'Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar’ is a debut novella penned down by Kochery Shibu. It elicits the author’s experience at a Hydroelectricity project in a subtle way. The story is complicated, yet different from what is generally offered on the reading platter these days. Dreams and aspirations are what this story speaks about and the author has done a commendable job in bringing out the essence of the title of the book.
Nanda, Khusru, and Rekha- the three protagonists get a chance to come together and work in the Dhauladhar on a dam construction site. They involve themselves in a project that was sure to require blood, sweat, and tears. The plot portrays some uncanny relationships- the best example would be that of Nanda and the snow-capped mountains. Most of the chapters end with a parting note that depicts a morose conversation between Nanda and the peaks- failing to give any clear cut idea about it.
With a somber and apt cover, ‘Men and Dreams’ successfully captures the vital elements of the plot. The plot might seem a bit twisted in the beginning, for the author probably got carried away a little and focused more on the introductions of the characters and not on the action in the story, but the story comes well in the later half. The initial few chapters describe the lives of some characters and how they are the potential candidates to be a part of the Dam project. Due to lack of narrative here, I found it very difficult to keep my eyes glued and read on. Also, there were too many characters to spoil the broth. Had more information about Khusru, Nanda, Rafiq been given, it would have been better.
No doubt, the plot is interesting. Till date, I have not come across any novella with such insightful intricacies and proper pre-planning. The blurb deserves a special mention because that is what intrigued me to get hold of this book because otherwise I do not get attracted to this genre easily. Coming to the drawbacks, the main thing that I would like to mention is the excessive use of Hindi. I agree that it was the demand of the plot. But there is always an alternate way. Barring some minor editing mistakes, the book has no specific proof-reading glitches.
Talking about the plot, it is challenging. The story highlights the psychological concepts of moral blameworthiness and moral ignorance. There are several characters in the story that come from a humble and normal background. The fact that they are ignorant of what harm they intend to cause is just not palatable. Can they be blameless on account of their ignorance? The author has painted the character of all the characters with broad strokes. It will take a deeper understanding and empathy to relate with all of them and determine the suitability of their actions.
Another point I would like to stress on is the use of Native language as the titles of the chapter. Is the author trying to blind us with science? It was equivalent to Chinese Arithmetic for me and with the translation not given for reference; I found it really difficult to understand.
Overall, this is a marvelous literary feat with a blend of different cultures and different people too. The narrative offers plentiful insights into different shades of human existence and the bond shared with nature. I would not say that this was a light read for me; it piqued my interest and offered something different.