Monday, April 24, 2017

Ghachar Ghochar - Vivek Shanbhag (translated by Srinath Perur)

The title 'Ghachar Ghochar' is a fictional word made up by the protagonist's wife Anita and her family - father, mother and brother - coined when she was a child. The fifth person in the world to know of this secret word is the protagonist to whom she reveals it in an intimate moment on her honeymoon. (I am reminded of a hilarious account of Ghachar Ghochar by Dave Barry in one of his  books). "Ghachar Ghochar" is a twisted, sordid mess as in how we make a ghachar ghochar of things big and small. And Vivek Shanbhag masterfully twists a simple family's tale of survival into a sinister Ghachar Ghochar is certainly worth a read.
Harper Perennial, 115 p, Rs. 399

The protagonist is a regular at the Coffee House in middle class, conservative Bangalore and spends long hours there fleeing from  a world that he cannot handle. His quiet and now irrelevant father (since his forced retirement from his job as a coffee salesman years ago), his mother (who holds the strings at home and does all the work) and his married and separated sister (who bosses everyone at home and does not bother about anybody or anyone else and how they feel) are one part and the other part is the protagonist's uncle, the king pin, the one who has worked hard at his business and made money and pulled the family out of possible financial ruin. To this unmarried man, the family owes everything, and everything in the house works towards keeping him happy. The author describes beautifully how everything centres around the uncle when he is home. The protagonist, who has never had an inclination to work, and who is paid enough money to go to the office and while away his time, marries one fine day, and then, all hell breaks loose in this family arrangement. His new, principled and educated wife Anita (NGO type) does not hesitate to talk about the cracks that are evident in the family - of the uncle's need for romance and love and even marriage and how the family was standing in the way of his happiness, of the sister and her uncompromising ways and mostly of the protagonist's acceptance of taking money from his uncle without any compunction.

This is a family that saw poverty and lived in a small-ant infested house that ran on the honest and meagre earnings of the principled father. It is the same family that saw a lot of money earned by the unscrupulous uncle who did not think twice of finding twisted ways to run his business including employing goons for recovery (they help recover the sister's gold as well). In a house dominated by an uncle who would not think twice about doing something illegal to get rid of anything that disturbed the peace and the two women who are now used to the comforts of wealth, the sensitive protagonist, driven to the Coffee House to escape the pressure caused by the closing gap between his family and his principled wife, finds one fine day that the wife he loved so much had crossed a line. He also realises that the family was capable of doing anything to prevent her from breaking the status quo. The wise waiter at the Coffee House tells the protagonist that there is blood on his hands and he must wipe it - and it is as chilling a line to end a story as any. As big a Ghachar Ghochar as any.

Vivek Shanbhag's story is beautifully told and has a facet to it that is quietly dangerous - the angle that deals with desires and secrets, as simple as maintaining the status quo, and how far people can go to deal with anything that threatened their identity. It is an incestuous bunch, the family, holding itself together, and only the inmates know what they are and how it came about and what was important for their survival. Any outsider would not understand, and any imposition of normal principles in that complex Ghochar Ghochar house could have serious consequences. It is a sleeping energy, of rules and of the need for survival, that keeps the house going. Those who actively participate do so, and those who do not, like the protagonist and his father, are welcome to find their solace in the fringe, like the Coffee House or any other place. Fantastic insights into human nature, into the way money can transform and seep deep into people, and control them. I loved the story by Vivek Shanbhag and much thanks to Srinath Perur for translating it so well into a language I can understand and thus, enjoy this story. Thanks Raja for lending it to me. Where's the Coffee House?

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