Cbr12bingo Uncannon — but this could also fit for “money” or perhaps “debut” if “English language debut” counts for that category
From a review in The Guardian: “Ghachar Ghochar is the English-language debut of a writer already established as a leading figure in both the pan-Indian and Kannada-language literary scenes. Once again, reading beyond our tiny borders shows us what we’ve been missing, and proves the necessity of translation for a dynamic literary culture…”
I first heard about this 2017 novel a few months ago via the NYT feature called “By the Book”. I look forward to reading it every Friday and learning about the book stacks and recommendations of other writers, actors, artists, politicians, etc. In April, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz had mentioned this book in answer to the question, “What is your favorite book that no one else has heard of?” His description sounded interesting, and given that it’s quite short (just over 100 pages), I decided to give it a go. Once again, I am astounded by writers who can say so much in so few words! You could easily finish this in an afternoon, and once you pick it up, it’s hard to put down.
Ghachar Ghochar is a story about family, money, and patriarchy in modern Bangalore. “Ghachar Ghochar” is a nonsense phrase that author Shanbhag made up for one of his characters, who explains that it means a situation where things are mixed up and entangled, perhaps beyond repair. There are numerous “Ghachar Ghochar” situations in this novel. Our narrator is an adult man, probably in his 20s or early 30s, who is troubled and in need of advice or a friendly ear. He is sitting in his favorite cafe, named simply Coffee House, which has been around for 100 years and is a mix of both old Bangalore and new. The head waiter, Vincent, is almost like an oracle; he not only knows what his patrons’ menu preferences are but also seems able to intuit their internal struggles and deliver bits of wisdom unbidden. The unnamed narrator slowly reveals to the reader the roots of his dilemma and, in a stunning twist at the end, the dilemma itself.
At the center of the narrator’s complicated situation is money, which is entangled with his family — his older sister Malati, parents Amma and Appa, his uncle, and the narrator’s wife Anita. We learn that the family struggled financially when the narrator was a child and that these struggles created a unique bond among the family members. A combination of the uncle’s entrepreneurial inspiration and Appa’s money led to a dramatic change for the better for the family but no change in their internal dynamics. Uncle is recognized as the head of the family without anyone having to say so; Amma and Malati delight in their comfortable circumstances and go out of their way to keep him happy; and they along with the narrator do their best to keep Appa happy. Appa and Anita represent troubling undercurrents in the family. The narrator, Malati and Amma fear that, in absence of a will, Appa might give away their wealth to charity. Anita, Amma and Malati meanwhile fight amongst themselves and seem to look for ways to bait each other.
The men in this story are recognized as authority but they come across as uninvolved and ineffectual. Uncle leaves for work every day and acts as a “fixer” should any problem be brought to his attention, but he relies on the women of his family to fix one of his problems. Appa no longer works and it isn’t clear what he does all day. The narrator is officially the director of the family firm, but everyone knows he is unnecessary as long as uncle is around, and so he spends the day at home or the cafe, drawing a paycheck for doing nothing. His relationships with the women in his life are pretty “ghachar ghochar,” too. On one hand, he feels a deep and unbreakable bond with Malati and Amma and shares their concern about losing the family wealth. On the other hand, he understands his wife’s criticisms and the anger that other women he has encountered (at Coffee House) feel about the evils of patriarchal society.
The ending of this novel is just excellent. I am still in awe of the way Shanbhag brought this story to its stunning conclusion. This is a great read if you can get your hands on it.