Monday, April 12, 2010

Q&A with Gouri Dange

Gouri Dange is a writer, book editor and practising family counsellor. Her features, articles, interviews, short stories – various works of fiction and non-fiction – have appeared regularly in leading Indian publications, on her website, and in a US-based magazine called India Currents. Her writings have a large informal following – readers, bloggers and editors write in regularly expressing their appreciation and delight at her style and content – which ranges from the savagely funny to the nuancedly reflective and empathetic. She holds writing workshops, in which participants are guided to synthesize and transform into writing what they experience, perceive and imagine. She blogs here.

Here's a short Q&A with her:
1) Your earlier blog posts have material published in your columns.Which papers/magazines did you/do you write for?

I have written for and continue to write for the TOI, Express, HT, Outlook, Pune Mirror, Sakaal Times, Namaskaar, Jetwings, Commodity Vision, Gentleman, Mindfields, Mint, Soma, Business India, Swagat, Metroscan, Life Positive, Well-Being, and some Internet content people.

2) What kind of counselling do you do? and for what ages/parameters?

It’s usually personal and family/relationship counselling. Students who come from far and wide to Pune for further studies – they often seek counselling support in areas such as: loneliness/homesickness, adjustment to a new culture, dealing with authority figures, handling money, sexual issues, issues of self-esteem and confidence, experimentation with alcohol, commitment in relationships, perceptions of ‘safe and unsafe’ behaviour, work/exam pressures, etc. I am able to provide not only an empathetic ear, but constructive suggestions and guidance. Having lived in various parts of the world and interacted with a range of nationalities, I am comfortable with a range of accents, which makes it that much easier for students to be understood and communicate freely. Cases in which family members have for long been at logger-heads and have been urged to seek counseling by those around them. I have been able to help them identify the assumptions, misplaced expectations, poor communication and hidden agendas that have fuelled the deterioration of the relationship. Couples who have basically sound marriages but are in a bad phase (related to children, infidelity, career issues, sex-related matters, in-laws etc). I also work with people who are in abusive marriages and are in the midst of divorce proceedings, helping them to let go and part ways in a non destructive way. I also provide secondary support in cases where the person seeking counselling is part of a couple or family in which one person is being treated by a psychiatrist for schizophrenia, alcoholism, etc. The person coming to me for counselling is able to find ways of coping and providing positive support to the partner/family member under treatment. In mid life issues, in the case of men, usually relating to impending retirement or retrenchment; sexual ‘boredom’ and perceived non-responsiveness of the partner, loss of interest in work, search for more meaning, etc. In the case of women, ‘empty nest’ syndrome, work-fatigue, menopause, changing sexuality, etc. I have been able to help them come to terms with certain issues, take some hard decisions, deal with guilt, etc. I work with the elderly – where the issues are loneliness, restricted mobility, disability, perceived loss of worth/respect/independence. Have been able to help in better adjustment to their changed life situation – in terms of finding new careers/hobbies, mending relationships, etc. Also worked with care-givers of the elderly, addressing their difficulties. I also work with young children and their parents. I sometimes work in tandem with a psychiatrist and/or a paedatrician

3) You are a passionate listener of Hindustani classical music. Do you have any formal training in the same?

Yes, I learnt the sitar from when I was about 15, for over 20 years. I also sat in on my mother’s training and riyaz etc during her sangeet visharad ‘sadhana’. I taught the sitar for some years to young/new students. I don’t play now, it seems like there is so much to listen to, rather than to play! I play the harmonium and sing, but not in any formal/performance mode.

4) When do you expect The Bedside Blog to be published?

Someone’s working on the cover and the inside design – I hope to have illustrations and separators and little elements and embellishments along with the pieces. The artist’s name is Junuka Deshpande. She’s in Boston right now, and also a blogger – She is also a musician, filmmaker and so many other things. So bedside blog should be out in September of this year 2010. Under the imprint OMO Books.

5) As a writer, do you feel that your craftsmanship has changed from 3, Zakia Mansion to The Counsel of Strangers?

Not essentially, but yes, I have become less ‘condensed’ and more ‘amplified’. To use a music metaphor, perhaps I am singing in a more ‘khulla awaz’ now. And I am trying a raagmala – of six characters! 3 Zakia Mansion is a single raga explored and presented, perhaps.

6) What are the influences that have shaped you most profoundly?

Is this where I say Mother Teresa? J. ...Well it’s parents who lived life very fully – peopling it with friends, music, food, travel, hard work, a good smattering of irony and sarcasm and humour even in bad times. And also allowed me to meander on to many paths, without any pressure to ‘become’ this and ‘achieve’ that. The three primary kids in my life (now all grown), a niece, a nephew and a deemed daughter as i call her, have also influenced me and continue to do so. They were my fans and now I’m their fan. There are a host of subsidiary kids too – who are now lovely grown-ups. And they have actually influenced the way I look at the world. My friends (to whom I have dedicated the forthcoming The Counsel of Strangers) are also a deep and wide influence. Music is a huge influence. Ok, now this is sounding like an Oscar speech. a

7) Shaheen never gets treated for her psychological issues, and somehow manages to carry on, despite them. As a counsellor, what do feel helped her the most?

Well she did have one small skirmish with a lady therapist! Shaheen had a genuine core and did not run away from her issues. She chose to stare them in the face, and perhaps had that ability in her. She could separate the useless from the meaningful. The coming of Manas and his mother into her life provided anchors and ports at which she could dock. Her daughter too was a force in her life. Once she stopped being embarrassed and burdened by her dysfunctional family, she could deal with things.

8] Who are your favourite authors and literary influences? Gosh, so many. Graham Greene, Naipaul, Alexander McCaull Smith, Sheila Dhar (I would have been her groupie were she alive), Wodehouse, Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie writing non crime), Edward Stewart, and really so many more...poets, bloggers, humourists, screenwriters.

9] Any advice you would give bloggers who are tempted to write books?

Write away! But do get beyond the purely autobiographical. And experiment with genres. And pay your bills on time.

10] What are you working on next?

There’s The Counsel of Strangers and Bedside Blog; also a second ABCs of Parenting – these are ready and in the design/printing pipeline. I plan to go into a second edition of 3 Zakia Mansion, under the OMO Books label. Also the Marathi 3 Zakia Mansion, which is being translated right now by Anagha Lele.

I’m also experimenting with stand-up monologues (not exactly all comedy – a range of narrations from the funny to the sentimental) and am doing these in front of small audiences of about 30 people in Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore.


  1. Oh wow! The woman wear many hats! Where does she find the time to do it all?

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