Thursday, March 02, 2006

Azul is Macando

The Girl
Sonia Faleiro
Penguin / Viking
Pages: 124; Price: Rs 250

This slim book comes as a whiff of fresh air in these times of the rotting smell originating from a whole lot of junk which is apparently called “Indian writing in English published by Indian publishers”. Sonia Faleiro, a journalist with the venerable Tehelka magazine and a debutante author, has done a remarkable job by penning The Girl, an outstanding lyricism set in a fabulous, magically-realistic place like Azul village in Goa.
Now, while saying that the story develops and ripens in a place like Goa, do not get this notion that it is all about “picture-postcard Goa”. Far from it. It is about the angst, agony and disillusionment, the death, the bareness of the sultry land, the feni, the pork, the plain wastefulness and lethargy of a sleepy terrain, the cemeteries…
Faleiro’s is a very powerful work in that poetry and life merge with subtle felicity and is one of the best works that have come out in India in recent times; what makes this effort worthwhile is that the author is quite young to achieve this feat. It is quite Marquezian in its plotting, narration and style. Savouring this book and many a time you will be reminded of One Hundred Years of Solitude — it is a sheer pleasure, thank you. Azul is Macando.
The novel starts with a promising note: a funeral. A girl is buried on a depressing December evening, and the place is a drowsy hamlet in north Goa. Look at this imagery: “The air was thick with rose petals. Sweet, fleshy skins, red, yellow, pink, orange, waltzed with the wind before falling gently to earth. Her grave was a bed of roses... The fragrance of red rose and pink rose and fresh rose and dead rose.” You cannot get it better.
So, this girl is dead, but there are these two guys who knew her quite well and loved her, too. And they are curious like a cat, to know and to discover what went wrong and why she died. A spy job. What best way other than referring to her diary? So they devour it. The go through the pages she had penned in her sanity or lack of it and they discover — and share with her, though she is dead — “the loneliness and abandonment, of memories branded so deep that they return to haunt the soul, and of hope so powerful that it negates reality and opens the doors to a future that is never to be.” And at the end is the discovery of love and betrayal.
The character that attracts you most in the whole book is the twenty-six-year old Simon. And, yes, his mother too. Simon runs this derelict shop (that contains “orange juice well past its expiry date” and “postcards commemorating the hundred-and-twenty-fifth anniversary of the reconstruction of St Jude’s ten years ago”) and his sole customer was this girl who died. Later he reconstructs it (so wittily described) with the help of two quirky comrades and his mother takes charge. A joyful read.
Faleiro has done fantastic job and one hopes she will continue to do it. Bravo. Well, if it doesn’t sound PRish, a suggestion: do buy this book.
— Sunil K Poolani

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