Saturday, December 2, 2017

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

This is a short little book that was interesting and easy to read.  Originally written in 2013 in the Southern Indian language Kannada, it was only translated into English this year.  While this author has written eight works of fiction, this is the first that was translated.

Ghachar Ghochar is a nonsense word invented by the narrator's wife's family to mean something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can't be untied.  And it is an apt descriptor of the narrator's family (as an aside, we never learn his name as he describes the other members of his family in detail).

The narrator, his mother, father, sister and uncle lived in a lower class neighbourhood in Bangalore.  His father sold coffee and tea, working long days and barely making ends meet.  Despite this he managed to put his brother and both children through school.  When he loses his job because his company decides to reorganize he invests his retirement payment in his brother's business venture, a spice wholesaler.  The business takes off and the family moves from their tight quarters (the narrator's description of them is very vivid; I could really see the home, ants and all as he describes his mother's war against them).  In their new home there is a bedroom for everyone and more furniture than necessary.

Upon graduating from school the narrator is given a job with the family business - he gets a hefty salary every month, but there is nothing for him to do so he spends his time drinking coffee and reading newspapers.  When he eventually marries his wife is disappointed to learn his money is not really his own.

The narrator's father is also disillusioned with his brother's less than honest business dealings (there is a great scene when his company goons attend at the home of the sister's estranged husband to recover her jewelry).  The family walks on eggshells with the father, fearful he will write a will giving away his half of the family business to charity.

All in all this is a well written, at times humorous, always believable portrait of a family and, in particular, the impact sudden wealth can have on the family members.

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