18 November 2008

Gouri Dange's 3 Zakia Mansion

Home truths

Gouri Dange’s books draw as much from her skills as a talented writer, as much from her profession as a family counselor

Gouri Dange’s views as a city-based counselor and a columnist writing on a variety of social and other issues have always been a much-valued one. Hence, one welcomed her foray into fiction writing with her debut novel, 3 Zakia Mansion earlier this year with her close friends Shabana Azmi and Tanvi Azmi releasing the book in Mumbai and Pune respectively.

By her own admission, 3 Zakia Mansion evoked drastic yet interesting responses.
The book recounts the journey of a young Muslim woman, Shaheen, leading a somewhat repressed life with her parents and hoping for a better future by way of marriage. But this is nothing short of a disaster, as Shaheen’s life takes a turn for the worse with a cowardly husband and an offensively dominating mother-in-law. There’s no real respite for Shaheen as her young daughter too briefly turns against her. But towards the end, life looks up, as Shaheen not only discovers new relationships, but herself too.

The middle portion of the book reads like a soap opera but Gouri says none of it is exaggerated. “There are people who are irredeemably horrible, so I presented them as black. I know people saw that portion as a saas-bahu drama but believe me, I was drawing from people I have met in real life. Almost 70 per cent of these are vexed relationships and the mother-in-law here is a symbol of someone who cannot see beyond her son.
But didn’t she fear reinforcing the ‘saas’ stereotype? “Not really, because I counter- balance it with Mrs Kher – Shaheen’s second encounter with a potential mother-in-law – who is initially appalled at the 12 year old age gap between her son, Manav and Shaheen but quickly comes around. Many people look at their families and wonder why they are so abnormal, but that's how most families are. Abnormal is the new normal,” she says.

With 3 Zakia Mansion and her next book, ABC of Parenting, Gouri draws aspects from her experience as a counselor. “My daughter (her neice whom she adopted) is 23 year old and married – so there weren’t many elements I could take from there. Of course there is a certain home-grown wisdom that you gather while parenting but most of it of course came from meeting real people and problems,” she says.

And fascinatingly, Gouri has infused several of her ideas in her first fictional work. “There were a couple of things that I absolutely wanted to include in the novel – one was the childhood element. As a child and a teenager, Shaheen is in shallow waters but with marriage, she’s thrown into the deep end. Overnight, her life takes a 180 degree turn. That was a construct I wanted in 3 Zakia Mansion. Anybody who gets into a new situation – whether marriage or migration-- only to run away from his/her present life is taking a huge risk. A lot of young women go into marriage as an escape from their reality and that’s nothing but jumping from the fire pan into the fire. Which is why I have always been an advocate of pre-martial counseling, only to be met with resistant parents who think ‘why let the couple think so much?’ That doesn't mean I was punishing my character (Shaheen) for using marriage as an escape route. In fact, I was literally throwing nice people in her way towards the end because she is defiant in her own way,” she says.

The other thing Gouri was sure she would be doing in her novel is of having Shaheen date a man much younger than her. “I see so many great relationships where there is a definite age difference. Two unlikely people can be so right for one another sometimes. In the West of course, this is a prevalent phenomena but I think we too in India must ‘loosen’ up to aspect like these. Why reject a good relationship over something like age?”

Gouri says she’s undecided about her next book but in all likelihood, it will either be a book of short stories or another fictional work.

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