Book Review : Ghachar Ghochar – Vivek Shanbhag

The book for which Srinath Perur won the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi’s Translation Award 2015.

The book is written in Kannada. The Indian language with the most Jnanpith awards. I guess, it is safe to say that no matter how beautiful the translation, the original work must have been much sweeter.

Characters

The book has true to life characters. The narrator is someone who has felt the numbing impact of having too much money. His role in the household is reduced to a nobody because his ambition is killed. It is all balanced by his Chikappa (father’s younger brother) who runs and maintains the family business with his sweat and blood. The family compensates for the yet unmarried Chikappa’s sacrifices by letting him live on his own terms.

The narrator’s wife Anita is a rebel and his sister Malati is also a rebel of a different sort. Then there is the mother who runs the kitchen and is the main facilitator. The father is an out of service salesman who has been blunted by his younger brother’s success.

This motley crew comes together to give us a story of a family’s very real struggles. These are people from around us. It is easy to find them living next door. This story, though, is essentially a Bangalorean story. It is a story that has the very spirit of the town stuck between tradition and modernism. It is the story of dreams and their flight.

Plot

The Coffee House is where the story begins. Its waiter – the all-knowing Vincent is a lovely character. The story talks about the journey of a family from the struggles of a salaried middle class to a well-to-do business family. In all the wealth, the family loses something.

The author is careful to point out that it wasn’t all money. This is a nuanced story of characters. It isn’t a preachy story against capitalism. Chikappa comes across as a hero when he bravely takes up the spice business. His enterprise is admired. The blunted and stunted souls of other men in the family is something very human. It is understandable when things start going downhill.

Anita’s rage against her husband’s impotence (figurative) and Malati’s insensitivity are all because of their upbringing. The writer has nicely drawn the character outlines to leave no illusions in the reader’s mind. Then there is the mother. She can be considered the most pivotal character of the book without having much dialogue. She guards the house’s interests for reasons that may or may not have been purely selfish.

Language

The translation won the Sahiya Akadmi Award. It is needless to say that the language is this book’s strong suit. The first chapter is magical. The scene at the Coffee House, the inner ruminations are all very well sketched.

Design

The cover has the picture of ants assembling around spilled coffee. It is a poignant picture and sets the scene for the rest of the book. A beautiful job.

Overall

Ghachar Ghochar is an opaque title. Its true meaning is revealed in the book. Loosely translated, it means a tangled mesh although you have to see its usage in the book to fully understand it.

The ghachar ghochar in the book points toward the tangled meshes we have in lower incomes houses – the ants, the poverty, the restrictions. Somehow the tangled lives keep together. Money irons out everything but do we really need everything ironed out?

5 stars out of 5

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