Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

This book is the second of the 10 Books I Hope to Read in 2018. There’s a long way to go but I’ll get there soon. 😀  

Ghachar Ghochar was originally written in Kannada by Vivek Shanbhag and translated into English by Srinath Perur. The reasons why I picked this book are pretty simple: the cover, the rave reviews it had wherever I laid eyes on it, and the fact that a translation was getting as much international acclaim as Ghachar Ghochar was.

As a Kannadiga, the title weirdly made some sense to me. If I would have been asked to guess what it is about just going by Ghachar Ghochar, I’d have said it meant confusion and a lot of a living entanglement that one couldn’t get out of. Sometimes, the human intellect surprises me, as did mine. Because my interpretation was more or less on the same lines as what the book was intending to say.

Ghachar Ghochar is about a family who goes from being frugal due to limited income to thoughtlessly spending once the business takes off. From a little house overrun by ants to a bungalow that somehow increased the communication gap and almost destroyed the interdependence, the family, consisting of the narrator, Amma, Appa, Malati, and Chikkappa goes from nothing to everything including ego. The narrator retreats to a coffee house to escape from the underlying chaos that threatens to consume him. At the coffee house, he hopes to get some insights into his own life from a waiter who looks and sounds like he has seen everything in life.

First off, I need to mention that this story is so Indian and relatable to me in particular that I felt a pang in my chest every time something Kannada came up. The words Chikkappa and akki-rotti in particular made me painfully nostalgic. How one’s native tongue can evoke so many emotions within you, at the most unexpected of times!

Ghachar Ghochar is a scathing narrative of all of us Indian families and the thoughts that go through our minds every day but those we don’t speak out loud. We might be angry at people in our family or resent them, fighting the urge to yell at them every single day. But we don’t. And in this story, everything comes tumbling out. This book tells us how even the most perfect of families have their own dark secrets. Nothing is as it seems on the surface.

The story has its moments of angst, humor, and philosophy. But philosophy prevails with a heavy hand. Ghachar Ghochar jumps into philosophy without preamble, right from page 1. But as you go through, there is so much to learn about people and perspectives. There are no explanations for the raw emotions and dialogue that run through the pages, as well there shouldn’t be. After all, raw is what touches the heart when talking about a book.

I loved Ghachar Ghochar, that is until I came to the last couple of pages. Yes, I understand the implications of such an ending – what could have happened and all. But the first thing that came to mind when I finished the book was “Where is the rest of the book?” and “Did I just finish reading an incomplete book?” however much of an oxymoron it might seem. I do appreciate the thought of leaving the end open and giving the reader the freedom to guess what they will. But it seemed rather cruel to leave the reader hanging like that. I almost yelled. Almost.

On the whole, Ghachar Ghochar is a raw, honest story of how money can change your world for the worse. Interdependence, love, and community within a family are all taken for granted once this money sharpens its claws and begins its systematic attack. It’s only how you deal with it that shows your true nature.

Here’s a Ghachar Ghochar quote that stuck with me:

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.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Picture Courtesy: Amazon India.

Click on the image below (my Amazon Affiliate link) to buy Ghachar Ghochar:

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