Ghachar Ghochar (2015) by Vivek Shanbhag is the second book of Kannada fiction that I’ve read in translation (the first was the much older Indira Bai (1899) by Gulvadi Venkata Rao, a social novel with much to recommend, but one I didn’t end up reviewing when I read it) and I found this one to be an excellent read, one that challenges the reader in many ways, and gets them thinking but at a time and in a way that one least expects it. It is a book that leaves more unsaid than said, and it is in the said and the unsaid that we must understand or attempt to the story and its characters.

Our story is narrated by an unnamed young man about his family and opens in Coffee House, a bar and restaurant that has replaced but not changed the name of what was once a coffee house, to which our narrator escapes when he is unable to deal with things. As the story unfolds, we learn about his family’s journey from a time when they lived in a cramped, ant-infested four-room home, with little money coming from the salary of the narrator’s Appa, who works as a salesman for a tea company going out from shop to shop to sell tea every day and spending evenings meticulously doing his accounts. On his limited earnings the author, his older sister Malati and Chikkappa (Appa’s younger brother) are educated, the family eats and meets their needs. While they have food to eat, a home to live in and education, money is tight and every expense must be carefully considered. Then Appa suddenly loses his job when his company decides to outsource. Chikkappa puts forward a plan to start a business in which Appa invests. The business is a success and the family find themselves suddenly moving to a huge house in an upmarket area and money no longer an object.

But this new found prosperity begins to change the family themselves. In some ways, it seems to knit them together, and in others pull them apart. We see the changing dynamics between them, and also how they navigate different situations. And as the narrator says at one point, ‘it’s not we who control money; it’s the money that controls us’, and money unsurprisingly doesn’t bring out the best in them.

Ghachar Ghochar is a short little book—112 pages in the edition I have and that too with rather large font making it a pretty quick read. The translation itself by Srinath Perur is excellently done, and doesn’t feel like one at any point. The writing is straightforward, to the point, yet with descriptions that enable one to visualise all that is talked of.

The book as it seems from its description and when reading it is the changing family dynamics with coming of wealth. And it is that certainly, some of the family become worse versions of themselves, others seem to retreat or be unsure how to deal with what’s happening but with anything that happens, it is the money that is firmly at the centre. But the book is also a lot more.

As one reads, there are incidents and points that cause one to wonder, raise one’s eyebrows even, but it is only when we reach the end—that very ambiguous end which I didn’t see coming at all—that we find ourselves thinking back over all those little moments, over and over to work out what clues they might have given us to things that happened, those that are to come, and to the people themselves.

I certainly enjoyed this one, which through its story and characters brings up themes of poverty and prosperity, right and wrong, family and relationships among others. It was both simple and complex leaving one wondering about many things at the end.

4.25 stars!  


10 thoughts on “Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

    1. Hope you enjoy it. It’s a quick read but really gets one thinking. I haven’t read Samskara. Let me look it up; my two forays into Kannada literature have certainly left me wanting to explore more


  1. Sounds very interesting! I quite enjoy an ambiguous ending if it’s done well – it leaves room for thought. Forgive my ignorance, but is Kannada from a specific region?


    1. The ending was nicely done. One doesn’t see it coming and when it does, it has you thinking back over every little thing that’s happened.

      Kannada is primarily used in Karnataka which is one of the four southern states in India, but also used by smaller groups in a few other parts of the country. It has a quite rich literary culture too dating back to the 9th century.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It must lead to a rich variety of styles having different languages in the literature of the country. English dominates so totally here even though there are a couple of regional languages still hanging on in the peripheries.

        Liked by 1 person

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