Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar by Kochery C. Shibu

“He noticed the importance of names in the short time that he was there. Everyone had a nickname, and every place, every event, everything, a colorful one. The dreams of the men were hidden in many of these names.”

Kochery C Shibu in Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar, summarize in above lines, what to expect from his 400 paged debut novel!

Yes, the names, and even more importantly emotions of people, associated with their names, origin and style of living. In a way, this is what makes us human. Unlike animals, we may not be territorial, but we do remain connected to our people, our birth place throughout our lives, fighting the odds and yet marveling at our genuine roots.

To tell you the truth, this is what I loved in the current book. This novel is not about the story, though there are many plots; or about the setting, though the Hydel Project in remote Himalayas is picturesque; or not even about the narrative, though Kochery C. Shibu has excellent command over language and I loved his easy going prose. Yes, lots of positive points and yet, this novel is not about these aspects.

Rather, Men and Dreams in Dhauladhar is purely about Characters. Each person in this book has a lively aura. None of them, not even the villagers are bland caricatures, but real men and women with rounded characters and their very own idiosyncrasy.

The novel begins with our first protagonist Nanda, joining the Hydel Project in Himayalas. It is apparent from his behaviour that he is hiding some secret and most probably running from Law. Kochery portrays his past life diligently, slowly indulging in the historical significance of Kalari, a martial art, which has with time, decayed into Gundaraj. Nanda has valued his heritage and yet suffered and paid a heavy price for his honesty. His circumstances compelled him to run away from his family and get employment with a local Seth.

Nanda is one of the most important characters, as he is the narrator as well. It is through his eyes that we look upon the beauty of Dhauladhar mountains and learn about the local folks and their customs.

Here I can’t resist sharing this sweet folktale from Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar :

“Kurli is female bird and Kurla is male. Kurli would sit on the branch of a tree. Kurla would feed her fish from the river. For one week Kurli would sit in one place and eat. This is most noticed during the month of Shravana. It is said that rains will be good if kurli is sitting and not so good if Kurla is sitting”….

Could courtship be any better than this arrangement or could there be a better way to integrate local flavor in the novel?

Well, Kochery wins my heart with his detailed description. I even found the technical details about construction of Dam interesting as well. Though, it ends up making the book much more voluminous than it would be, had the author skipped the design and working of the site. But, for a non technical person like me, it actually added more masala to a differently flavored cuisine.

Then, there comes the second protagonist Khusru, a Kashmiri lad, from Pakistan side, who is used and abused by terrorists and who ends up becoming a pawn in the dirty international animosity. Once again, Shibu gave a detailed historical background of the Kashmiri boy, and his difficult journey, actually endeared him to me. I could sympathize with him. And could deeply feel his anger, frustration, resentment and fear. I had an apprehension that he would soon be presented as the main villain and yet I could not refrain from admiring and liking him.

Then there came Radha, the third protagonist, who is a doctor by profession and a dance by passion. She is not interested in relationships, as she has had a difficult childhood and has bitter memories. She also appeared quite an interesting character till she got kidnapped. Yes, kidnapped by none other than a handsome terrorist and then in a bizarre twist of events, falls in love with him, landing at the dam site as his wife!

Now, this was the point, where I felt the story lost its real life appeal. I found it strange that an international artist and a well educated person, who had detested men till now, would fall for an uncouthly militant. Guess, Kochery took a hefty dose of artistic licence here in introducing an uncalled for romantic alliance!

Barring this slight filmy take, I found the story convincing and entertaining. The novel sticks to its theme and Dhauladhar Ranges are kept in focus. Dam site is the actual place of action and yet the story travels from Kerala to Kashmir to Pakistan to Overseas, without any hiccups.

I loved the way Nanda interacts with the mountains at the end of each chapter, summarizing the mood of the day. This technique is a novel attempt by Kochery and I must say, it is well executed.

Shibu also highlights the rampant corruption and ill treatment of work forces by Contractors. Some practices appeared inhuman and yet this is how labourers are treated in our country, so I can’t but stay on the side of author, in portraying the real life.

All in all, a good debut by Kochery C. Shibu. He seems to have done sufficient research for this novel and has deftly handled the story. The only thing that irked me, was the sudden rushed climax. The story built at a steady pace, was wrapped up hurriedly. It could have been ended in a better manner but then some stories do not have an end. Final verdict, it is a well written debut novel!

Leave a Reply