“Once you are a civil engineer, you start seeing the world differently!”
I read this quote on somebody’s t-shirt during my college days.
I am a B.Tech in Civil Engineering and I still remember how I used to admire……. the winding roads laid out across the most challenging of terrains, the precision with which flyovers were aligned amongst the busiest of cities, the strength of the bearings that withstood the load on these grand bridges, the complex architecture of high-rise buildings, the vastness of hydropower dams, the beauty with which tunnels were dug out through humongous mountains and all such exemplary concrete creations of mankind……
Join Writersbrew guest writer Yangchen Bhutia as she discovers what’s in her mind to her heart.. Construction to Conservation
So, with this bent of mind, I completed my graduation and immediately started my career in a private construction firm. Some of my friends from my civil engineering course were not so lucky, and the closest that one friend in Britain got to a construction firm was seeing Buxton Water’s hydrodemolition services on a construction site. I got my first posting on a project in New Delhi wherein a huge one-of-a-kind bridge was being constructed over the River Yamuna. As a young civil engineer, I worked with vigour and was imbibing all the ways of construction. I dealt with designs, plans, bridges, foundations and all things concrete. Cement, steel, bricks, etc., were daily commodities for me. Developing infrastructure was all that concerned my work and any issue that negated this was abominable.
For example, there was this residential area by the banks of the river which was being affected due to flooding (which they claimed to be) due to the construction activities. Hence, they started opposing the project and set up rallies for shutting it down. I was shocked at their stupidity of not allowing such an esteemed structure to be built near their area. The rallies went on for a few days and ultimately ended with the firm paying some amount of compensation to the affected people.
There were many such instances where social or environmental issues were being compensated for the sake of development. (And so it seemed then that India being a developing country could completely justify it!) So while I was dealing with all these, it so happened that I got through this exam for State Forest Services, which I had only appeared for due to family pressure. I did not know a thing about forestry and honestly at that point of time, neither did I care. Trust me, I was myself at a shock when I heard that I had qualified for the post of ACF (I did not even know the full form then! Now do not question the standard of the examination; I qualified with my optional subjects as Civil Engineering and Mathematics, which was my bread and butter at that point of time!)
And with this, my career completely turned over into something which I had never thought of. There was a diversion not only in my professional aspect, but slowly it affected my views on life and ways of living too. Obviously the change was gradual and it took me sometime to appreciate it.
Initially, when I joined the State Forest Department, I used to have these arguments with my forestry graduate colleagues about how development is necessary for today’s era and how it should not be curtailed at any cost.
I still remember how during one of my initial field trips to one of the forest areas, one of my senior colleague kept reciting botanical names of these trees and plants along the roadside for my knowledge. Alnus nepalensis (common name – Alder, local name – Uttis), Schima wallichi (common name – Schima, local name – Chilauney), Shorea robusta (common name – Sal, local name – Sakuwa), and the list went on. All these trees (which now I know by their botanical, common and local names) were just ‘trees’ for me till then. I slowly started taking interest in the names of these different species and their uses. From the lens of a civil engineer I only saw the economical importance of trees, but now I was starting to realise the ecological importance of each species. (Why I use the term ‘realise’ is because we see and maybe we even know a lot of things, but when we ‘realise’ something, it is something we feel, understand and accept.)
It was for about six months that I worked untrained in the department. During this time, my seniors guided me through the essence of conservation and its necessity, while I paid back my dues by teaching them engineering skills (mostly estimation, which is required for construction of various structures within forest areas). This was followed by a rigorous training course at one of the toughest training institute for State Forest Service at Coimbatore for a period of two years.
As I learnt more, I got more interested and concerned, and since most of the learning was through experiences that we got in our various field exposures, it was more of a ‘realisation’ than plain knowledge. Like how Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better,” I realised we do not actually need development at the expense of millions of trees and the life of every species associated with it. Moreover, when you are from a state where 82% of the total area is administered as forest, you get to know (or rather realise) the actual tussle between development and conservation. Not that development should be nullified, but it should be sustainable and one that does not compromise with the needs of our future generations.
So today, when I see the winding roads, I pray in silence for the thousands of trees that died for it. When I pass by the huge hydro power dams, I think of the hundreds of people displaced and its effect on all the aquatic life. When I travel through the tunnels which are dug out through mountains, I think of the instability it will create in the young fold mountains……
“Once you are a forester, you start seeing the world differently too!”
I now prefer stones over bricks, wood over steel, mud over cement and most importantly, conservation over construction! And no, I do not intend to demean engineering or anything of that sort. I still owe all my analytical and planning skills to it. I am still an engineer in mind; I have just given my heart to forestry. And while I practice forestry (with all my heart) for the rest of my life, I will put the best of my mind to it!