Charity begins at home”, the proverb that clearly expresses the fact that the demand and needs of one’s family should be taken care of first before caring for others. But, what happens, if their wants exceed the amount they really need, and all those wants are met? They want more and more then and it becomes a habit of asking and this gives birth to irreversible greed, cruelty and toxicity.

“Ghachar Ghochar”, the Kannada psychological drama written by Vivek Shanbhag and meticulously translated by Srinath Perur, presents this theme.

Picture of the book Ghachar- Ghochar

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

About the author:

Vivek Shanbhag is an Indian fiction writer and playwright of South Indian language, Kannada. Publishing his first story at the age of 16, he has been writing for three decades. Being a trained engineer and after serving many years in a multinational company, he became a full-time writer. He is presently author of eight works of fiction and two plays. Ghachar Ghochar written in 2013, and translated into English in 2015 was the first book that won him critical acclaim.

This book is of interest for:

  • Psychology lovers.
  • Contemporary fiction readers
  • Anybody, who wants to read regional Indian literature.

Premise of the book:

Ghachar – Ghochar is the journey of metamorphosis of a family from rags to riches. The change in the behaviours, inner turmoil and the consequences that follow.
Set in Bangalore in an ordinary Tamil home with six characters so flawlessly described in the book that anybody could relate to them. Most part of the book is covered in describing the characters by the narrator. Therefore, by giving a character sketch first will help people to understand them better:

  • Characters:

1. Narrator:

He is unnamed throughout the book. Being the only son of the family and an apple of his mother’s eye. Ironically, just like his identity in the book, his presence is also of no importance in his family’s business and matters of concern. He prefers killing time in an old-world cafe, where he finds solace in the words of Vincent, one of the waiters working there.

2. Amma(Narrator’s mother):

Her life revolves around the house and family. And she can go to any lengths to protect her family. Kitchen is the place where she exerts her sole authority like a boss, just like a typical middle – class Indian family.

3.Appa(Narrator’s father):

A retired middle class man who served half of his life working as a Salesman, before becoming the half owner of ‘Sona’ Masala(family business that takes off quite well). Being a follower of simple living and honest earning, he is not much affected by the success of the family business. A quiet man who lives in his own world and likes to crack jokes sometimes that nobody finds funny.

4. Chikkappa(Narrator’s Uncle):

Venkatachala, Appa’s younger brother also known as Chikkappa, is the sole earning member who has a weakness for work. He is the main founder of Sona masala- family’s spice trade business, because of which he is regarded above everyone else at home. He doesn’t talk much and is obsessed with working night and day.

5. Malati(Narrator’s Sister):

She is narrator’s elder sister but she acts like a young kid who will cry if her demands are not met. The narrator describes her as a pile of gunpowder waiting to go off. The improved finances from the success of Sona Masala was enough to create a spark in her. She lives in the house after leaving her husband and there is nobody in the house who could confront her.

6. Anita(Narrator’s wife):

She is the daughter of a professor from Hyderabad. Just like her father, she believes in her ideals of simple living and righteous attitude. She couldn’t digest the fact that her husband does nothing and earns tonnes of money. For her self-respect comes first than anything else and she doesn’t fear in speaking for what is right or wrong, contradictory to her husband, who prefers staying quiet.

So, even if they are a mixture of characters of different types, the family still lives together under one roof, because:

It is one of the strengths of families to pretend that they desire what is inevitable.”

This shows how family ties are given more importance than anything else. Even if these ties get entangled into a mess- Ghachar-Ghochar– at the end. It also shows the idea of compromising and living in a dysfunctional family which is very common.

The book starts with the narrator as usual killing time in Vincent’s Coffee House. The narrator is a loner who prefers spending time in a coffee house rather than working. He prefers contemplating and observing things rather than getting involved in the domestic skirmishes between his wife Anita, Malati and Amma. In the coffee house he finds his ultimate solace in the words of Vincent, who knows exactly what he wants to order and words he wants to listen. He describes Vincent as somebody who knows the regulars at Coffee House better than they know themselves. To him Vincent is somebody with a God like aura as whatever he speaks makes complete sense.

