Book Review—Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

“The well being of a household depends on selective acts of blindness and deafness”
Vivek Shanbhag in Ghachar Ghochar

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This line captures the essence of the book I am talking about. One cannot blurt out every truth and reality in a house if the family is to stay together as the ‘smallest unit of a society’.

Ghachar Ghochar is a work that captures the Indian middle class in a manner that has never been done before. This line describes my family ( and many more) in a succinct manner. Originally written in Kannada by Vivek Shanbhag, the book has been translated to English by Srinath Perur.

I don’t remember who said this – ‘most of the times the book reviews the reader and not the other way around ‘. Though one can find a number of deficiencies in the plot or the ending of the book, Ghachar Ghochar unveils a number of subtle realities in an Indian middle class household. With every page we turn over, we expose a little bit of our own past and experiences and link it to the content of the book. When a book connects to us through experiences, we tend to remember and like it more than ones that do not. In addition to this, the narrative style and the characters that are presented to the reader ensure that one is hooked to the story till the very end.

The story is about a lower middle class family that suddenly acquires wealth and prosperity due to a successful business started by the narrator’s uncle. With wealth, everyone changes. They acquire ego and lose track of their expenses. Lavish spending replaces days of careful budgeting and austerity. This also comes with many changes in attitude towards each other and the outside world.

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.’

The characters in the story can be categorised as follows : a provider (who is also a bachelor), a retired mumbling old man, a protective first lady , a rogue non- conformist, an idealist critic and a mute spectator (who happens to be the narrator).

The narrator considers himself to be a mediocre person (nearly useless) who is living off the wealth created by his Uncle. He is a mute spectator to the injustice done to a woman by his uncle; to the scene of his rogue sister leaving her husband; to his idealistic wife’s taunts on every member of his family and his mother’s protective leash on his mumbling father and imperfect uncle.He finds solace in the coffee shop that he frequents every morning and pours out his problems to Vincent,the waiter.

The story also brings out the equation between the two genders in an Indian family. Indian women can be caring, protective, vindictive towards men . Anita, the narrators wife is happy and caring until she understands that her husband is living off the wealth of his uncle. His mother, unlike the wife is always protecting her son and uncle from criticism. She also ensures that her husband doesn’t get too idealistic and write off his wealth for charitable causes. Malati, his sister rebels against his husband and leaves him. She hires goons to enter their house and take back her jewellery. And yes, Indian men can be careless, responsible, idealistic , corrupted and  they also laugh at their own jokes. The uncle has a sordid unresolved affair with an unknown woman. The narrator’s dad is idealistic and mumbles at the excessive wealth acquired by the family in a short time. The narrator is a mediocre person with very little desire to work hard ( and does not have to). Their exchanges and attitudes make the story interesting and humorous.

Ghachar Ghochar is a beautiful narrative that shows how every member of an Indian family is free to love, care, falter, lie, outrage, rebel, criticise ; but still affiliates himself/herself to the institution of a ‘family.’

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