Excerpt from Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ghachar Ghochar

by Vivek Shanbhag

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag X
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
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    Feb 2017, 128 pages


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Poornima Apte
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Vincent is a waiter at Coffee House. It's called just that—Coffee House. The name hasn't changed in a hundred years, even if the business has. You can still get a good cup of coffee here, but it's now a bar and restaurant. Not one of those low-lit bars with people crammed around tables, where you come to suspect that drinking may not be such a wholesome activity after all. No, this place is airy, spacious, high-ceilinged. Drinking here makes you feel cultured, sophisticated. The walls are paneled in wood to shoulder height. Old photographs hang on the sturdy square pillars in the center of the room, showing you just how beautiful this city was a century ago. The photographs evoke a gentler, more leisurely time, and somehow Coffee House still manages to belong to that world. For instance, you can visit at seven in the evening when it's busiest, order only a coffee and occupy a table for two hours, and no one will object. They seem to know that someone who simply sits there for so long must have a thousand wheels spinning in his head. And they know those spinning wheels will not let a person be. Eventually, he'll be overwhelmed, just like the serene spaces in those photographs that buyers devoured and turned into the cluttered mess we have around us today.

But let all that be—I don't mean to brood. Getting back to this Vincent: he's a dark, tall fellow, a little over middle age, but strong, without the hint of a belly. He wears a white uniform against which it's impossible not to notice an extravagant red cummerbund. On his head is a white turban, its tuft sticking out like Krishna's peacock feather. I can't help feeling when Vincent is around—serving coffee, pouring beer at a practiced angle, betraying the faintest of smiles as a patron affectedly applies knife and fork to a cutlet—that he can take us all in with a single glance. By now I suspect he knows the regulars at Coffee House better than they know themselves.

Once, I came here when I was terribly agitated, and found myself saying out loud as he placed a cup of coffee in front of me: "What should I do, Vincent?" I was mortified and about to apologize when he answered, thoughtfully: "Let it go, sir." I suppose it might have been a generic response, but something about his manner made me take his words seriously. It was soon after that that I abandoned Chitra and whatever there was between us. My life then took a turn that led to marriage. Now, let me not give the impression here that I believe in the supernatural—I don't. But then, neither do I go hunting for a rational basis for everything that happens.

Today, I've been sitting in Coffee House longer than ever before. I'm desperate for a sign of some sort. Part of me longs to speak to Vincent, but I'm holding back—what if his words hint at the one thing I don't want to hear? It's afternoon. There are few people around. Directly in my line of sight is a young woman in a blue T-shirt, scribbling something in a notebook. She's at a table that looks onto the street outside. Two books, a glass of water, and a coffee cup sit on the table in front of her. A lock of hair has drifted across her cheek as she writes. The girl is here at least three times a week at this hour. Sometimes a young man joins her for a coffee and then they leave together. It's the same table where Chitra and I used to meet.

Just as I begin to wonder if her friend will turn up today, I see him at the door. He takes the chair across from her. My gaze drifts away, then returns to their table with a jerk when I hear shouting. She's on her feet now, leaning across the table. One hand holds his collar. The other slaps him across the face. He's blurting explanations, forearms raised to fend her off. She releases his collar and throws one of her books at him, then the other, all the while screaming abuses that implicate all men. She pauses, eyes darting over the table in rage as if looking for something else to attack him with. He shoves his chair back and flees. She takes the glass of water in front of her and flings it at him. It misses and shatters against the wall.

From Ghachar Ghoch: A Novel by Vivek Shanbhag and translated by Srinath Perur, published by Penguin Books. Copyright © 2013 by Vivek Shanbhag; English language translation copyright © 2017 by Srinath Perur.

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