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'Happy Dreams': In the murky shadows of China's glittering skylines (Book Review)

IANS 

Book: Dreams; (Translated by Nicky Harman); Publisher: Crossing; Pages: 481; Price Rs 499

The story of and Wufu in Jia Pingwa's "Dreams" could be the story of any one of the rag pickers one would encounter in any Indian metro.

It is, in a way, a universal, but often neglected story of hundreds and thousands of migrants who bid goodbye to their homes, their families, their belongings, their familiar neighbourhoods in rural and travel to metros to earn a livelihood -- more often than not at a huge human cost.

Happy and Wufu travel from their village of to the alluring city of -- perhaps known to a majority of Indians as the Chinese city which was on the itinerary of Narendra Modi's 2015 visit to China, during which he posed with terra cotta soldiers at the city's army museum -- attracted by its opportunity, lustre and the urge to better their lives.

Between the two, Happy is the jovial philoshoper and Wufu the dull-witted plodder, making the partnership similar in some way to that of and in John Steinbeck's classic novella "Of Mice and Men", both of whom are hobos who plod along the American countryside during the Great Depression in search of whatever work they can find.

The reasons for Happy, who instigates Wufu into leaving and heading towards -- one of the four capitals of ancient -- is an interesting one. The motive for Happy's journey is to track down a man to whom he has donated his kidney and who he believes resides in

In many ways, "Happy Dreams" under layers of rustic humour, is a commentary on the social divide in Set largely along the duo's journey from to Xi'an and the manner in which Happy and Wufu react to the contrasting change in the geography, the story exposes the stark contrast in China, which is often in the news for its reputation as a prosperous middle class, manufacturing mecca, and with its cities of boastful skylines.

Jia Pingwa's in this novel is seen through the eyes of rag pickers whose outlook mirrors that of large chunk of the population in urban China which is under-privileged in every way.

The rigours of their daily exertions are evident in the novel, as is the humour which they resort to in order to get along with their lives.

"Happy Dreams" also provides an excellent window to the social customs of China, including the quirkiest of superstitions like the one which gets Happy into trouble, early on into the novel.

Written in first person, "Happy Dreams" is woven around the narrative account of Happy and the translation by brings out the colours and imagery in the right spirit. At 481 pages, picking up the book might be a challenge to some, but for those who do muster the courage, "Happy Dreams" is a literary visa to China, the one you do not see or read about often.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at <mailto:mayabhushan.n@ians.in>)

--IANS

maya/vm

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, May 18 2018. 12:34 IST
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