I know at least fifty people in India who studied engineering in their undergraduate days, but few of them are engineers; most are hedging funds or strategizing visions or brokering commodities, toiling away to make the rich richer. So when I heard of a novel by a practising engineer from India, I was intrigued on several counts.
Dreams Die Young by C V Murali is set in 1960s Calcutta, and deals with Naxalite movement of the period. The Naxalites were a revolutionary group aiming for an egalitarian society; the latter was to be achieved by the violent overthrow of the upper class. (More about the movement can be found here.)
Rajat Sen, the cherished only son of upper middle-class parents, has just finished high school and is now learning about the real world at university, where he becomes acquainted with the cause of the Naxalite movement. While initially revulsed by the violence the organization espouses, he is soon seduced by their vision of a classes utopia. However, when asked to prove his revolutionary cojones by assassinating a prominent local figure, things come to a head.
Gentle surfer, I was TORN while reviewing this book. To borrow from Beth Loves Bollywood’s heart-type place versus brain-type place debate:
Heart-Type Place: It’s a publication by a small Indian press–we ought to root for it.
Brain-Type Place: The production lacks polish–it should really have been better edited. For instance, a character turns from Romen to Ramen and back to Romen…
HTP: That’s the editor’s fault–you can’t blame the author.
BTP: No, but the numerous errors distract.
HTP: It’s an original idea. And the author’s sincerity and passion come through on every page.
BTP: I agree there. A book with no mention of contemporary middle-class India’s tryst with globalization or arranged marriages –score!
HTP: I knew you’d come around!
BTP: Not so fast. The idea might be original, but the prose is full of cliches. Rajat has a “whale of a time” at school, his father is a “stickler for rules”, his mother has “a sense of impending doom”…
HTP: Don’t be so nit-picky, this is a first-time novelist.
BTP: But. But. Why does the author insert these deadweight descriptions of the setting just when the story is chugging along fine? A line like “The southwest monsoon hits the south-western coast of India first in early June and slowly propagates to the rest of the sub-continent” instantly hurtles me back to my Class Seven Social Studies days. That’s not a memory I wish to relive again. Ever.
HTP: He’s trying to explain it to readers outside India.
BTP: But there’s a glossary in the book too. Oh, well… (shrugs).
HTP: Such a dramatic ending!
BTP: It felt contrived–I wish the epiphany had come more naturally. A bit too Bollywood for me.
HTP: Y’know, Dreams Die Young would make a great film or television series.
BTP: Now, that’s something I’m in perfect agreement with.
(HTP and BTP meet and embrace enthusiastically.)
And there you have it.
There’s a certain cinematic quality to this briskly-paced novella that cries for translation to the latter medium. My primary complaint with the book–the clunky prose–would vanish, and we’d be left with an admittedly meaningful story. The directness and simplicity of the narrative would make an adaptation a cinch. Won’t someone please buy the film rights to the book and champion this dream?