FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Review: Vivek Shanbhag’s “Ghachar Ghochar”

Well, yes, when I typed the author’s name and the title of his novel, Microsoft Word underlined all four words, informing me that I needed to check their spelling. Never before have all the words in a title as well as the writer’s name pulled up red flags, so you may be wondering how you describe a novel with a unpronounceable title and a writer whose name is also perplexing. Vivek Shanbhag is an Indian novelist who has published eight novels in his native Kannada language. And ghachar ghochar is the made up expression of one of the novel’s characters who, when things run amuck, utters the nonsense words to indicate that things have become topsy-turvy, unexpected. It’s both an apt expression for the title of Shanbhag’s novel (with its surprising twists and turns) and for the characters to utter as these events unfold. The story is also a delight because of those surprises. Suketu Mehta, another Indian writer, has called the author an “Indian Chekhov.” I should also add, here, that it’s impressive that Penguin has taken a risk on a book by a writer unknown in the West, especially one translated—superbly—from minor Indian language.

As in Chekhov’s plays, it’s the dialogue that propels the story (which is slight) as well as the conflict (mostly from characters disagreeing with one another). You also have the story a closely-knit family, whose lives are discombobulated by the arrival of an outsider. The narrator even confesses near the beginning, “I come here for respite from domestic skirmishes.” The place he’s sought for refuge is Coffee House, and as he begins a conversation with the waiter, he asks him, “What should I do, Vincent?” Vincent’s reply is “Let it go, sir,” but I assure you that that is not going to happen. Like most of us, he can’t do that—it pretty much goes against human nature that lets us ghacharstew in our disagreements, rarely letting them go that easily.

The story, such as it is? When the patriarch in an Indian family, Appa, loses his position as a spice salesman, he decides to take the significant amount of money he’s been given as his severance and start a business of his own. His salary has permitted the family (one son, one daughter and their uncle) to live modestly, as long as they pinch pennies. Fortunately, the uncle, Chikkappa, who has always been a hard worker is quite an accomplished businessman, willing to lead the new family company, aka, Sona Masala, which also sells spices. The setting is Bangalore; Sona Masala has quickly become a great success; the ownership is split (50/50) between Appa and Chikkappa. Best of all for the narrator—although he’s given a title as a director of the company and appropriate business cards—isn’t expected to do anything. So he sleeps late and goes to Coffee House, rarely putting in an appearance at Sona Masala.

Everything goes ghachar ghochar when the narrator decides to get married. Anita, his wife, becomes the outside force, immediately destabilizing the family with her arrival. It’s no surprise that her entry into the family is the result of their economic comeuppance. The incident might seem innocent enough. All she’s done is insist that when they return from the honeymoon, that they bring a gift for each member of her husband’s family.

“The practice of giving gifts to people who live in the same house was new to us. In the pre-Sona Masala days, before we moved to the new house, all purchases were discussed among the whole family. Whether it was for clothes for Malati, a sari for Amma, trousers for me, or new spectacles for Appa, everyone knew what was being bought. Nothing new entered the house as a surprise. We even planned and plotted what new clothes were to be bought for Deepavali. We’d list our requirements to buy what was possible with the money available. The rest could wait until the next opportunity arose to shop. How were any of us to know the sense of anticipation with opening a gift-wrapped package? Even if we could have afforded it, there’s something absurd about exchanging gifts when it’s all paid for from a single pocket.”

Ghachar Ghochar is a gentle story about lives being uprooted because of sudden changes, one of them being the success of Sona Masala, which brings in enough money that the family—previously accustomed to watching their rupees—can suddenly afford to spend frivolously. Worse, it’s an outsider who makes changes about purchases (even though the money comes from her husband’s generous salary, which he does nothing to earn). Success breeds instability, but bring an outsider into the mix, and the change can be so unsettling that a once harmonious family can become factionalized, menacing, and violent.

You will read Ghachar Ghochar (which sounds like an angry dog barking) in part of an evening, about the length of time you’d need to watch one of Chekhov’s masterpieces. You’ll experience the same pleasure.

Vivek Shanbhag: Ghachar Ghochar
Trans. by Srinath Perur
Penguin, 118 pp., $16

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail