Men and Dreams: In the Dhauladhar — by Kochery C. Shibu
Publisher: Self Published
Price: Rs. 399 INR(Kindle Edition)
Buy here: https://amzn.to/2V8VIsR
A hydelpower project in the remote Himalayas. Three people brought together by fate. Nanda, an engineer from Kerala at the dam construction site hiding from his past, from the law, torn between the love of his dear ones and the traditional kalari code of revenge. Khusru, a boy displaced from his native village in Kashmir, a gambit in the terror plot threatening to blow up the dam, working as a labourer at the site. Rekha, a Kathak dancer in heart, a doctor by profession, arrives at the campsite as the consort of Khusru. A village that accepts the dictates of modernity with a heavy heart, its population steeped in superstitions and religious beliefs.
All throng the campsite like moths to a flame, some escape untouched, successful; some, miss a step, and perish. Each has a story to tell and a dream to realise. Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar is about the aspirations of these people with their cares and worries woven into the site life. The fury of nature and the hardships of project life have no mercy for the weak and no time for the dead. Like an eternal spectator the Dhauladhar watches as men risk life and limb in a quest to fulfill their dreams.
About the author:
Kochery C. Shibu is a retired naval officer. A graduate from the National Defence Academy he has held several important posts in the Indian Navy. Post his retirement he has executed hydroelectric projects in the Cauvery river basin in Karnataka, Beas river basin in Himachal and lately Teesta river basin in Sikkim. He holds a postgraduate degree in Defence Studies from Chennai University, and MA in English Literature from Pune University. Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar is his debut novel. The technical content of the novel, namely the setting up of a hydro-project is drawn from his experience in these projects since 2005, as are many of the characters inspired from those whom he encountered at the project site. Kochery C. Shibu was born in Kochi and now lives in Bangalore with his wife and daughter.
My take on this book –
This novel has a very unique and rare background, that of a hydro electric project. Its not just used as a premise but the book has a lot of detail on how such a project is executed, the different people involved at various levels in such projects, and how the teams go about executing them in difficult physical conditions. Since the author had past experience in such projects, all the details are first-hand and though the characters and sequences are fictional, reader can sense the inspiration from author’s personal experiences.
The book has many characters and each of their backstory is also described in detail. While this is a very unique feature of the book, it does get overwhelming at times while trying to connect the various characters. Also, the author keeps going back and forth in time and keeps switching between the individual stories of the protagonists before connecting their lives towards the end. It would have helped if the author mentioned the year when the current sequence is happening, at start of a chapter, so that it is easier to understand the timeline.
Also, after few sequences of a particular character, the author goes back to another one which feels abrupt at times. Instead the author should have dedicated parts of the book to each of the main characters, or should have sequenced the chapters with a better flow.
While the prologue mentions three main characters Nanda, Khusru and Rekha, I found the men getting more footage than the lady. Nanda’s Kalari background is quite interesting, though he is not particularly an engaging character. Khusru is the more interesting one with shades of grey and being a hero at times and a villain at other times. His behavior is abrupt, particularly his choice of actions and the numerous women in his life. He is a difficult character to understand and relate to. Rekha is not really the leading lady we would expect her to be; would have loved to see more footage as well as depth to her.
The author touches a lot of aspects — from Kalari culture to life in mountains to displaced Kashmiris to terrorism across the border to a dancer’s life to Hydro electric projects to what not. Its a whirlwind tour of so many different lives packed in one book.
If you are looking for a different premise in contemporary fiction, this is the one to pick but it comes with its own set of drawbacks. In the initial parts, some of the local words, slang and sentences are explained again and again by the author which become a hurdle to flow. But this reduces significantly towards the second half. Also, there are many characters that get introduced in first half, who only have an introduction but never get any mention or role in the proceedings.
However, the author greatly succeeds in describing the mountain life, fragile nature of life, dreams and aspirations of common people which are more often broken due to circumstances.
In summary, with a great premise, promising characters, backdrop of the Dhauladhars, a more gripping story and screenplay could have made the book a very memorable read. While its a wonderful debut by Mr.Shibu, reader will be left wanting more engagement into the proceedings.