BookBrowse Reviews Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Ghachar Ghochar

by Vivek Shanbhag

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

    Readers' Opinion:

  • 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 first ran in the March 22, 2017 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Joint Family in India


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Ghachar Ghochar, try these:

We have 6 read-alikes for Ghachar Ghochar, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Join BookBrowse

For a year of great reading
about exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Golden Gate
    The Golden Gate
    by Amy Chua
    The Golden Gate is a highly entertaining page-turner that falls neatly into, but in some ways ...
  • Book Jacket: The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel
    The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel
    by Douglas Brunt
    Rudolf Diesel ought to be a household name. Like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Nikola Tesla, Diesel ...
  • Book Jacket: Move Like Water
    Move Like Water
    by Hannah Stowe
    As a child growing up on the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales, Hannah Stowe always loved the sea, ...
  • Book Jacket
    Loved and Missed
    by Susie Boyt
    London-based author and theater director Susie Boyt has written seven novels and the PEN Ackerley ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Mercury Pictures Presents
by Anthony Marra
A timeless story of love, deceit, and sacrifice set in Mussolini's Italy and 1940s Los Angeles.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Wren, the Wren
    by Anne Enright

    An incandescent novel about the inheritance of trauma, wonder, and love across three generations of women.

  • Book Jacket

    The Roaring Days of Zora Lily
    by Noelle Salazar

    A glittering novel of family, love, ambition, and self discovery by the bestselling author of The Flight Girls.

Who Said...

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

G O T P, B The P, F T P

and be entered to win..

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.