” Words after all are nothing by themselves. They burst into meaning only in the minds they’ve entered.”

Vincent, reminded me of the time of reading Guide by R.K Narayan, in which the main protagonist speaks the right philosophical words, because of which village people give him the title of God-like Saint.

He watches a woman in the coffee house thrashing a man, who used to meet her everyday and this makes him remember about his former girlfriend Chitra, who works in a women’s welfare organization. A woman of pride and self-respect. She used to tell him about the cases of domestic violence registered in her organization, in which narrator had no interest and preferred staying mute. Even after he stopped meeting her, she never tried contacting him. This ignorance makes him at peace.

It’s been 30 hours since he had left his house, and now sitting in the Coffee House as he contemplates about his family members, the series of events unfold, while Vincent and Chitra vanishes from the frame. But, Vivek Shanbhag has done a brilliant work in creating a suspense right from the beginning of the book. Even though Vincent and Chitra are side-lined characters, you will understand their significance at the end of the book, that much precise and planned Shanbhag was in writing this book.

The narrator begins with talking about Chikkappa, the central figure of their family. He started the business, which grew overnight and as a result he’s regarded as a source of sustenance. As long as money is coming, his actions would never be questioned. Even if a woman was standing outside their house, few days back, asking for Chikkappa, nobody dared asking him about her. Instead Amma brushed her away from the house, throwing away the masoor dal she brought for Chikkappa. This clearly shows the patriarchal mindset of the people. And how only the words of women could deeply wound other women. How private affairs of the family are kept hidden behind the veil, even if their motive is corrupted and mystic. And why blood is always thicker than water.

While Anita was furious by this unjust behaviour of Amma, that how could she do this to any woman without knowing her circumstances, the rest of the family members are least concerned about the woman. This incident and how family members reacted to this, is the apt depiction of the metamorphosis of family members, from the days when the entire family had to stick together walking like a single body across the tightrope of circumstances.

Anita is not aware of the past, when Appa used to work as a salesman and the entire family resided in a four compartment type rooms, and had to live on his meagre earnings. The house that was infested with ants, and Amma didn’t care a bit in killing those ants for the sake of protecting the food. She treated ants as evil spirits and won’t miss a chance of attacking them. The entire family became accustomed to this habit of killing ants.

” We might have changed houses since, but habits are harder to change.”

The killing of ants is an example used in the book, to portray how a family could go to any extent in protecting their pride. The cover designed by Bhavi Mehta and published by Harper Perennial beautifully captured the classic theme of the book. The ants feeding on the tea stains and the mess that is created is beyond repair. In other words it shows what Ghachar Ghochar means.

The word Ghachar-Ghochar was first used by Anita, when her husband was unable to untangle the strings of her under-skirt during their honeymoon. The word that was used in a humorous way, ironically turns out to be the only word her husband could recall at the end, in a serious situation. Which you will know, after reading the book.

Meanwhile, by not agreeing to Amma and Malati, and seeing the silence of the male members of the family she is already very furious and irritated.

“It’s an unwritten rule that all members come to the family’s aid when it is threatened. Anita had broken that rule.”

These are the lines that narrator speaks while recalling that incident. And as the events unfold, we get to know how much damage is already being done and why things could never go back to normal.

The short novella was written with so much clarity and characters so intrinsically written that every time you will read it, you will find a new detail hidden between the lines. The publishers nowadays have an eye for different language books and it’s also a benefit for we, readers who get to taste such masterpieces coming from variety of Indian languages. The work done by Srinath Perur in translating this, is totally commendable as not a bit of it felt like lost in translation in any way.

Lessons Learned:

The Ghachar- Ghochar is the stark reality of the world we are living nowadays, where pride matters more than justice. By not giving the identity of the narrator, Shanbhag also symbolized this story as the story of anybody. As, who knows what goes behind those closed doors and the secrets people have hidden beneath themselves. The greatest lesson of the book, is also written on the blurb of the book:

“It’s true what they say-it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us.”