Tag Archives: Indian Author

Ghachar Ghochar – Vivek Shanbhag

Ghachar GhocharThis novel by Vivek Shanbhag originally written in Kannada has created quite few ripples in literary circles and now with the translation into English, this one is surely slated to win more acclaim and awards.

For me coming on the back of a re-reading of Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicle’ this was as antipodal as you can get. Right from the size, to Murakami’s intricate imagery, complex symbolism, intimate characterization and surrealism this one was just the opposite. It is just 115 pages long, a deceptively simple novel with what feels like very superficial character delineation, a simple plot, none of the usual ingredients of a modern day novel. And yet, it had me finishing it in one sitting and left me thinking about it over and over.

Set in modern day Bangalore, the novel is about a typical middle class family that lives ‘a hand to mouth existence’. The description of the locality is very real and palpable, it is like any lower middle class area in Bangalore with ‘small houses packed together’. The other locale that plays a critical role in the story is the Coffee House, it is modelled after the famous India Coffee House outlets that was an important part of cities across India. The description of the waiter’s uniforms, décor and its windows facing the road where one could sit and watch the world go by while sipping on a coffee is very reminiscent of the India Coffee House on MG Road in Bangalore.

The narrative is plain and straightforward. The family survives on the meagre salary of Appa, who is a salesman in a company dealing with tea leaves. They live a contented life despite the difficult finances till their fortunes change with the loss of Appa’s job and the start of a family business. The lack of money that actually kept them together becomes a divisive factor and pulls them in different directions. With wealth their simplistic morals and outlook gradually change into avarice and the overarching need to protect their wealth even if it means resorting to extreme diabolical methods. The reader is forced to reread the part where the family is having tea together after a long time, the conversation is a regular family interaction but you realize in the end that exchange is loaded with inner meanings.

The characters are normal everyday people that you bump into on the roads. There is Appa who is upright, his only fault is that he is garrulous. Chikkappa, the man who controls everything and everyone has shades of grey to black. The author has done a brilliant job with this character, he is simple and straightforward but as the story develops the reader is given very subtle hints about his dark side. Amma, the quintessential middle class matron trying her best to manage her household with the limited income. Malathi, the daughter, given to haughtiness and arrogance. Anita, the protagonist’s wife, a woman of ethics and a sharp view of right and wrong. The three women are strong and form the core of the novel. The protagonist himself, is a weak and lazy man who likes living of wealth that he doesn’t work for. The most interesting character is Vincent, the waiter at Coffee House, who is a sounding board, counsellor, agony aunt without meaning to be any of these.

The ants are symbolic in many ways, they are an intrinsic part of the family’s life just like their poverty, it just can’t be wished away how much ever they try to rid themselves of the pests. And the reference to it in the final pages should give the reader some idea of what happens in the end.

Vivek is a master of subtlety and that will leave you reflecting on the storyline over and over. Mention must be made of Srinath Perur who has done a commendable job on the translation into English.

This is a must read. My rating – 3.5 on 5.


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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Highly recommended


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Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry

‘Family Matters’ was my first taste of Rohinton Mistry and I have been hooked since. A master story teller, he grips the reader with easy paced narrative, one rarely feels tedium. There is always a shadow of gloom in his books, and that is what gives it the sense of realism and the need for empathy. He uses humour and brilliant characterisation to offset the pall of grey.

Like most of his novels, ‘Such a Long Journey’ is set in the Bombay of the 70s. Gustad Noble, is a middle class Parsi going about his life quietly without much bother, until the point when he gets a letter from his old friend, Major Jimmy Bilimoria. (To digress a bit, in all the books of Mistry that I have read there is a clear point of crisis. In ‘Family Matters’, it is the point when Yezad gives into the temptation of gambling, in ‘A Fine Balance’ it is the point when Ishvar and Omprakash return to their village.) Gustad’s life is thrown in turmoil and he is buffeted by the Fates. His son is estranged, his friend Mr. Dinshawji dies and his job as a bank clerk is shaky.

