MARCH 18, 2001
The galaxy of characters range from Dona Beatrice, who has
the ability to transform herself into a black leopard in times of danger, to
the hot-blooded Bosco Rodrigues aka Gor-gor who howls at the moon when his
insatiable carnal appetites find no avenue for release
Something snaps inside
Pagan Miranda Flores when a drunk named Joe accosts her in a bar in downtown
Palo Alto and says, All wimmins is good fer, is one thing, and that aint good
She calmly takes his gun and points
it at him with such primitive cool that it unnerves her later. As she seeks to
resolve the massive identity crisis the encounter has precipitated, she gets a
call from India informing her that her grandmother Dona Gabriela is on her
deathbed. To come to terms with herself , she decides there is no better place
to go than to Goa, where it all began. But a transcontinental flight is just
the beginning, as she finds out later.
Welcome then, to Skin , which
follows Pagan as she travels deep into her conscience in an attempt to hush the
murmurs of the soul. Sensing her disorientation after seeing her semi-comatose
grandmother, her aunt Livia tries to distract her by telling Pagan the official
version of their familys history from the days when the Portuguese first
landed in Goa. Her disquiet as yet persistent, Pagan seeks her old maid
Esperanca and urges her to fill in the gaps left by Livias story.
Deciding that the time is ripe,
Esperanca opens her basket of stories and tells them one y one. What Esperanca
narrates are incidents in reality, myths and folk tales from Goan and Africa
where her own forefathers were bought as slaves. These tales are interspersed
with Pagans own reminiscences of times past as memories come up to the surface
of a childhood spent partly in India and America, as a child of an Indian
father and an American motherspeaking officially.
Lines in the prologue give a
necessary and sufficient idea of what to expect, what is to come:
You see there were stories within
stories, myths, dreams, skeletons in closets. Mothers and fathers who werent.
Green-eyed girls and cases of mistaken identity. A melting pot of histories,
races, religions. People who owned other people. Points of view. Acts of
courage, cowardice, deceit. And the heart of the matter. Hearts that mattered,
shattered, scattered. Like shards from a broken mirror.
disparate stories reveal their connections to each other as the pages turn, and
the big picture comes to life slowly and surely, much like a chemical bath in
an inky- bright developing lab. Margaret Mascarenhas skillfully interweaves
these different tales from different places in time and space in this debut
novel, which escapes easy classification.
Avoiding the claustrophobic
sentimental journeys that it could lead to, the mood of the novel jumps with
each story; from the sad to the delightful, from the haunting to the poignant,
from the heart-breakingly real to the breathtakingly fantastic. The galaxy of
characters one encounters range from the enigmatic Dona Beatrice from Africa,
who has the ability to transform herself into a black leopard in times of
danger, to the hot-blooded Bosco Rodrigues, aka Gor-Gor, who howls at the moon
when his insatiable carnal appetites fond no avenue for release.
like her protagonist, is a child of the earth and has lived in the US,
Venezuela and India through the course of her life. A narrative such as this
one, seeking to blend history with fanstasy, memory with imagination, and
reality with myth, can go out of control as it plays with the readers
expectations. But the author does not let the need to convey the variety of
experiences get in the way of the business at handof being an expert story-teller.
And although initially one feels that perhaps a cast of characters in the
beginning would have served well as a ready reckoner to the convoluted
relationships between them, later one understands the underlying reasoning for
not doing so.
Im every woman, its all in me.
Anything you want done baby, Ill do it naturally.
So sang Chaka Khan;
and Whitney Houston later.
Mid-day carried a series of articles introducing
Carl Jung and his work. The influence of Jung is felt prominently in this novel
and there is reference to him. (Is this synchronicity at work?) In his school
of psychology, Jung spoke about the need to uncover the personal conscious and
then the collective unconscious to transcend the narrow confines of the ego in
order to heal oneself and in effect, the world. Skin celebrates
being a woman when it invokes the archetype of the earth mother with her
promise of renewal and a return to wholeness. In its unspoken way, it urges the
citizens of the global village to see beyond the surface and come together in
the place between time and space.
course, you can always read it to find out what happens to Gor-gor, who,
incidentally, has just one nipple.
by Margaret Mascarenhas, published by Penguin, Rs 250, pp 257