Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar – A Striking Story of a Family with Money

“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.”

Book Title: Ghachar Ghochar

Author: Vivek Shanbhag

Original Language: Kannada

Translator: Srinath Perur

Publisher: Harper Perennial

When I found out about this book for the first time, I was quite intrigued by the title. I wondered what it could mean. As the book has been written originally in Kannada–a language I do not know, I wrongly assumed that it is an expression in the same language. The meaning of the word has not been initially revealed in the book. It appears in the story as a trivial matter, but towards the end, it acquires a larger meaning.

The narrator is a young man who reminisces about his own childhood, when he lived in a small, dark, ant-infested house with his parents, uncle (his father’s brother) and his sister. All the members of the family survived on his father’s meagre income as a salesperson. Even the smallest bit of money was spent with extra caution. Yet, there was happiness and unity in the family.

The loss of his father’s job came as a big shock for the family. In this moment of disaster, his uncle stepped in to rescue the family. He started a business in spices, and made his elder brother an owner of fifty percent of the business.

Things began to change fast as the business became more and more profitable. They moved to a new and considerably larger house in another part of Bangalore. Spending money was no longer a problem. Their financial situation improved drastically. Yet they had to face undesirable situations. Troubled by these changes, the narrator seeks solace in a cafe where the waiter named Vincent seems to understand his problems even without asking. He offers the narrator bits of his wisdom without going into details.

The book is short and engaging. In 117 pages, the author takes you through the journey of a family from rags to riches, and the price they pay for it. You can feel the tension building up. As a family, the action of each member is affecting the others and there is an uncomfortable silence hanging over them. Nobody questions anything, nobody bothers to communicate. You will find important questions subtly weaved amidst the intricacies of relationships. Do the family members stay together for each other’s sake or for their own interest? Is the closely-knit nature of the family the reason behind their troubles?

Anita, the narrator’s wife, enters the story as a stark contrast to the other characters, and the narrator is unable to balance between the opposing nature of values of his wife and the other members of the family.

The image of a common family drama might have crossed your mind for a second while reading this, but let me assure you, it is not just that. By the time you reach the end, the book will leave you deeply moved. 

The term ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ does not exist in any language at all. It has been coined playfully by one of the characters. It means ‘tangled’, in a way that cannot be undone. ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ is a tightly plotted psychological story in which the fates of the people reach a point from where, perhaps nothing can be undone.

Vivek Shanbhag has added another gem in the treasure-chest of Indian literature, and Srinath Perur has opened the door to this masterpiece for the entire country and the world by wonderfully translating it into English. After reading this book, I have decided to explore more of regional literature in India and enrich my reading experience.

Vivek Shanbhag and Srinath Perur

Published by Ria Banerjee

In love with books, literature and writing.

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