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.
Making his readers an active participant in this imaginative process, the author chooses to offer them a creative motivation by letting them foray into the dynamics of the open-ended narrative.
Talking about the possible speculations when the narrator's wife does not return from her father's home, he says, "I have no views on it because I don't know what happened. Each reader has his or her own interpretation and I really do not want to come in the way."
"Whatever I have to say, I have said in the book. It is difficult for me to talk about the theme or what the story is saying. I cannot defend nor can I explain the story aspect," Shanbhag says.
The author says, he never intended his story to have a moral takeaway for his readers and that his core objective was the telling of the tale.
"I don't want to give any message because what I am trying to do is tell a story. I am not being judgmental at all. I do not want to put some idealistic paint on them. It is just a story with so many characters," he says.
According to him it was imperative for the story to be set in a city because of the certain liberties and opportunities that only an urban lifestyle could offer.
It was the "anonymity" of their new life that gave Malati, the narrator's elder sister, the courage to walk out of her marriage and stay at her mother's house, without caring about what the society would say.
"It is not necessary that it has to happen in Bengaluru, but it is necessary that it has to happen in a city. City life gives you some kind of an anonymity. It also gives you a certain kind of strength, especially for women, to take several steps," he says.
Explaining why he refrained from translating the book himself, he says, "I don't write fiction in English because I don't enjoy doing it. I enjoy writing in Kannada. That's my language."
Shanbhag who comes across as an extremely self-critical writer feels that merely the ability to write in English does not qualify one to be a good fiction writer in the language.
"Writing fiction in any language requires a deeper understanding of the its culture because the words that you use, the memories that you evoke need a different engagement with the language and I don't have that engagement with English," he says.
However, he admits that a translation can never be the same as the original - it can be better or worse - but the two are essentially two different works of creativity.
"When you translate, the work has to be in the target language and it will never be the same because the experience will never be the same! But, we try to bring it as near as we can," he says.