Friday, July 30, 2010

The Counsel of Strangers by Gouri Dange

Reviewed by Kiran Manral

This, the second novel from counsellor and author Gouri Dange, is a book that is a compilation of stories, the stories of strangers thrown together at a wedding of someone they are not particularly close to, a wedding they have to be present at for the sake of appearances.

A motley crew of people, a retired air force man, a nurse, a professor, a young boy, a disgraced news anchor, a voice over artist, move out of the wedding celebrations to a viewing gallery at a little distance, where inhibitions are dropped and stories about their lives get shared. Readers might find parallels in the recent book by Chitra Banerje Divakaruni, One Amazing Thing, where earthquake survivors trapped in a collapsed building, tell each other the one amazing thing in their lives which had changed things around for them. Or of Rana Dasgupta's Tokyo Cancelled, where a wait at an airport terminal becomes a fantastical voyage of magic realism. Or even still, the epic Chaucerian Canterbury Tales, written way back in the 14th Century, where a pilgrimage to Canterbury by an assorted lot of people of the age, leads them all to narrate their individual stories as a way to pass the time. But where Dange's narrative differs is at the end, where all her story tellers find their individual resolutions.

As the strangers thrown together come out with their stories, we learn of love that was forbidden because the lovers were considered old, and therefore didn’t have the right to fall in love, of a child who is forced to overcompensate for the delinquency of his older brother and be the good boy, of a nurse, stifled and suffocated by the routine of caring for the patients under her charge, the voice over artist with a failed marriage behind her, and an attempt at a relationship with an NRI abandoned, a professor who sees with dismay her son getting into popular Bollywood and falling prey to the various isms that govern the film industry and its superstitions.

The novel is crafted in the per chapter one person’s story tradition, with the rest of the motley crew putting in their opinions and perspectives on the story, and the end of the book tying together all the unfinished stories, in the form of emails sent out to the group. Stories are resolved, peace is made with situations, life goes on. The counsel offered to the each other at the end of each chapter has been acted on, strangers have helped put each other’s lives in perspective in a way that one’s immediate friends and family would never have been able to.

This book is the kind of heartwarming book that brings a glow to one’s day with the thought that no matter what the trials and tribulations you face, you are not alone, everyone has their own demons to battle.

Rs 250/-
Available off the website


  1. Loved this line, "everyone has their own demons to battle".

  2. The Counsel of Strangers and 3 Zakia Mansion are now available:
    In Mumbai at: Strand Book Stall, Fort; Danai, Khar; Crossword Stores
    In Pune at: All Crossword stores, Manney's; Book World and Popular in Deccan Gymkhana; Twist N Tales in Aundh; Samutkarsh Books, Kothrud.
    In Calicut at: Elements Homestead
    In Shantiniketan WB: at Abakash
    In Delhi at: Yodakin, Haus Khas Village; and Maximum Store
    In Bangalore at: Gangaram, Strand Book Stall

    Oxford and Landmark have not stocked it yet, but they will soon. Reliance Time-out stores don't have it yet, but they will soon.

  3. yes, this is an astute, well-written book from Gouri Dange. The book is as much about dispair as it is about hope and life's healing powers.