LEAFING THROUGH Two important works – a short story collection Ghachar Ghochar, and a book on economics. They are significant additions to the Kannada world

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Akshara Prakashana, Rs. 95

Old order seldom makes way for the new without turbulences and upheavals. Change in society, and as it manifests in literature, could be social, economic, and political; it can be a sum total of all these, as it affects human life. Writers, world over, have constantly grappled with the complex mechanism called change, with perplexity and shock. Sometimes it comes in the simple model of tradition vs. modernity, but in others it speaks of a loss of historical-ideological space. The nature of transition leaves all the cognitive powers of the past incomprehensible, and all our traumatic experiences unassailable.

In Kannada writer Vivek Shanbhag’s latest collection of short stories, Ghachar Ghochar , transition is neither as dark as Yeats’ “The centre cannot hold”, nor does it come as Eliot’s paradoxical view of time, “all time’s eternally present”. Change is insidious, muted, yet implicit, and time here, does have temporal boundaries. His consistent articulation of the times that are swept by change is Janus-faced, it simultaneously embodies memories of the past, but willingly succumbs to the temptations of the present. Vivek, through his narratives, marks the quiet human aspiration to move towards a cosmopolitan identity, but at the same time longs to reclaim the creative energies embedded in the past. Past in his works, comes back only as moments of nostalgia with little power to change the present. The gradual transformation in the landscape of the city -- the site of most of his writings – finds its mirror image in the altering human self itself.

The collection dwells on what have been his constant preoccupations – question of identity, fragmented reality, loss of self, nature of human relationships… However, one finds in this collection a more resonant and complex articulation of human fate – while it is determined by forces of society, it is also guided by a self-seeking ambition. In what is a clear ideological-political position, the writer recognises that “loss” is not the result of a lack of agency, but is underscored by human choice.

Ghachar Ghochar (the collection gets its name from the story) and Nirvana , the most striking stories in this collection, tread complex terrains – ranging from real to surreal. While Ghachar Ghochar is set in a modest city, Nirvana is set in a huge metropolis. In a typical stream of consciousness narration, Vivek packs in descriptions and details that are not merely stylistic techniques, but are reflections of a definite, thoughtful purpose. These narrative devices harness the psychological complexity of the characters and their circumstances. Nirvana, laced with light heartedness, ends posing a question larger than the existential ‘Who am I?’. All human beings, suggests Vivek, are mere ‘types’ in a globalised world, having no distinct identities of their own, so much so that the notion of ‘self’ itself is a flimsy one.

At the outset, it appears like a story that deals with the collapse of family values. Ghachar Ghochar , a powerful story, speaks of how the human instinct to survive packs in enormous amounts of violence. With the notion of ‘survival’ growing in the story you see that the threshold for violence also escalating – it begins with spelling doom to bothersome ants, but moves on to alarming proportions. It doesn’t spare Venkatachala’s beloved, it is unleashed on the son-in-law and daughter-in-law as well. The story, with a nonsense word for its title, in a way, also celebrates the intuitive. Vincent’s ability to see beyond the logical-rational is at loggerheads with the direction of the rest of the story. This juxtaposition of the real with what seems surreal, is perhaps an assertion of the writer’s faith in the power of belief. One finds this element in his other stories, including Nirvana ; moments of truth are those that arrive against the flow of logic.

Koli Keli Masale is a stunning story that seems to say truth is stranger than fiction. The story chillingly maps the blurring lines between the real and cinematic. Risk Togondu, and Sudheerana Taayi are other stories that merit attention in this collection. This collection is certainly among Vivek’s best works.

In Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot says, “What we call the beginning is often the end/ And to make and end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” The stories in this collection begin from the end, from the throbbing world of the unsaid.


Arthaneeti by H. Somashekar

Lohiya Prakashana, Rs. 75

Karl Marx said, economics constitutes the basic relationship between people, State and society. But it is precisely this aspect of human life that is most mysterious and remains out of bounds for the common people. Dr. H. Somashekar’s book, Arthaneeti (Economic policies or strategies) is one such book in Kannada which is reader friendly and people friendly. Somashekar is a scholar in agrarian economics and a teacher by profession and has to his credit many books. This is the second in the genre of economics.

The book is basically collection of articles on different aspects of economy, both national and international, published between 2001-05 in several reputed Kannada newspapers and magazines. It has been divided into three sections taking into consideration the reader’s convenience. The first part dwells on several features of Indian and international economy. It deals with issues like International Financial Institutions and their impact on the economy of the third world, How India’s economy has become stagnant because of export dependence, globalisation and localisation, do we need FDI in retail sector etc, why India faces inflation, and such other relevant themes. Second section is completely devoted to WTO and its impact on Indian economy especially on Agriculture. The third section is dedicated to analyse central and state budget of 2005-06. The third section is reader friendly, but hardly writes about the budget process or its meaning and limitations in the body politic and economic life of the citizens.

All the articles discuss several aspects of the economics keeping at the centre the well being and welfare of common people. Hence the author has developed a serious critique of neo-liberal economic policies that is being pursued by both state and the centre. In fact, the author correctly concludes that the root cause of all the woes of the people can be traced to the new economic policies unleashed on the people since 1991. Agriculture economics being the expertise of the author, many of the articles vividly brings out the miserable plight of the farmers which will aggravate in the coming days. The book is a welcome addition to the Kannada scholarship. But the main drawback of the book is that it does not develop any consistent methodology in critiquing the neo-liberalism. While there is an elementary introduction to Marxist, Lohiatite and Schumpeter’s critique of capitalist economy, the author makes a highly shallow mixture of all the three, hence rendering many of his theoretical premise very questionable. Another important lacuna in the budget analysis is the complete absence of reference to Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Mangement Act (FRMB), which establishes legislative supremacy of neo-liberal agenda over constitutional commitment of the elected government. However, Arthaneeti is nevertheless successful in exposing artha (meaning) of neetis (policies) of the ruling elite.