A big frustration of mine is that I can read my mother tongue, Kannada. I spent my early years learning Hindi and English and only speaking Kannada at home and with family. This is hugely annoying for me, especially because I know that Kannada literature has so many rich stories to offer. It also really annoys me that I can’t read street signs, shop signs, truck signs etc. etc. (which is actually a weird pass-time of mine) when I’m back in India. The overall effect of being so well versed with the narrative of a language but being blind to its writing and physical language is a disorienting one.
So I was really happy when I stumbled upon a translated version of Vivek Shanbag’s Ghachar Gochar. Maybe it’s a way to get around my pseudo-language barrier?
Just like it’s title Gachar Gochar (GG) tells a quirky and unique story. GG is a very short read that managed to hungrily gobbled up on a seemingly endless train journey from Rome to Pisa. Originally written in Kannada (<3) Shanbag’s story shows us how even mundane everyday things and lives take powerful and dramatic turns. Our unamed narrator gives us a fishbowl view of his nuclear family politics and what its like to be stuck in and swept away by life’s day to day events.
Shanbag’s down-to-earth and broad range of characters reminded me R K Narayan’s Malgudi days. GG has the same deliberative narrative style which focuses on the iconic South Indian surroundings and lifestyle but doesn’t linger on this nostalgia. Instead, what distinguishes Shanbag, is that his story is about the future, it focuses on the upward journey to middle class India and the paradoxes it brings. You never expect the turn that this story is going to take! It will definitely leave you wanting more.
I’m so glad I stumbled upon this book, it has got me thinking about and searching for other translated works from the Indian subcontinent/diaspora. I feel like this could be an interesting sub-genre in itself, its interesting to see what nuances can come through into the English language and what gets left of. All in all, a hidden gem and a must read!