I’ve been reading two books over the last couple of weeks, both by Indian writers, both dealing with life in a middle-class family moving up and down the socio-economic ladder, both in English. But my experience after plunging into the words could not have been diametrically opposite.
Middle-Class lives in Ghachar Ghochar & The Lives of Others
The first book I read was Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar, a work translated from Kannada, a breath of fresh air in the overly complicated genre of Indian writing in English, a crisp story of 115 pages.
The second book was critically acclaimed The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee, a complex, intricate and frankly convoluted Indian saga, nominated for the Man Booker, a story prolonged to almost 500 pages.
Guess which book I preferred?
The Pretence of Indian Writing in English
Now I haven’t really fallen into Neel Mukherjee’s book yet, so no judgement on the quality of writing or storytelling yet (however, in the first 20-30 pages I’ve had to refer to the family tree 10 times to understand the 500 characters in the novel..) — but why oh why must Indian writing in English be so bloody pretentious.
A story is a story is a story. People like stories in all shapes and sizes. And when the story can’t escape it’s own form (in this case a never-ending series of words with cob-web-like intricacies), I think the writer has failed his readers. The form adds a layer of beauty on the story (the cinematography of a movie), but it is the story that is the skeletal structure of the book. Beauty is only skin deep.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. The Man Booker winner this year (Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings) was so bloody complicated I couldn’t make it past the first 15 pages in the first go. Critically-acclaimed is probably another word for challenging as ********r (fill in the blanks with an expletive of your choice).
Yes, the title sounds more Bengali than Kannada but it will make sense once you finish the book. The cover is also great and very representative of the story.
Ghachar Ghochar Review by Vivek Shanbagh
I’m not going to describe the story in great detail. But what I want to say is that it is a story that opened up a new world for me. I am a pretentious Indian upper-middle-class person who probably fits more into the world of young Bengali writers like Neel Mukherjee and Rana Dasgupta than a poor Kannada family who makes it big through various means (some unscrupulous, some not).
But Shanbhag’s book brought me into the home of a Kannadiga family like never before — with gendered roles, with a powerful and powerless matriarch, with powerful and powerless patriarchs (rising and falling from their thrones), with a marriage that hangs on its threads, with the shame and sham of society, with the multiple uses of coconuts (I never knew a new dosa pan needs to be prepared with coconut oil for several days before it can be used!)
It is life as it is, no pretences, no adverbs, none of that crap that makes a 115 page story 500 pages long.
And that’s where the beauty of the story lies.
In it’s truth.
Buy Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar Online
Ghachar Ghochar is available on Amazon and Kindle for Rs 339 (Hardcover) and Rs 257 (Kindle). Give it a read! I bought the hardcover version of this book because it was pretty reasonable and I felt like holding paper. If you are thinking about jumping into the world of Kindle e-readers, read my comparative review of various Kindle devices.