Where is Dhauladhar? The first question anyone might see rising slowly in their mind is this one. If you are missing this question, you are missing the point. You ought to read Men & Dreams in Dhauladhar by Kochery C. Shibu in order to savour the words by the new avatar of Indian literature in English. “The Dhauladhar range (lit. The White Range) is part of a lesser Himalayan chain of mountains,” says Wikipedia. The White Range hides in its shimmering façade, many dark truths of our times. One of these dark truths is the exploitation of nature and men.
The story opens through the account of Nanda, the protagonist who elites from an auto rickshaw. He wants to go to the Dhauladhar range to find work. Later, we learn that his intention is also part of a self-crafted exile. An exile has many faces and sources of inspiration. Nanda’s exile is forced by his desire to live. His story starts in a flashback and takes us to the north of Kerala. The Kalari tradition of the north of Kerala is often cited as the core reason for the violent political killings that happen there even now. The same passion for blood and vengeance is cited in the novel as a reason for Nanda’s journey away from his home.
Nanda reaches the Dhauladhar and the reader is taken on a journey of sightseeing on the area where the dam construction is going on. Only in chapter two, which is marked by the name of another character, Nanda’s mother do we learn about Nanda’s past and connections with the land of kalarippayattu—Kerala. Titled Indumati, this part of the story takes us into the family of Mathathil Madhavan Nair. You can read this part of the story, feeling nostalgic about a literary background that existed in the times of Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer, M T Vasudevan Nair’s early stories and novels, Thakazhi, and the many other stalwarts of Malayalam literature. This gap is presently filled by writers like Benjamin and all. But the essence of the culture and its roots still remain lost in the deluge of literary mediocrity that this culture has been bearing with.
After Indumati, we meet Mangu Ram and his son who aspires to be a part of the dam project rather than helping his father and strengthening his family’s farm. For Mangu Ram, “It was a good feeling to be treated with a little respect.” The whole village area that surrounded the Dhauladhar range was bought over by the corporation by tactics. Mangu Ram is a replica of the mind of the villager on a cellular level. His desires, needs, and worldview are in alignment with the life of the village.
Khusru “had no idea what awaited him on the other end.” He too is on an exile. He begins his work at the dam site. His life turns and twists in a series of events that change our perspective of the innocent-looking boy from the valley of Kashmir. The chapters realign themselves as we are taken back the story of Nanda where we left off.
Like a magnet that pulls materials with the same frequency of vibration, these indelible characters move towards the dam. The dam is built in the Dhauladhar. This novel is significant in terms of how it negotiates the presentation of nature in literature. On several occasions, one may even feel that Kochery C. Shibu has traced the steps of authors like Ruskin Bond and RK Narayan in his storytelling style. A truly Indian tale, Men & Dreams in Dhauladhar deserves multiple readings because it is also a self-published book. Self-published books deserve to be read and analyzed in their own league. Self-published authors do not get the same privileges and facilities as those authors who are published by established publishing houses. The huge capital that is at hand for an established publisher leaves the field undulating and unstable for the rest of the publishing entities (authors as publishes and small publishers).
The paperback version of the book is released through Niyogi Books. I reviewed a Kindle EBook version of the novel. The print book is 284 pages long. The cover of the book smartly portrays the central character, the Dhauladhar range. Priced 395, Men & Dreams in Dhauladhar is available with a large discount on various online shopping sites, including Amazon. Men & Dreams in Dhauladhar can boast of a sprawling narrative that includes the stories of many generations and multiple landscapes. The language and the stylistics are unique and unlikely in a self-published work. Men & Dreams in Dhauladhar certainly deserves major attention. Mainstream, don’t miss out on this one!
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