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Book Review: Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag is a short read that packs a punch. At once dealing with issues of class and feminism, there are many layers hidden between these 119 pages. This sparingly beautiful story gives us a glimpse into the lives of a six-member household in Bangalore, India, as their fortunes in the spice business take them, rather suddenly, from lower middle class, within one generation, to high society. Told from the point-of-view of an unnamed male narrator, we see how quickly and completely money changes everything. The awkward struggle between tradition and modernism, between the desire for things to remain the same and the pull to move forward, is on full, understated display. While many of us in the working middle class sometimes daydream about what it would be like to suddenly win the lottery, it's easy to overlook the challenges such a life would present.

Our narrator also gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of a close-knit joint family, layered with intricacies and nuances, grievances and joys, and all that comes with the complicated dependencies that form between family members, both out of love and out of habit. A warm beginning turns rather sinister, and the reader is left to their own conclusions at the end, which, while unsettling, also seems right somehow.

Vivek Shanbhag has a way of forming pictures with his words that makes you carefully inspect each one, looking for the deeper meaning, startling in surprise when you see that the well is deeper than you imagined. 'Ghachar ghochar,' we come to learn, is an invented, colloquial term for 'messy' or 'entangled' affairs; an apropos description of the characters of this story, their lives, and the messes they create - but especially of life in general. Why do we humans complicate matters so?

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