Kannada writer’s tale of middle class insecurities in English

New Delhi :Popular Kannada writer Vivek Shanbhag’s debut venture in English fiction has an uncanny and intriguing title.

Shanbhag, who named his book after a self-created “non-sense” word “Ghachar Ghochar,” says he landed on the word only after having written a significant portion of the 116-page novella.

The discovery was also an impetus for him to knit the remainder of the plot and close the book the way it did. He says that he created the word to “suggest that the experience that is captured in the book requires much more than you already know.”

“It was after I got these words that I saw the end of the story. I did not have them when I started writing the story. They appeared somewhere in the middle, but once I got them I knew where it was going. I knew that it will anchor the story,” says Shanbhag.

“Ghachar Ghochar,” which was originally penned by Shanbhag in Kannada has been translated into English by Srinath Perur. The book is also the author’s first work of fiction that has been published in English after a couple of non-fiction titles.

The story revolves around a Bengaluru-based family of six that witnesses a change of fortune elevating them from a cramped, ant infested rented room to a spacious bungalow. The plot resonates a familiar middle-class sentiment of desperation to hold on to the riches that have come by.

The manifestation of this insecurity is articulated befittingly in the story through the metaphor of ants that besides plaguing the narrator’s previous lodging, also managed to surface on the book’s cover page.

The narrator’s reflex to kill an ant even in his new house displays his inability to detach himself from the terror of the compromised life that he had lead in the past.

“What I have really done is responding to what has been happening in the last 20 years in the country after economic progress. It is not that this family becomes super rich. It is a relative richness. It is possible for thousands of families to be in this situation. This is what I was trying to reflect and this is how the middle class sentiment comes in,” says the writer.

He has five short story collections, three novels and two plays to his credit.

For Shanbhag, who recently quit his profession as an engineer to become a full-time writer, the creative process is a journey of discovery that one undertakes and joins the dots (read thoughts) to write a story.

“In a creative process you do not always know every detail before you write and once you have something in mind and try to understand what it is, you start with the story and then the story grows. There are many things in a story which are not just by chance because there is also some design to it. But, every detail is not known,” he says.