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Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar Captures Domestic Discontent With Unsettling Precision

Palki S Upadhyay | palkisu

First published: June 13, 2016, 12:15 PM IST | Updated: June 13, 2016
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Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar Captures Domestic Discontent With Unsettling Precision
Little is said. A lot more implied. It makes you reflect on moments like this in your own life.

Ghachar Ghochar
Author: Vivek Shanbag

The title stirred my curiosity. The blurb did the rest. Lying on my desk was a book called Ghachar Ghochar with two eminent critics comparing the author to Chekhov. It had to be read. And it was, in no time. It’s a short novel. It says little and leaves a lot to imagination and interpretation. Therein lies its magic.

On the face of it, it’s a simple story. The story of a family bound together by the emotional strength and survival instinct that financial hardships trigger. Almost overnight, their situation improves. Money comes, albeit with its trappings - a bigger house with diminishing emotional accommodation. Cracks appear on the surface, more jarring than the incongruous furniture they fill their house with. A marriage implodes. Another one becomes dysfunctional. Ambition erodes, giving way to bitterness. The son of the house, the man narrating the story feels trapped and resigned.

‘Amma says: “I’ve made avarekaalu upma because you like it.”
It seems an innocuous enough statement. An outsider may not be able to see its explosive power. But as someone who lives in the house, I know just how grave the consequences can be. I start hurrying to leave the house before it erupts.’

He seeks refuge in Coffee House and ruminates on the blowing of war bugles over the upma.

‘These three (women in the house) speak to themselves - that is the prelude, the shot fired in the air to challenge an adversary to battle. The idea is to enquire if the enemy is prepared and willing to fight. If there’s enthusiasm on the other side, a reply is heard. That too is aimed at no one in particular.’

The author captures domestic discontent with unsettling precision. Little is said. A lot more implied. It makes you reflect on moments like this in your own life. I was especially struck by the protagonist’s account of his childhood. How he instinctively knew something good had happened at his father’s office. His amma was humming in the kitchen. They had akki-roti for breakfast, a special dish that was made only on special occasions. He sensed the bad days too. He knew he must steer clear of the parents on such days, make no demands.

I’d been in his place! I knew who my father liked, who he did not, without him telling me. Children aren’t involved in career decisions of their parents or discussions on office politics. But they know the characters and the circumstances. It dawned on me that mine did too. It widened the scope of the novel, made it more personal.

By giving a brief glimpse into one man’s life, the author is showing us a bit of ours too. And making it easier to deal with the daily pulls and pushes through the all-knowing waiter at Coffee House:“Holes in dosas in everyone’s house, sir.”

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