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SMD MARCH 18, 2001

SMD MARCH 18, 2001


Go Skin-dipping




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 ENOUGH!

            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.


These seemingly 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.

            Mascarenhas, 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.


Sunday 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.

            Of course, you can always read it to find out what happens to Gor-gor, who, incidentally, has just one nipple.


Skin by Margaret Mascarenhas, published by Penguin, Rs 250, pp 257