“Ghachar Ghochar” by Vivek Shanbhag – a masterful English-language debut

Review by Deborah Smith in The Guardian:

4134Ghachar Ghochar is the English-language debut of a writer already established as a leading figure in both the pan-Indian and Kannada-language literary scenes. Once again, reading beyond our tiny borders shows us what we’ve been missing, and proves the necessity of translation for a dynamic literary culture: Ghachar Ghochar is both fascinatingly different from much Indian writing in English, and provides a masterclass in crafting, particularly on the power of leaving things unsaid. In fewer than 28,000 words, Vivek Shanbhag weaves a web of suggestion and implication, to be read with a sense of mounting unease.

The opening chapter demonstrates how the short novel is the perfect form for Shanbhag’s particular talents: precise observations, accumulation of detail, narrative progression by way of oblique tangents. It opens in a Bangalore coffee shop, whose name hasn’t changed in a hundred years, andwhere the unnamed narrator unburdens himself to laconic waiter Vincent. The latter is splendidly outfitted in cummerbund and turban, and Coffee House’s tasteful oak-panelled walls are decorated with old photographs showing “just how beautiful this city was a century ago”. The narrator has no reason to be there, he confesses, “but who can admit to doing something for no reason in times like these, in a city as busy as this one?”

In a handful of deftly drawn strokes, we learn that Coffee House is his refuge from contemporary life, harking back as it does to a time before the bourgeois concerns of money-making had taken root.

More here.