I freeze. What is happening? What have I become entangled in? There must be some way out of all this…The words rush into my head of their own accord: ghachar ghochar.
Intrigued by the title and a few micro-reviews of the book on twitter, I had ordered Ghachar Ghochar one a dull winter evening, expecting the book to be a good break from the insipid review copies I had been reading.
The book arrived two days later and led equally by curiosity and the size of the book (just 115 pages), its status went from to-read to read in two hours flat. Ghachar Ghochar was thrilling and disturbing, and despite its seemingly direct and obvious plot, it left me mulling about its characters for the next few days. While money and associated issues form a major part of the story, the veiled male chauvinism adds a sense of foreboding to the crisp narrative.
Before I delve deeper into the story, here’s what the blurb says about Ghachar Ghochar.
It’s true what they say – it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us.’
From a cramp, ant-infested house to a spacious bungalow, a family finds itself making a transition in many ways. The narrator, a sensitive young man is numbed by the swirl around him. All he can do is flee every day to an old-world café, where he seeks solace from an oracular waiter. As members of the family realign their equations and desires, new strands are knotted, others come apart and conflict brews dangerously in the background.
Masterfully translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur, Ghachar Ghochar is a suspenseful, playful and ultimately menacing story about the shifting consequences of success.
My two cents:
A subtle male chauvinist sits in a sophisticated coffee shop and reflects upon the ‘domestic skirmishes’ in his once-poor, now-rich household – if I was to muse about Ghachar Ghochar’s review in just one line, this would sum it up.
The novella opens in an upmarket coffee shop, where the protagonist (the unnamed narrator) spends or rather whiles away his time, musing about his family members, their newfound wealth and the resultant chaos. Having spent his formative years in a small, ant-infested house in a lower middle-class locality of Bangalore, the narrator along with his family has recently shifted to a new house in a posh locality. From a life of wants and budgets to one of the unhindered excesses, the change is unsettling for everyone involved, and each family member is dealing with this change in their own way. Sona Masala, the family’s spice distribution business started not too long ago, is doing well, however, the narrator has no ‘active’ role to play in its running. I say active for the business was started by the workaholic paternal uncle of the narrator, and is effortlessly being managed by him. The narrator sometimes goes to his office at Sona Masala but does nothing more than reading newspapers and dozing off on his cabin’s sofa.
Other than the occasional attendance at work, most of his time is spent at the Coffee House, ruminating about and dissecting the temperaments of his family members. It’s during these ruminations that he gives away his character flaws and his chauvinist views on the womenfolk in his household. These coffee shop contemplations are also a window into the family’s twisted interdependencies, juxtaposed against its newly acquired nouveau riche status. Ghachar ghochar is how the narrator describes it, using the phrase he has picked up from his wife. A seemingly nonsensical colloquial phrase, ghachar ghochar implies being terribly tangled or being tangled beyond repair – an apt expression for the state of affairs at the narrator’s house. A commentary on the perils of newly acquired wealth, the book ends on a sinister note, leaving the reader with a premonition about what remains unsaid.
Ghachar Ghochar is outwardly unassuming, but a few pages into this Sona Masala family and one becomes a keen observer of their enmeshed lives, wondering where it is headed. Brilliantly translated from Kannada by author Sriram Perur, this crisply crafted narrative makes for an engaging, thought-provoking read. Do pick this one up if you are a fan of slice-of-life writings.
More about the book
Author: Vivek Shanbhag (Kannada)
Translation: Translated from the Kannada into English by Srinath Perur
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Price: Rs. 299
Ragini’s Ratings: 3/5
Note: Both the book and the views are my own.