Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

It’s true what they say – it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us.
— Vivek Shanbhag, Ghachar Ghochar

Praise for this book reached me before the book actually did - Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag has been regarded as the finest book to come out of India in the last ten years and, while Shanbhag is well published in Kannada, this is his first book to be translated into English. For a tiny book, a mere 118 pages of simple verse, it has made a big impact.

The book's title itself is detailed wonderfully toward the end of the narrative, in the sixth chapter, when the nameless main character is on honeymoon with his bride, Anita. Ghachar ghochar is the made-up phrase she and her family used growing up to describe all that has been mixed up and entangled. And, simply put, this is the story of a family entangled beyond repair with rapid wealth - their uncle's tea business - in Bangalore. It quietly introduces you to everyone in the household - father, uncle, mother, sister, son and wife - and sheds lights on their flaws - entitlement, lethargy, illegality, brutality. It is only the father, Appa, who is greatly uncomfortable with the wealth, having once been the single earner of their meager household, where they lived amongst ants and little else, who expresses his discomfort with their change in lifestyle. The rest of the family responds by calling him crazy and otherwise ignoring him.

In many ways, Shanbhag only reveals the beginning of the demise that is likely to unfold, but he does not need to expend more words because he has positioned it so obviously. He unravels the story for us without any futility. We are left only to gape at that which becomes quite clear: greed has eaten this family alive in ways the ants never could. In gaining money, they lost their morality.