Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbagh takes you inside every middle-class home in India. The way little money has changed us irreversibly has been portrayed like a mirror that shows us our own reality.
A small novella begins with a narration of an unnamed married man sitting in a café in Bangalore. He reflects on the life of his family, remembering his childhood days when all of them were dependent on his salesman father’s salary. The whole family knew what the father did, almost like an extended team of his. Subconsciously, they knew their existence depends on his job and they all play their role to keep it going. A very interesting anecdote of discovering a calculation mistake shows the level of involvement.
The narrator of the Ghachar Ghochar introduces each member of the family in order of their importance. He puts himself at the lowest end of the hierarchy. There are nicknames they have for each other – and you would immediately think of the nicknames you have in your family.
It is the story of middle-class India that moved from having just enough to meet the needs, to having enough to flaunt it. The new houses, new cars and new money to spend changes the scenario. The family is still dependent on the sole earning member so he must be kept happy but there is no further involvement in his work. The one who does not agree with the new scenario can sit aloof.
Wife of the narrator is the new entry in the family that is living in an unspoken code of conduct. The new wife comes from a different background. She expects her husband to work, she expects people to be treated with respect and she is yet to understand the code of the family.
I do not like books that leave the ending to your imagination. This book does that when you wonder what happened to the one who did not fit into the family code. Was she killed or was she going to be killed or has she escaped?
The easy language of the book is its highlight. The ease with which you can absorb the story comes from this superb use of language. It is one of those books that you wish you could read in the original language.
The author and the translator have used metaphors to tell the story like the metaphor of ants in the house that refuses to go. Or there is a waiter in the coffee house where the story begins and ends, who can read your thoughts. He is like your alter ego who is there but invisible, all-knowing but non-interfering.
The narration of the story is in bouts of flashbacks. The narrator brings out episodes from his family and stitches together a tapestry of relationships in the family. He talks about his unmarried uncle who runs the business that turned their fortunes. His father who moves from being the breadwinner to the mute spectator of the rest of the family. The mother and sister gang up to keep the family as it is. Where is the narrator in the whole scenario – well he has a position in the company and is expected to do no work? He gets paid and remains anonymous with no name.
As much remains unsaid as is said. You as the reader can fill in the blanks and make your interpretations. Maybe you can add your own episodes and adapt the story to your life.
The title of the story is absolutely apt for the entanglements of life, entanglements that we refuse to come out of and if someone tries to disentangle and change the ways of our lives, we can disentangle them from our lives.
Buy Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbagh at Amazon India
The Ghachar Ghochar is one of the best contemporary fictions I have read from India lately.
Go Read Gachar Gonchar.
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