The title - The Mysterious Dreams - sounded interesting, and I had been waiting for the parcel to arrive from the Castle of Books. When it did, I excitedly tore the package open. But I could hardly mask my disappointment when I saw the cover of the book. Look at it! A specimen of bad design from a cheap design agency. As if the main image lifted off some stock photo site wasn't bad enough, the silly illustration of a man's fat face with an even fatter moustache on the water totally kills it. What was the graphic artist thinking? It's just sad, because a casual browser will never pick this book up, attracted by the cover. A pity, because the book has quite a bit to offer...
The author, Nandita Chakraborty Banerjji, has a LOT to say. The book is packed, from cover to cover, with a lot of information woven, often unsuccessfully, into the plot. The plot itself is rather flimsy. It can easily be summarised in one line. Bengali girl meets hippie boy, they elope, they live together for a bit, he leaves her alone, and a sad end. More about it later.
The author does not lose even half an opportunity to share possibly everything she has learnt in this life. She talks about the America-Vietnam war, the Hippie movement, the state of Nuclear armament, popular music - from the Beatles to Bangla Baul, the uses of Hemp, Woodstock, Mardi Gras, drug abuse, Bengali culture, religion, cancer, ISKCON, tie-dye, terrorism, women's lib, consumerism, environment, Rabindra Sangeet...phew!
But I wasn't complaining because many of these ideas are very close to my heart, and the others, I've always wanted to know about - the Vietnam War and the Hippy movement, for example. Since my generation is historically so close to these events, I've grown up with these terms floating around in the media ever since I can remember. But I never really cared to go to Wikipedia and understand what it was that so many movies were made about or so many newspapers spoke about. Banerjji explains succinctly, though in the short, the relation between and the evolution of both these events that have shaped the present state of America, and consequently the rest of the world. The book is really a social commentary on the significant social, political and cultural changes that have taken place in the last half a century - both in the Western world and the Eastern.
Speaking of the Eastern world, the author makes many an accurate observations about the middle class society in Mumbai, Goa and Kolkata - places her protagonist, Shibani, goes to. Her notes, particularly about the Bengali way of life, its customs and belief systems were highly recognisable and even endearing to me. She also writes about life in the 60s and 70s in America whilst describing the life of the other protagonist, Chris, but their accuracy I can only guess at.
Coming back to the plot, we first meet the central character of Shibani as a teenager living in Mumbai with her parents. Aside from doing the normal teen things, Shibani lives with one constant nightmare. The nightmare is mentioned in the first few chapters and then the author seems to forget about it. By this time, Shibani has met an American hippie, Chris, who comes with a whole lot of issues, including mommy-daddy issues, drug issues, and peace issues. Chris has come to India looking for spiritual answers and following his romance with Shibani, they elope to Goa. After a few blissful years of living in, Chris leaves Shibani alone and returns to America. Shibani is stranded and after a few years of waiting for Chris decides to go back to her native place in Kolkata. The parallel lives of Chris and Shibani are rather aimless and drug-fuelled, signifying perhaps the way real hippies lived. With a rather sudden turn of events, we suddenly find that Chris has turned into an unwilling saint-terrorist having come back to India, and that Shibani has decided to go to America in search of Chris. When they do meet by chance at the Mumbai airport, both are so wasted they don't recognise each other. Then the said mysterious dream makes a reappearance to forcefully connect the dots before the story tragically ends. Why the author chose the title, The Mysterious Dreams still remains a mystery to me.
The book is quirky at best. Read it, if not for the sad-strange story, but for the many tidbits of information that you are not again likely to find all in one place.