Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Gachar Gochar - the Problems Wealth Brings

Usually we blame our problems on lack of wealth. Gachar Gochar, written by Vivek Shanbhag in Kannada and translated into English by Srinath Perur argues the opposite: wealth brings problems it its wake. Gachar Gohchar manages to make its point very succinctly, in only 115 pages through the story of a Kannada family which goes from lower middle class existence to prosperity following the success of a spice business the family starts with the corpus received from the forced voluntary retirement of its sole earning member.

The narrator, a member of the family, takes you through how the family gradually loses its coherence as wealth comes in. The spontaneous family gatherings stop, the dependence on each other goes, minor differences which had found scant attention earlier start developing into prominent fissures, some of its members scuttle their responsibilities and settle for easier choices money and power can provide; gradually middle class values, which had held the family together earlier,  erode. The narrator makes timely interventions stepping back from the story and giving observations on the happenings to press home the point: that it’s the new entrant money which is behind the changing complexion of the family.

Despite the seriousness of the topic, Shanbhag manages to make you laugh for most part of the book with situations that are common to all middle class joint families. But what impresses you the most is the rootedness of Gachar Gochar into the world that it belongs to. 

Vivek has captured the idiosyncrasies of a middle class family excellently through their day-to-day habits and practices, like a discussion started at the dinner table far outlasting the food and the family members hearing engrossed even as the remnants of the food is caking up on their fingers or a member absent-mindedly picking up grains of rice from his plate and putting them in his mouth one by one as he his listening to what’s being told.

The story is inconclusive, in that the family doesn’t lose the acquired wealth and return to poverty; but towards the end, a sudden outburst by the narrator’s wife, Anita, the only daughter of a professor, and ill at ease in the atmosphere of new money that is her husband’s family, against the patriarch of the family (Chikkappa) who takes care of the spice business and whose authority in the family never suffers a dissent - throws the faultlines into sharp focus: that new money also creates a certain power structure of which others live and to ensure continuity of their vested interests they avoid challenging it, however unscrupulous be its way of ensuring that continuity.  

Following the outburst by Anitha the suffocating silence maintained by the family members on Chikkappa is broken – and in a throwback to the old times, the family gets together again around Chikkappa to hear his stories.

The end is like outpouring of rain following a parched day. Gachar Gochar is another example of the gold mine that is our vernacular literature. 

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