My feelings for the book Men and Dreams In The Dhauladhar written by Kochery C Shibu is very similar to what I felt when I finished The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. It was a mixed feeling. I loved the book yet felt disappointed. I found the writing style and execution of both the books to be similar.
Marriage of Real with Imagination
The story is set against the backdrop of beautiful and majestic Dhauladhar ranges of the Himalayas where a hydel power project in underway. The author has first hand experience of working on such projects which he poured vividly in details in the book.
In fact chunk part of the book goes into describing the intricacy of the project, its execution, machinery used, life of labours and challenges they face on a daily basis. Casualties due to natural calamity and due to human negligence and how they were hushed up in order to avoid fines and penalty.
These technical details were interesting to read to some extent due to the novelty factor but, later the details started interfering with the main story and hampering the pace.
The book has a good fusion of reality with fiction. Apart from building up the entire construction site scenario which appeared to be very close to reality, the author has also included some other real issues like the vicious circle of revenge which was true in many parts of India, Gujarat riots which changed the life of many Indian Muslims, life of a shepherd and his sheep, Kalaripayattu, a martial art etc.
These made the novel gripping and engrossing, infused freshness into the story line in spite of the fact that no story was actually taking shape. Just like The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
I really loved the way fight scenes were written. It was like watching a Telugu movie where one hero takes on 10 or more goons with swords etc. in their hands.
If I come to the story, then there was a lot of build up on the annihilation of the dam constructed near Dhauladhar mountain by the terrorists. But nothing as such happens which was actually very disappointing for me. After so much hype it was a complete fizz out.
There were three main characters Nanda was an engineer on the hydel power project, Khusru was a brainwashed, but not a hardcore terrorist and Rekha was a doctor dancer. Their stories run in parallel and independently along with the construction of dam and many sub stories of secondary characters.
The author has marvelously penned their inner turmoils, longing for a normal family life. It touched the cords of my heart. The love story between Khusru and Rekha was quite unusual. But then love makes people do weird things. So I just thought to sit back and enjoy the chemistry between the two.
The author also has an amalgam of characters from various countries like India, Pakistan, Italy, Russia, Afghanistan. The stories of all the characters were captivating and complete in itself. In fact the novel appeared to be a collection of short stories of all the characters with no apparent connection apart from the Mountains of Dhauladhar and the hydel power project.
What is missing is the connection. A connection which would have bind them together into one whole story. Hydel power project could have been the key but the author missed it high time at the climax. Just like The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
Writing Style and Cover
The narrative has been written effortless and seamlessly though it was a bit slow especially towards the end. Language of the book is simple yet lucid though a few typo mistakes could not be overlooked.
This review will be incomplete without the special mention of the jacket of the book. It is thoughtful and beautiful. The flowing forceful water and mighty mountains captures the real essence of the book.
The fictional stories which have a touch of realities, plots which are influenced by real life incidents and issues are always interesting to read and the author has done a remarkable job over here.
Only the climax was disappointing. I was expecting something big where three main characters will have a crucial role to play. This would have added that missing connection to the story and made it complete.