Title: Ghachar Ghochar
Author: Vivek Shanbhag (Translated by Srinath Perur)
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Format: Paperback (Harper Perennial 10 edition)
Published: By Harper Perennial in 2018
A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, the family dynamic begins to shift. Allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background. Things become “ghachar ghochar” — a nonsense phrase uttered by one meaning something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can’t be untied.
Elegantly written and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humour, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings–and consequences–of financial gain in contemporary India.
When I first heard of the book via Ariel Bissett’s channel, I had no idea it was translated from my mother tongue, Kannada. I came across it again while aimlessly browsing on Twitter as a part of the Harper Perennial 10 editions. When I next saw it at a local bookstore, I knew I had to pick it up! I had low expectations going into the book even though it is highly praised because I don’t generally read many adult books, let alone one this short.
To my immense surprise, a book that embraced and showed off the culture I have been born and brought up in was amazing to read. It was exactly the kind of book I needed to read to feel validated as a person. It had so many little aspects of the typical laid-back old Bangalore lifestyle and its idiosyncrasies. It follows the story of a family that went from being barely middle-class to rich and successful in a short period of time. The narrative switches back and forth between the past and the present, which highlights the contrast between these two lives.
The characters stole the show for me. They were unflinchingly realistic with their own strengths and flaws, and all of them reflected the sort of people I interact with on a daily basis. My favourite was the protagonist’s wife, who was outspoken and stood up for what she believed in even as she tried to be the good Indian daughter-in-law. The familial drama was what one can expect in a typical Indian household and was quite hilarious at times. Two incidents really stood out to me at the two different extremes – the ant invasion for which they had to take extreme precautions at the height of their poverty and the scene that the daughter created as she left her husband’s house in a rage that was caused by her spoiled nature, which accentuated the privilege they had as rich people. Although these are quite commonplace in our society, this was the first time I read it in a book and it was quite an eye-opening experience for me. The writing style was simple yet elegant and flowed naturally throughout the story.
The only complaint I had is that it was a bit too short and I would have liked some sort of closure. It covers a few snippets from the family’s life but doesn’t provide any solid resolution. As I’m personally not a fan of open endings, this was the only negative I could come up with. All in all, this is a must-read and a gem of Indian literature for sure. I’m now on the hunt for the original Kannada version so that I can re-read it and relive the emotional roller-coaster ride all over again.
I would recommend this book to people who love short books and stories about familial relationships and their dynamic nature. Pair it with some delightful Carnatic music – I prefer instrumental, so I’d recommend some amazing flute compositions or violin strains. For the food, there is nothing that would go better with this than a steaming bowl of rice and rasam. If you’re participating in the upcoming Indian Lit Readathon (7th-8th July – all about it here), then definitely consider picking this book up for one of the prompts.
Have you read this book, and if so, what did you think? Which is the best translated book you have ever read? Let me know in the comments section below.