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Publication Date: 13 September 2016 (First published 2015)
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Part of Series? No
Goodreads Blurb: ‘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 cramped, 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 cafe, 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.
There are two kinds of interesting books. One that you totally enjoy based on the plot and characters. The other is one that you don’t only enjoy but also consider as your true self and it convinces you that it is your story. This book falls into the latter category.
When we talk about the book market, then there are only a handful Indian books which are written not only for the Indian audience but for the foreign ones too. This book, though Indian in nature, definitely has the capacity to attract the foreign readers and obviously, it has done that during all these years.
Unnamed narrator and his normal looking but messed up family
When you start the story, it will look like the story of an Indian middle-class family with normal income and basic values. The father of the narrator is the only source of income in the family and thus they lived a very normal life. When the narrator’s uncle starts a business then they become rich overnight. The story then follows how their life changed with all that money and how their personal relations got affected.
If we wanted new clothes, we knew exactly how much he could spare and what cuts would have to be made elsewhere. The result was that we simply did not desire what we couldn’t afford. When you have no choice, you have no discontent either.
When I finished the last page, I suddenly realized that I don’t know the name of the narrator, or rather it was never mentioned? In my opinion, the reason behind not giving the name to the narrator can be because of the metaphorical description that Shanbhag wanted to showcase in his book. The narrator is a simple person like all of us and represents our common man.
The story starts with the narrator sitting in a coffee house (his usual spot) observing the surroundings and was lost in his own thoughts. He tells his story from there and makes us feel how his life has changed since they have become rich. He was the CEO in his uncle’s company but he didn’t do anything there. Every month the money automatically gets added to his account without actually doing anything.
His family was smoothly running before his marriage. After his wife Anita comes to the family, the quarrels start between her and the narrator’s mother and sister. The house was not that peaceful anymore as it used to be. When Anita asked him what does he do in office, he was speechless and ignored her question for many days. That’s when he realized that for his wife, his respect was more important than the money.
The author has portrayed the story of a typical Indian family living in Bangalore, India. Obviously, the story has to be Indian in nature. But the unique thing is, it is not just for the Indian audience. Vivek Shanbhag has captured the basic essence of a middle-class family with such delicacy and accuracy that you would be amazed by his writing.
I belong to a middle-class family too. Most of the events in the book made me realize like it’s my own story as if I am the part of it. The smallest things of the family, the struggles etc. seemed surreal.
We once went nearly a year without replacing our pressure cooker because of an unfounded remour about what was to be given in the conference.
Can you relate to it? 😛 That’s funny for sure but I know many families like these. They try to save as much as possible and they have Jugaad (workaround) for everything 😀
She told us how long a cylinder lasted in each neighbour’s house and how it could be stretched. ‘If it’s used only for urgent cooking, it lasts two months’, she said. ‘Even when it’s run out, it seems you can turn the cylinder upside down and get a little more.’
Now, this last part of turning the cylinder upside down is totally hilarious and I have seen this in my family too 😀 We Indians certainly know how to use the things beyond their capacity!
There are many such events in the story which will remind you (if you are an Indian) of the basic things and happenings in a middle-class family. For others, it would certainly provide an insight into the basic lives of middle-class Indians.
The first thing that attracts you towards this novel of just 119 pages is its name. “Ghachar Ghochar” is a nonsensical word which Anita used. He first heard the word when the narrator was trying to untie her petticoat string during their honeymoon, but instead, the string was more tangled. She then explained the meaning as “tangled beyond repair”.
Later he explained that his life has become Ghachar Ghochar i.e. tangled too. Once the life which was peaceful suddenly became stressful and messed up because of all the money.
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.
Money certainly has the power to change the equations and perspective. Before the money, the narrator and his family used to sit together for lunch, dinners etc. But now they were all so distant despite living together.
These names had more or less fallen out of use once we moved to the new house. We no longer spent enough time in one another’s company to invoke them. Even when we did meet, at mealtimes and so on, we tended to be distracted.
Apart from the distinct title, the I love the cover of the book. It symbolizes something. The symbolization of it is related to the changes the money has made up in their lives. There is a reference to ants made in the story. Their home gets infected by ants and they used to kill them whenever they see any. Later the narrator seems to resonate with it – Like their home infected by ants, their lives were also infected by the money.
Strong Indian women portrayal
This novel has excellent character portrayals. Among these characters, there are three important women who certainly made their presence felt. The narrator’s mother was the person who ruled on the whole kitchen before his marriage and considered herself as the queen. later when Anita came to the house it started the confliction between his mother and wife.
I really liked how the portrayal of his mother was done. It reminded me of a typical Indian woman (obviously a one before 10 years back probably) who considers herself as the queen of her home and doesn’t like anyone who tries to make the way to her kingdom. Naturally, when Anita came, she felt anguish as now her son spent more time with his wife as compared to her. This is not an unseen thing in Indian culture and Shanbhag has portrayed it beautifully.
Anita as a character has stood out. I really liked how she was strong enough to dare ask her husband about his job and scold him for the same. She was a woman who was not afraid to ask anything and always showed that “respect has greater value for her than money”.
This is a true portrayal of Indian middle-class family which not only Indians but everyone should read. this will make you think and will tangle your thoughts. The writing and humor are superb and will keep you hooked on the story. I would definitely recommend this to everyone.
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag is a true portrayal of Indian middle-class family which not only Indians but everyone should read. This will make you think and will tangle your thoughts. Superb writing and humor will keep you hooked on the story. Definitely recommended!
This was a totally unexpected gem of literature. The only problem that I had was the ending. It left me with a cliffhanger. Also, I wished it to be little longer so that I could enjoy it for little longer.
This novel is originally written in Kannada (the language of Karnataka state in India). I just kept thinking that if the English version is so beautiful how would be the real book.
Have you read this book? or any other book by Vivek Shanbhag?Have you ever came across a novel that is set in another/your country that you can totally relate to?
Do you read translated books in general?