Hit Kannada novella goes to UK in April

Hit Kannada novella goes to UK in April

Hit Kannada novella goes to UK in April
Ghachar Ghochar, a slim, ironic novel about a middle-class Bengaluru family rising to affluence, is hitting the stands in the UK soon.

Its author Vivek Shanbhag is touring the country in April. ‘Ghachar ghochar’ is a nonsense term invented by the unnamed protagonist’s wife Anita to say ‘all tangled up.’

Prestigious publishing houses are issuing the Kannada book in Srinath Perur's English translation: Faber and Faber is the UK and Penguin Random House in the US. It is simultaneously being translated into German, Italian, Hebrew, and Turkish, besides six Indian languages.

A reviewer in the US, where Ghachar Ghochar was released recently, described it as a ‘fretful’ novel about Indian middle-class anxiety. She compares its characters’ emotions to the jittery American ‘fear of falling.’

Shanbhag is an engineer hailing from the coastal district of Uttara Kannada, and was till recently employed in a senior capacity in a multinational corporation.

He has witnessed the chaotic transformation of Bengaluru since the 1990s, and written about the city’s subtle conflicts in some of his earlier fictional works as well.

“For Western readers, Indian writing means writing by Indian English writers,” says Shanbhag, expressing the hope that the success of his book will encourage the West to read more writing from Kannada and other Indian languages. “This is long overdue.”

The protagonist’s family changes as it moves from middle-class subsistence to business-class luxury.

The narration, described as Chekovian, records how a diligent, conservative salesman’s world collapses when he loses his job in the course of a company takeover.

In distress, he gambles, handing over all his savings to his brother, who then uses it to establish a thriving spice trade. The success and the money transform the conservative family in astonishing ways.

In telling their story, Shanbhag evokes a city teeming beneath the radar of the pink papers. For him, Bengaluru, earlier Bangalore, is not just software, BPO and traffic jams; it is characters like Appa, Chikappa and Anita. They represent diverse generations and values in a city praised by a global real estate firm as the 'world's most dynamic.'   

Good tidings for translations
Ajitha G S, senior commissioning editor, Harper Collins, got to see the manuscript of Ghachar Ghochar by chance. “I finished reading it within hours,” she said. “I knew this was a special book.”

Its length was disarming, and she found the simple narrative reflecting many complex realities. “I was very excited,” she said, explaining why she took it up for publication.

In just a few months, the Indian edition had gone into a reprint and a paperback edition. Ajitha sees in the book’s success good tidings for translations of fiction from the Indian languages.

Divided by a common language
Srinath Perur, now translating a second novel by Shanbhag, is “pleasantly surprised by how far Ghachar Ghochar has gone.”

Translation often takes place within a language, Perur, who moved from a technology job to writing, found. Some English words he had used in the Indian translation had to be changed for the US edition.

He told DH: “​The Indian edition had some usage that's local---compass box for geometry set, iron box for iron, vessel for utensil, and so on. These were changed to something more ​natural-sounding in the US.”

He observes that cultural ​glossing’ is involved as well. “For example, it's clear to most Indians that someone in a lower middle-class household​ who​ sits down to cook on a kerosene stove ​is sitting on the floor. This needs to be spelt out if a US reader is not to be distracted from the book by wondering how someone is sitting down in a room without furniture. This sort of cultural translation becomes less necessary as more books from the culture are read. I can imagine the editor of the hundredth translation from Kannada published in the US striking out an 'on the floor' because it's redundant,” he said.​

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