Mistry has an enviable gift for characterisation, though some of his characters seem similar in his books. Yezad from ‘Family Matters’ and Gustad have a lot in common. The characters are simple and so realistic that if you went to any typical apartment block in Mumbai, chances are you would see these characters in some form. Mistry keeps his characterisation very simple and does not overreach by adding complicated clutter. Gustad is a simple man almost helpless against the troubles that come his way. However, in his own way he is strong and grounded. I also like the play off between the flamboyant Jimmy and the tepid Gustad. And also between Gustad’s only friends Jimmy and Mr. Dinshawji. Mr Dinshawji provides the comic relief and actually is a man with a heart. The mentally challenged Tehmul is another typical character that you would see in most middle class localities in India. The neighbours in Khodadad Building Miss Kutpitia, living in the memory of her dead nephew, the meddlesome Mr. Rabadi, the eccentric Cavasji are natural and highly realistic.

I am biased about Mistry’s work, I would still recommend this book like all the others.


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The Japanese Wife – Kunal Basu

An engaging collection of short stories, this is a good read. ‘The Japanese Wife’ the title of the book and the first story is definitely the best in the collection. Here is a story that talks of innocent love, transcending the physical. The love between Snehamoy, a rural schoolteacher, and Miyage, his Japanese pen friend, is touching and poignant. In ‘Snakecharmer’, Israeli business man Jacob Tsur comes to India to end his life. He meets a snakecharmer’s daughter who takes it on herself to stall it. I found ‘Long Live Imelda Marcos’ to be interesting as well, with Mary the Filipina maid’s painful story. Mary is quite a strong character, stoic, unwavering and practical. I like the way Basu has weaved the Gujarat riots into the story showing its consequences in far away Hong Kong.

‘The Accountant’ deals with rebirth and the travails of a man who wants to speak the truth that history has coloured over the years. The title of the story ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ is haunting and remniscent of Blake’s poem, ‘Tiger’. It is a story of love and betrayal, set in the Sunderbans. Despite it being a short story, Basu does well to build the lead characters, Rowena the foreigner, Anwar the poacher, Amina his wife and Captain Singh the forest officer. Rowena is caught between the paradox of right and her friendship with Anwar. Amina shows her feline side by taking a younger and virile mate and then ensures his end to maintain the pack’s customs.

As always with most such collections, the quality cannot always be consistent. Some of the stories like ‘Lotus-Dragon’, ‘Lenin’s Cafe’ and ‘Miss Annie’ are tedious and convoluted. However, it is definitely worth a dekko.


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The Age of Shiva – Manil Suri

I just turned the acknowledgements page of Manil Suri’s ‘The Age of Shiva’. It took me a week to finish this one. I have not read his earlier book ‘The Death of Vishnu’ which I am aware met with decent success.

Suri shows promise as a story teller as he tries to fuse several characters and their idiosyncracies. The story is about Meera the daughter of a rich Punjabi business man and her experiences as she traverses across roles as daughter, sister, wife and mother. It may seem highly simplistic to say this but her character is strongly remniscent of the children’s ‘Ugly Duckling’ fairy tale; Meera is the duckling who does not blossom till the end, at times flattering to deceive. Throughout the novel she lives under the shadows of Paji, her sister Roopa, her husband Dev and Ashvin her son. There is also the strong theme of sibling rivalry Roopa vs Meera, Dev vs. Arya. Roopa is the prickly sister who despite nature lands a good life, while Meera despite being a better person is always struggling. Dev is the romantic and he gets the rich Meera, while Arya the activist is constantly living the life of pretence. Paji is the master puppeteer controlling his family’s destinies.

There also the strong element of sexuality. The affair between Roopa and Dev, the constant lusting by Arya for Meera, the subtle lesbain relationship between Sandhya and Meera and finally the Oedipal relationship between Meera and Ashvin. The mother-son relationship is sometimes too stark with eroticism (not recommended for the squeamish). The other theme of politics is loose and hangs loosely. It is not as strongly embedded as in Rohinton Mistry’s ‘A Fine Balance’.

Technically the book has a few flaws. The narrative is in second person, Meera is narrating the story to Ashvin. The problem with that is that it is awkward and unnatural, especially the sex episodes. Also the narrative is not crisp and meanders along drearily without adding anything of substance to the plot. At times I had to flip the pages to get a move on.

A decent read, provided you have the patience to plod through almost 450 pages.  

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Posted by on June 7, 2008 in Manil Suri, Recommended


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