Ghachar Ghochar

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Rating: 4 stars

This was in interesting and quick read.  It’s more of a novella, but no word is wasted.  The story focuses on the narrator’s family as they go from barely scraping by in a poor neighborhood in Bangalore to rapidly rich, all thanks to the uncle’s spice company.  Suddenly the family that counted every penny and counted on each other now lives in a large house filled with more expensive furniture than can comfortably fit.

The narrator starts his mornings at the Coffee House, where he finds excuses to speak to a waiter that he believes to be something of a prophet, wise beyond his years.  As he thinks over his family’s sudden rise in wealth he wonders if it was good for their relationship.  While he never romanticizes their poverty, he does show how the wealth let the more selfish aspects of everyone’s personality shine through once they no longer depended on each other to make it through the tough times.

The center of this new family dynamic is his uncle, whose spice company made everything possible.  Now his mother and sister make sure nothing upsets him and try to keep him comfortable enough in their home so he never marries (which would divide his money outside of the immediate family unit).  This careful balance is upset by the narrator’s wife, who sees the dysfunction that settled in this family and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.  The narrator doesn’t take her side, though, since he thinks she is too much of an outsider to know anything about the family dynamic he grew up with and watched as it evolved to its current state.

This story does a great job describing the changes money can bring, but takes a deeply unsettling turn at the end.  I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I was not prepared for how dark it got.  In fact, I’m still trying to untangle the knotted threads we are left with as everything is ghachar ghochar.

I highly recommend this to anyone interested in contemporary Indian literature and dysfunctional family dynamics.

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