BookView is a column that analyses literary texts of all genres from an intersectional, feminist standpoint.
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag and translated by Srinath Perur from Kannada to English, is a novella and a psychological fiction-drama set in Bengaluru. It follows the evolution of a traditional joint family who witness their financial situation shift from barely making ends meet to being able to live comfortably. The effects of capitalism, labour and segregated social roles all powerfully compound in this novel to showcase how the emotional elasticity within a family can rapidly reconstruct itself after being introduced to the freedom that money invites. It also discusses how a stern sense of morality upheld by certain characters such as Anita, the narrators wife, who becomes intolerant towards her husbands compliancy with patriarchal systems and deceitful appearances based on his job, ultimately leading to her downfall. Themes discussed in this novel vary from marital tension to dysfunctional family dynamics, domestic violence, patriarchal control and infectious corruption.
The novel begins with the unnamed narrator sitting at the “Coffee House” contemplating the restaurants history over the years. The laconic use of words and short sentences lends itself to a expressive and poignant narrative. The atmosphere of the coffee house resembles the infamous restaurants in Bengaluru; where the waiters dress in their “white uniforms,” and with an “extravagant red cummerbund,” accompanied by a “white turban.” The narrator feels that the server, who’s name is Vincent, is profusely wise because of his worldly replies and believes that if he had a “long shimmering beard” he would have had lakhs of people falling at his feat.
The modern family, according to Marxists, nudges forward the notion of capitalist hegemony or hierarchy. In Ghachar Ghochar, the women are constantly being subjugated to threats when disturbing the ideological foundation of the family they are married into, such as Anita or Malati revolting against the traditions of their new families. However, in this novel the economic nuclear family is absent and instead the oppressive joint family is contributing to the regressive status of women. They heavily support their patriarchs, who are the main bread winners of the family, while promoting toxicity and psychological trauma onto the women who newly enter their homes. The narrator begins to describe his family as “ …a joint family. We live in the same house — my wife and I, my parents, my uncle and Malati. Malati is my older sister, back home now after having left her husband…The central figure in our household is my Chikkappa, Venkatachala, My father’s younger brother and the family’s sole earning member.”
The patriarchal figure of Venkatachala or Chikkappa to the household is observed through the seamless acts of organising his clothes or putting them back to their place of origin. Malati and Amma defend him while “Tuvvi”, his formerly unknown mistress comes to their house but is greeted with verbal abuses and is violently threatened to go away. When the narrator says his Chikkappa can “fling his clothes in the bathroom or in a corner of his bedroom or anywhere at all in the house, and they’ll materialise washed and ironed in his room,” it reinforces ideas of reproductive labour the women undertake to satisfy Chikkappa. Anita comes from a household where she is allowed to speak her mind. She is well-educated and respected by her family. Her father when told by Amma that they don’t expect a dowry says that, “I wouldn’t give my daughter to you if you asked for one.” Freidrich Engles in The Origin of The Family, Private Property, and The State states that, ‘exclusive control of private property’ is one of the more notable methods of subordination of women.
The narrators family in Ghachar Ghochar goes from occupying a space similar to the proletariats and the bourgeoise; placed in urban Bengaluru. Their evolution from living in “one of those teeming lower-middle class areas of Bangalore. Small houses, all packed together,” to “an upmarket area” where the “smell of fresh paint still lingered” reinforces the influential qualities of possessing money and the effects of mobility that capitalism provides. The families business “Sona Masala” was a big success, catapulting the narrators family into a comfortable state of living where Malati and Amma, the narrators sister and mother, indulged in a “month-long orgy of lavishness,” the narrator goes on to say that, “I don’t think they even knew what they wanted,” in reference to Malati’s wedding which ultimately fails. The narrator himself, who is male, observes the interior world of his family and proclaims, “it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows it becomes brash and has its way with us.”
Malati’s relationship with Chikkappa is incredibly strong and elucidates the notion that selective insubordination to other men in Malati’s life is only possible because of her family’s wealth and indirectly, Chikkappa’s support. Chikkapa calls Malati “Queen M” and she calls him “Jugnu.” The wealth is symbolised through Chikkappa’s commitment to work and his initial of idea of starting the business of Sona Masala, there’s an absence of any conversation around whether the women can be involved in the business or take any form of agency in it. Anita is the only one who is fiercely her own individual not controlled by the reins of patriarchal threats inside or outside her newly associated family.
Maria Mienes, a notable Marxist feminist, in her work ‘Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale’ states that ‘the bourgeoisie first withdrew ‘their’ women from this public sphere and shut them into their cosy ‘homes’ from where they could not interfere in the war-mongering, moneymaking and the politicking of the men,’ this tells us of the historic confinement of women within established structures of capitalism to ruminate in their domestic structures and to forcefully support the engagements of men outside in society because if they do not, they are left vulnerable and defenceless. In Ghachar Ghochar, Anita, Amma and Malati are all domesticated within their homes. They have no occupation, like the men, other than contributing to the daily routines of running a functioning household. With the arrival of Anita, the narrators wife who does not intend to stay silent while witnessing shocking mistreatment of other women and blatant corruption; chooses to elicit her presence as a threat. Malati and Amma overtly despise her behaviour.
Anita exclaims, at the end of the novel “…One day I should go to the police and tell them everything I know about this family’s affairs…let the dirt come out into the open.” Her absolute commitment to a fair and uncorrupt life is ultimately cut short after it is speculated that she is killed by the henchmen employed by her family. ‘Ghachar Ghochar,’ the title and phrase coined by Anita means getting too entangled in something without any visible way of getting out of it. The capitalist structures that do not support reproductive labour in the form of housekeeping and childbearing are all profusely intermingled within current society and for women to free themselves without experiencing its repercussions is impossible. Anita is the voice of social consciousness however, curtailed in the end.
Manogni T is an Editorial Intern at One Future Collective.
Featured image source: NPR
I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!
Pride with OFC, 2022
Who decides what queerness looks like?