a semi-circle in front of the bridge rises breastworks forming a redoubt blocking access to the tracks and bridge.
The outside of the breastworks are crawling and alive with hundreds of people climbing up to the top with mud and stones. The hot afternoon air is filled with the noise of shouting, talking and knocking of stones and slapping of mud. The river is high, and on the dazzling wet banks on each side of the bridge access sit tired townspeople resting and sleeping. The resting people merge into the ground being daubed with wet or drying mud.
A temporary wooden crane crane lifts heavy stones that have been dragged to the riverbed by donkeys and oxen. Heavy wooden logs have been carried from the timberyard in Etawah. People by the hundreds swarm the length of the breastwork and pat the mud into place. More adults and children are digging a trench in front of the rampart.
"Progress is being made?" Darlana smiles at her.
"I am stunned at how the face of the bridge is changing from all the workers," Pratima's breathlessly relates. "The river looks different for a kilometer. There must be thousands of workers."
"I can hear them," Darlana happily agrees.
"The work is raw and ugly as anything I have ever seen," Pratima complains with a happy voice. "It won't last for long. But we don't need it to last long. Just long enough for help to arrive on trains."
"We are attracting tourists," Pratima informs her. "There is a large crowd of watchers who are sitting on the nearby hill."
"I think some townspeople are picnicking and wondering at the spectacle we are making," she suggests.
"As long as they do not interfere," Darlana sighs. Pratima touches her in agreement.
There is a loud crash below them.
"A cart has fallen over with heavy logs," she describes to Darlana. "Be careful down there. I have promised Jyotsna to return her people alive and in good health."
"Yes, sahiba," a man's voice shouts back.
"These lives are not mine to throw away," Pratima mutters and then sighs. The sound of slogging approaches the two women.
"We have completed the northern wall," a man's voice speaks out. "We should be finished with the south in an hour or more."
"Good work!" Pratima gives praise. "Make sure moveable curtain walls are available behind the line"
"I will do it myself," he promises. "This fort will be strong enough to defend even the kings honor." Pratima touches Darlana again in appreciation of the joke.
"We have tamed this bridgehead," the man brags. "No one can take this bridge now."
"May your words come true," Darlana laughs at him.
"Yes sahiba," with a voice that falls a little.
"I worry that the rain and water may take down what man cannot," he is pointing somewhere.
"Yes, if it rains too much or the river rises over the banks, we are in trouble," Pratima agrees.
"Our works are heavy," he suggests. "They will stand much."
"How much rain do you think these walls can resist?" Pratima inquires.
"Well, sahiba. It is like this, as long as water does not undermine the base of the wall you are good," he sounds confident. "Just keep the water from pushing under."
"Thank you and all the people for your work," Pratima praises him.
"It has been years since we have worked together," he speaks gruffly. "It's we who should be thanking you for giving us pride and solidarity for the first time in too long."
"Now, I must go. I am busy," his voice moves downhill.
"He climbs a rope as good as a monkey," Pratima tells Darlana, who snorts in appreciation.
"I am hot and tired," Pratima complains. "It is finally looking good. Our bridge fort is all but done." Her voice is tinged with sadness.
"We need some shade and a cool drink." she whines.
"In three months, when the weather is cooler," Darlana promises. "The river is beautiful when monsoon is done."
"How do you know?" Pratima challenges her.
"The river talks to me," Darlana shoots back. "The river is like a moving snake that rustles between the banks and bounces noisily off every stone and wooden plank."
"OK," Pratima admits. "You are right, you know what it looks like."
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish