- Reading level: 15.00+ years
- Hardcover: 124 pages
- Publisher: HarperPerennial; 1 edition (4 January 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9351776174
- ISBN-13: 978-9351776178
- Product Dimensions: 29 x 20 x 3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 81 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #57,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Ghachar Ghochar Hardcover – 4 Jan 2016
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“Vivek Shanbhag is an Indian Chekhov, illuminating the romantic and financial tensions in middle-class urban India with a doctor’s precision and sensitivity’ – Suketu Mehta
About the Author
Vivek Shanbhag writes in Kannada. He has published five short-story collections, three novels and two plays, and edited two anthologies, one of which is in English. Srinath Perur writes on a variety of subjects, especially travel or science. He is the author of the travelogue If It's Monday It Must Be Madurai (Penguin India, 2013). He lives in Bangalore.
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India too has gone through such a transformation in the last 25 years brought about by the economic liberalization started in the early 90s. The liberalization unleashed elemental forces that swept the entire population making some raise with the tide and some drown in its ferocity leading to the emergence of a new India. Most notably Aravind Adiga has captured this transformation in English at the macro level but here in this great Kannada novel we have Vivek Shanbhag capture this transformation at the basic unit of Indian society – the Family. ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ captures the opportunities unleashed by the economic liberalization and the joys, anxieties and fears it invokes in the middle classes who are the most impacted by it.
The story revolves around a small lower-middle class family living in one of the many small rented houses in Bangalore where you could open the door and be on the road in ‘exactly four steps’. It’s a family of five where the father is a diligent salesman with meagre earnings and the mother who manages the household with their son – the narrator – and their temperamental daughter. The fifth member is the father’s younger brother ‘chikkappa’, a commerce graduate with initiative and vigour. The family subsists on the salary of the father who goes out every morning to sell tea powder and tallies the money accrued and sends it to the head office the next morning. They have a hand-to-mouth existence and limited desires but are a satisfied lot since ‘when you have no choice, you have no discontent either’.
The author manages to capture the lower-middle class life of the pre-liberalization era and it deeply resonates with those who lived that life. The small unventilated houses which were barely furnished save for a table and chair, the way the entire family helped the bread winners in their job, the euphoric celebration on the arrival of a ‘gas connection’ (something which is taken for granted now), the numerous tea sessions conducted to pass time, the washing of ‘vessels’ – all these bring to life the India of those times beautifully.
There is an affecting scene early in the book where the father makes an error in his tallying which results in 800 rupees left unaccounted and the entire household toils to find out the error to save the father from having to pay the amount from his pocket. The mystery is solved early the next morning by the chikkappa after a sleepless night of poring over tally sheets and the family celebrates the triumph the next morning as if it’s a festival. The scene touches you because it brings to memory those times when such acts of collective responsibility and collective joy were possible and are no longer possible now. It recreates an era that is gone right in front of our eyes.
Then comes liberalization which gives the educated middle class people who have the enterprise a great chance of social mobilization. And chikkappa is the right man at the right time and he invests his brother’s retirement money (in exchange for a 50% stake) and sundry loans to start a trading company which flourishes beyond imagination making the entire family rich. The rest of the novel is a brilliant study of the effects of the sudden wealth on the family members and how it changes their equation with each other and with society at large. It explores what happens when the lower middle-class crosses that coveted line and becomes the upper-middle class within a short span of time. It explores the impact of new money on age old middle class values such as decency, honesty and thrift. And finally the impact it has had on Indian families. The study is fascinating and all this is done in a little over hundred pages which is a miracle of conciseness.
Probably such a story can only be narrated in an Indian language as it is more suitable to explore the family life of a typical middle class family. Having said that the translation by Srinath Perur brilliantly conveys the ideas and thoughts of the original and keeps the Indian-ness of the original text. The Kannada idioms are translated faithfully hence you have new English sayings like ‘Holes in dosas in everyone’s house’ or ‘the newly rich carry umbrellas to keep moonlight at bay’ or 'this girl is good as gold'. The translation also weighs in on its own by contributing phrases like ‘chemical warfare’ to describe the mother’s use of potions and powders to fight an ant menace in the old house. But the biggest success of the translation is something else. Every piece of art conveys something unsaid and it is the recreation of this unsaid in a language like English which is as different from a language like Kannada is the biggest success of the translator.
The ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ of the title is a nonsense word invented by the narrator’s wife to describe a situation that is entangled beyond recovery. At the end of the book most of the characters find their lives to be in such an entangled state owing to the choices they made in response to the challenges posed by liberalization. It is a beautiful metaphor for modern India and a cautionary tale for the generation ahead as they face the brave new world created by liberalization.
Vivek’s story doesn’t have a defined purpose, or a chronological timeline or even a neat resolution at the end. It is, like its title says, all Ghachar Gochar. This makes the story eerily realistic. After all, when we remember our own stories we don’t dramatize them, we remember an event and use that to define our relationships. In the story the narrator has five family members: An Uncle, Father, Mother, Sister and Wife. He recollects incidents from his past and uses them to define his family. The keystone of the family is the Enterprising Uncle who “is the sole earning member of the family”. The narrator believes that it has become the duty of his family to protect his Uncle from everything including being defamed by some “whore” who comes to see him. On the opposite side is his own father, whom the narrator truly loves and respects, but has been relegated to being treated like a senile entity. He tells us the stories of his mother’s obsessive compulsive disorder and his sister’s stubbornness. He feels he has cheated his wife by not telling the truth about his occupation. But through these recollections the nature of the narrator appears. He knows his duties, he know what is needed to keep his self-esteem high, but has comfortably given into the lethargy as the “company deposits money in his bank account every month”.
At this point the connection of this book with so many other family stories breaks. There is simply no moral or lesson. You can’t categorize the narrator as a bad person, nor is he heroic. In the end you will retract as soon as you start to connect with him and be a passive spectator as the narrator himself is. You’ll definitely look somewhere else to make meaning of all this. Vivek Shanbag has highlighted many social issues related to the atrocities committed against the women through this rather small book. These range from bickering between a mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law to covering up a murder of a wife. The insecurity of men towards dominant women is also hinted at through the dialog. Interesting things come in small packages. 'Ghachar Gochar’ will tantalize you unexpectedly with its multiple mixed messages of existentialism, feminism, nepotism(?) (okay! may be that’s a bit too much).
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It's an amazing novel. Great translation. It's ordinary story not storytelling is masterful.Read more