by Vivek Shanbhag
Faber & Faber
Ghachar Ghochar is the first work by acclaimed Indian writer Vivek Shanbhag to be translated into English, from the Indian language Kannada. If this short (its 100 pages contain just 28,000 words) but quietly astounding work is anything to go by, it won’t be the last. Translated as “hopelessly entwined”, “ghachar ghochar” is a refrain that recurs throughout the novella. Our narrator learns its meaning from his new bride, Anita, who whispers it as her husband fumbles a little hopelessly with her underwear on their wedding night. Shanbhag’s story is dominated by the narrator’s family, whose unbreakable intimacy protects their wealth and status. All this is observed with cool, clear precision by our narrator, whose dispassion is perhaps his biggest sin: he fails to intervene when his formidable mother decides Anita is surplus to requirements. Ghachar Ghochar requires close attention; even the most innocent word or action is loaded with significance. Shanbhag’s triumph is in how this short, tense work repays that concentration.