‘Ghachar Ghochar’ by Vivek Shanbhag – Tangled Up in the Family


‘Ghachar Ghochar’ by Vivek Shanbhag    (2013) – 117 pages        Translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur

‘Ghachar Ghochar’ is a phrase of nonsense words that Vivek Shanbhag made up to describe a situation, especially inside a family, which is all tangled up.  Most of us have been there.  This is a warm amusing story about the subtleties of family dynamics and how easily they are upset.

Vivek Shanbhag is a writer from Bangalore in southern India, and ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ is his first novel to be translated into English.  He writes in Kannada which is one of the official languages in India.  Over fifty million people speak Kannada, and I have never heard of it before.

It’s an old story told in a new and pleasurable way.  A boy lives in a very poor but mostly happy close-knit family.  Five family members stay in a small four-room apartment which occasionally gets infested with ants.  Then the uncle starts up a spice company, and the family becomes rich.  That is when the problems really begin.  The family moves to a big house where each person has their own room. The boy’s older sister gets married in a love marriage, decides she doesn’t like the guy, and moves back home.  When the boy finishes school, his uncle makes him Director of the spice company.  The boy now grown up has no understanding of the spice business whatsoever or what he is supposed to do, so he hides out in his office all day doing nothing.

Then this grown-up boy gets married in an arranged marriage to a young woman named Anita who moves into his family house, and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Arranged marriages account for the overwhelming majority of marriages in India.  Strangely the commitment of a couple to each other in an arranged marriage can be even greater than that felt by a couple in a love marriage.

“Perhaps it is this instant that forms the basis of traditional marriage – a complete stranger is suddenly mine.  And then, I am hers, too; I must offer her my all.  I want her to wield her power over me as an acknowledgement of love.”

However there are the usual complications when the daughter-in-law moves in with the family.  A gal marrying into a family may not be aware of a family’s unique unwritten rules or may use them to further her own interests. Our daughter-in-law Anita here soon gets into hot water through I would say no fault of her own.

“The well-being of any household rests on selective acts of blindness and deafness.  Anita had outdone herself when it came to suicidal forthrightness.  It looked like she wanted to destroy all of us along with herself.”

Vivek Shanbhag gets these scenes of family interaction just right without hitting us over the head with his insights.  I learned to trust our author early on in ‘Ghachar Ghochar’.  Our grown-up boy who does nothing as Director of the spice company goes to his favorite restaurant, Coffee House, in order to pass the time each day.  Vincent is the regular waiter who serves him.

“By now I suspect he knows the regulars at Coffee House better than they know themselves.”  

If you frequent a particular restaurant or bar, you have probably felt the same way about the guy or gal who serves you.  I know I have.


Grade:    A



10 responses to this post.

  1. I like the sound of this. I have had a book written in Kannada on my wishlist for a while: it’s called Parva and it’s by S.L. Bhyrappa, recommended to me by Vishy in his Indian Reading List at https://vishytheknight.wordpress.com/category/book-recommendations/. I have discovered some wonderful books through this list, and they’re good companions to the Anglo-Indian books that come out of the UK.



    • Hi Lisa,
      I viewed Vishy’s list and of those Indian works in English, I have read 5 of the 10. The non-English rest I would not be able to read. One of the authors he mentions is Vikram Seth. I have not read ‘A Suitable Boy’ which is over 1500 pages, but I have read two other books by Vikram Seth. Seth wrote this wonderful novel in verse called ‘The Golden Gate’ which is one of my all-time favorites. Another Indian writer I really like is Anita Desai, but I suppose she might be considered a Londoner by now.
      ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ is an amusing little book that is different than anything I’ve experienced before. I am positive you would like it.



  2. Im adding this to my wishlist – there are so many authors of Indian origin I have yet to explore



    • Hi BookerTalk,
      I also rated the Booker-winning novel, ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ by Kiran Desai, highly, but I am not at all sure she can be considered from India anymore. With her mother Anita Desai whose novels I have frequently read, I don’t know of any more literary family.



      • this gets us into the thorny question of how to determine an author’s nationality. I havent found an easy answer to this for my world literature reading project where I count a book only if it is written by an author from that country. but so many writers from India and Africa though born in the continent, have spent much of their life elsewhere…



        • Yes. A few years ago I read a very good novel called ‘The Sly Company of People Who Care’ by Rahul Bhattacharya. The author was originally from india, but he now lives in Guyana in South America. The novel takes place in Guyana. This is similar to V. S. Naipaul. It does get confusing.

          Liked by 1 person


  3. I saw that this is only 130 pages. That’s a lot to pack in to that space. Interesting. Initially I wasn’t tempted but on reflection it sounds well worth checking out. Thanks.



    • HI Max,
      I probably should have mentioned that this is a series of relevant vignettes rather than a full novel-novel. I give extra points for originality and uniqueness, and ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ scores highly in those categories. But most of all the author’s voice is one I enjoy listening to.



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