BookBrowse Reviews Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Ghachar Ghochar

by Vivek Shanbhag

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag X
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Feb 2017, 128 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
Buy This Book

About this Book



Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings—and consequences—of financial gain in contemporary India.

The Bengaluru (aka Bangalore) that has dominated economic news headlines over the past decade is the best known of India's high-tech hubs, a metropolis that boasts of call center workers and talented software engineers, an urban landscape transformed by its country's restructured economic policies. While Ghachar Ghochar is set in this same city, the Bengaluru described here is miles removed from its more frenetically charged cousin. But don't let the pace of this quietly devastating slim novel fool you. Underneath all that Norman Rockwell veneer is an astute commentary about India's slow move away from the family unit, a focus on individualism that is bound to have repercussions for decades to come.

It might be tempting to label the unnamed narrator, a young man in his late twenties or early thirties, as the novel's protagonist, but that would be a mistake. He is merely a cataloger of events, although admittedly a very capable one. Instead, the primary character here is the small joint family of which he is a part – his father, Appa, the patriarch; Chikkappa, the father's younger brother; the narrator's mother; and the narrator's sister Malati, who now lives at home after the dissolution of her marriage (this too would be unheard of in the old Bengaluru). The family is the main living breathing entity here, shielding its own from harm even while rents in the fabric are slowly beginning to unravel the entire unit at its seams.

The title Ghachar Ghochar is a slang term for something entangled, so knotted that it can't be made sense of. This phrase could indeed be applied to the mess the family finds itself in at the end of the novel – which is nothing earth-shattering or immediately dangerous, but worrisome nevertheless. At the start, the narrator and his family are poor, living off Appa's income as a traveling salesman. Their fortunes change however and the family is at a crossroads. They have to make a crucial decision for the sake of their future financial security. Fortunately, the move made is a good one: Chikkappa sets up a spice distribution business called Sona Masala and the family becomes part of Bengaluru's nouveau riche.

Unfortunately, money can't buy love. "It's true what they say – it's not we who control money, it's the money that controls us," the narrator muses, "When there's only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us." Malati's marriage dissolves after fractious arguments over material goods, not to mention her general discomfort at living anywhere else but within the safe embrace of her maternal home. But it is only after the narrator himself gets married, that the issue of money – and where it comes from – threatens to tear apart the carefully constructed family unit. You see, while the narrator might be perfectly content mooching off of Chikkappa's earnings, his wife is furious that he is not his own man, earning his own keep.

It is this tussle between the narrator and his wife that is really the clash between India's old and new ways. Where once family was the main safety net that built and held you, that concept is slowly becoming anathema to newer generations who want to be free of the ties that bind, of all that "ghachar ghochar." They might not earn much money right away, but whatever they do is on their own and for themselves.

Shanbhag, an accomplished Kannada writer (Bengaluru is the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka and Kannada is the state's official language), might invite comparisons with India's legendary author, R. K. Narayan, who also wrote about everyday Indian family life recalling a bygone era. But while most of the deceased Narayan's work had a gentler touch, Shanbhag's novel carries a much darker vein and therefore paints a more realistic picture, while still maintaining an air of old-world manners and charm.

Brilliantly translated by Srinath Perur, Ghachar Ghochar is a finely narrated epic – it's a slim novel that packs a punch and is a true heavyweight in all the ways that matter.

Reviewed by Poornima Apte

This review is from the March 22, 2017 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Joint Family in India

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Everything Inside
    Everything Inside
    by Edwidge Danticat
    Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer, and Haiti looms large as a presence in this ...
  • Book Jacket: The Beekeeper of Aleppo
    The Beekeeper of Aleppo
    by Christy Lefteri
    In Christy Lefteri's sophomore novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, the author introduces readers to ...
  • Book Jacket: Marilou Is Everywhere
    Marilou Is Everywhere
    by Sarah Elaine Smith
    "The point is that at that moment in my life," writes the narrator of Sarah Elaine Smith's debut ...
  • Book Jacket: Let's Call It a Doomsday
    Let's Call It a Doomsday
    by Katie Henry
    However the world will end, Ellis Kimball is ready for it. Her obsessive stash of survivalist ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Yale Needs Women
    by Anne Gardiner Perkins

    A tale of courage in the face of arrogance that remains eerily relevant on U.S. campuses today.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Secrets We Kept
    by Lara Prescott

    Reese Witherspoon's Sept Book Club Pick!
    "This is the rare page-turner with prose that’s as wily as its plot."—EW
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Today We Go Home
by Kelli Estes

Illuminating and deeply human, Today We Go Home shines a light on the brave military women of the past and present.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Chase Darkness with Me

How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders

Have you ever wanted to solve a murder? Gather the clues the police overlooked? Put together the pieces? Identify the suspect?


Word Play

Solve this clue:

S S A C A Big S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.