Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar, by Vivek Shanbhag

I am not sure how to word this review. It’s as simple as that. The power of imagination makes us infinite, said John Muir. But sometimes, it isn’t the infinite that manages to keep a reader captivated, but the finite. It’s the finite boundaries of a story woven to keep us there, in that small world, follow the characters, enter their lives with the narration and become part of it, that charms us. Such stories are rare. You only imagine the next step, and not the possibilities that wait for us when the novel draws to its close. This is one such novel.

You see the cover and it doesn’t give away anything. In fact, just looking at it for a while, it makes you wonder what the book holds. Here’s a blurb talking about a family in transition, and the cover gives not an inkling of what lies in store. In retrospect, I wonder if any other cover art would have done it justice. The summer is well and truly upon us here in the city, and I experience the struggle that the family speaks of when it comes to ants. This is what happens when a story makes a mark and I look back at it and remember… I digress.

Someone once said the most precious things in life are not those you get for money. Family is one such precious thing. At its essence, this book talks about such a family of five… the narrator, his parents (Amma and Appa), sister (Malati) and his father’s younger brother (referred to as Chikappa). And yes, the narrator gets married, so a sixth member Anita joins. The narrator comes across as a person who is very observant, a thinker who has his life set and decided for him. This observational aspect to his character is easily seen from the way he describes Coffee House, its patrons and of course, the wise Vincent. And yes, there are some pieces of wisdom thrown into the narration too. The family owns a spice business together. The success of the business elevates the status of the family financially, and opens a Pandora’s Box, which we are taken through in detail with the story.

Success often gets to the head. That is seen even in this case. Through flashback, we are taken to what the family used to be, and what they are now. Reading about the changes doesn’t make me weep for them, but just the way the narrator observes them or tells them, it makes me feel like Vincent, or someone at Coffee House to whom the story is being told and makes me want to reach across to him and pat him on the back and say it’ll be okay. The story is about the tangles life around seems to be in, though named after something coined by the narrator’s wife’s family. I do not wish to spill spoilers by going into that.

Character sketches, they are quite nicely done. Each character has balance, good aspects and bad. Chikappa is the one who makes the money and is supportive of the rest, but his character also has a shady aspect to it. Amma, the narrator’s mother is very loving and jovial when it comes to her family, but has a sharp tongue when it comes to shouting at others. The narrator has also imbibed that loving, caring attitude, but he seems to be confused in life. The character of Chikappa reminded me of Uncle Stan in The Clifton Chronicles.

The novel is, in essence, all about observing what is around, what was, what is, even what might be. It’s about one family, but it can be about any other. As Vincent puts it, ‘Holes in dosas in everyone’s house, sir.’ And it is Vincent, with such pieces of wisdom, that I admire a lot. His character feels like he has seen it all, been there done that and can understand the patrons’ mind without them expressing it. It is about how success can change people. And how even behind success, there are a lot of secrets. It is about those lines that are there in a family without actually saying so, and which seem difficult to cross. And with all this, there are a lot of memorable lines in the book as well.

I wished there was more. I wanted to know what happened to Tuvvi, to Anita and some other characters. A few open threads are left for me to connect, and I find myself in that tangle trying to connect them. But even with that, I loved the way the author (or translator) has ended the book. And though I have not read the original, I somehow feel nothing has been lost in translation.

Some books, more than others, make me feel low when the book has ended. For out of that finite world crafted by it, I have to return to the tangles that life brings to me. And from this book, from the words of the narrator, and Anita, the words follow me today… Ghachar Ghochar.


A score of 10 out of 10
A score of 10 out of 10
Book Details
Title: Ghachar Ghochar
Author: Vivek Shanbhag
Translator: Srinath Perur
Genre: General Fiction
ISBN/ASIN: B0194MN71I Publisher: Harper Collins

I own a copy of the book. The views expressed here are my own, frank and uninfluenced.


(© 30th March 2016)

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar, by Vivek Shanbhag

  1. I have heard about this book and it is supposed to be very good. Good to see there is a translation too. Such times, it is the skill of the translator to retain the essence of the book. Lovely review.

    1. I hadn’t heard about the original, but the translation was recommended by many friends. 🙂 I got it for 49 (Kindle Copy) on Amazon. 😀 I loved it..

  2. Thanks for recommending this to me, Vinay. Loved reading it and with each page I was eager to know more. I agree, more could have been written. But still, the ending was quite apt. I think the cover captures the essence of ghachar ghochar which incidentally is a brilliant phrase.

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