Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: Gouri Dange's Three Dog Night

An early morning phone call awakens our protagonist, the sixty one year old Vibhavari Pradhan, better known as Viva. No emergency, but excited romantic news from her much younger friend Moni. Viva tries, not very successfully, to curb her disapproval of the obnoxious graphic artist Shirish when dealing with Moni's romantic aspirations.

Viva is trying to disengage from the material world, to travel light, as it were, for her remaining years,  and starts giving away many of the accoutrements of her earlier life as a corporate wife. 
Viva's late husband Ashwin is a significant presence in the book, from his admonitions to exercise every morning even before 'teeth, tea and tatti', to his sixtieth birthday gift to Viva which complicates her life, to his wonderfully thought out gift on her fiftieth birthday, to the comfort she finds in his jackets and suits....

I picked up the book to help me write this review, and got sucked into it yet once again, which makes reviewing it rather difficult!

Viva is matter-of-fact, dispassionate and honest about herself and her relationships. Her first encounters both with her first grandson, and with the one she acquires later in life, are poignant. The friendship, affection and respect she and Dhruvi share are heart-warming. Her conversation with the tele-marketer, with Dhruvi as her spluttering audience, is simply hilarious. Her relationship with her daughter, Shruti, is fraught, but does improve as the story progresses. Her son and daughter-in-law are always sensible and supportive, and non-paranoid parents to young Dhruv. Emanto enters Viva's life by virtue of getting left behind on a train, and creates his own special space in her heart.
You can only love Viva for her non-interfering acceptance and appreciation of her reticent artist neighbours, Farhaan and Orup. Gouri describes their art forms so beautifully that you long to see their wonderful creations.

Life brings about some interesting twists and turns.
Being in your sixties doesn't keep you immune from the match-makers you know, and the emotional issues that ensue are not easy to deal with. Viva also meets the underworld character, Gautam Gafoor, to help her sort out a land deal, and comes up with a brilliant solution to her problem.

Viva's relationship with street dogs is remarkable. Her affinity for the canine has her late husband call her "Shvaneshwari", and she photographs Mumbai's street dogs for a project during  the course of which she meets Aidan Skene, a Scottish vet and now researcher, who is in India to document the Indian dog.

(An interesting note is the insertion of a few related recipes in some of the chapters, some of which sound most delectable, like the sinful sounding Coffee Crystal, tender coconut prawns, and dal dhokli).

These and other assorted major and minor characters, including a nameless woman on a train, make this slender book very rich in content. There is a reference to Kumar Gandharva's beautiful rendering of Kabir's song, Sakhiya, vah ghar sab say nyaara, and there is also Viva  cursing fluently when required!   Viva is a character after my own heart, and I would love to know what happens next in her life........

It is hard to do justice to such a book in a brief review without giving away too much of it.
I can only thank the author, Gouri Dange, for writing this utterly enchanting and delightful book!