`A Goan Adventure, Starfish Pickle’ by Bina Nayak, published by Srishti Publisher & Distributors, Rs299.

CAN’T say I have read too many novels set in Goa but this one titled A Goan Adventure, Starfish Pickle’ by Bina Nayak is so evocative of a Goa as a paradise for those frustrated or jaded with life in the countries of West, and come seeking for peace, nirvana, on the beaches of Goa, held me in thrall till the bitter sad end. This is a novel to be read and will soon make it as a motion picture one learns, good luck to it. This is fiction, very easily non-fiction in real life! Here’s an engaging story of a young woman in the unusual job of a professional diver, in love with starfish she sees underwater in her various assignments of cleaning up wreckages and drowning cases – deals with bodies in various stages of death and after death. She couldn’t salvage herself from the confusions and dilemmas of life as she became got entangled with the temptations of the seemingly good lazy life on the beaches of Goa with Goa’s so called hippie community…and pays the price for it eventually. No moral judgements here but this is one story you must catch up with. Especially if you live in Goa and even if you don’t. It is brilliant story-telling taking one into the surrealistic world of those who seek their highs on a cocktail of drugs, maybe easy come and easy go sex…for those who seek relief from the tragedies of the mind and body and heart and soul which perpetually seek re-plays in search of escape and yes, love -- like it is the holy grail or reason to live or die. It’s a lightly, well-written story that it haunts long after you have put down the book. The writer has a deft touch to charm as well as take you into her dilemmas of life past and present and future a question mark…all wrapped up a futile if inevitable tragedy even as she struggles to come to terms with it. The writer paints a cool façade with words as if nothing matters (so typical to see in privileged gen young through the ages or so to speak)! But here are wry twists and turns of thinking all of us must be familiar with in our own life at some time or another -- for this is what is called the human condition, if you are human of course. What happens to those we think live charmed lives which in the end are not so charmed after all? Find out in Bina Nayak’s incredibly poignant story of “starfish pickle.” Starfish gets into her hair while in the water, she loves starfish pickle and even provides a recipe for it at the end of her book….like it is a recipe for life but never consummated with happily ever after. She says, “Starfish in the ocean/are stars on probation, when starfish die /they become/Taras in the sky…” Of course, one weeps for her and wishes it was otherwise. But there are not many happily ever after stories in life, are there? This is a story one gets involved with and I will give it several stars as I urge you to find time to read it, so that writing like this counts for something in a world where everyone has a story to tell but few can tell it like Bina Nayak has in her own distinctive hard-hitting casual way of putting words together to hit you where it hurts the most! IN real life she is a graphic designer with 28 plus, plus years in advertising and the media business. She has worked with FCB Speer, DDB Mudra, Chaitra Leo Burnett, Ogilvy and The Walt Disney company…she confesses somewhere in her acknowledgement that this was a story waiting to see the light of day for some years – then everything fell into place most magically. A Bombay girl, she moved to Goa, and confesses, “I wasn’t sure about my writing – after being exposed to some great story telling at Disney. I felt my writing was just masturbation, and didn’t think anyone else should take pleasure from it.” Starfish Pickle’ is a debut “unputdownable” book and I will say, read it, read it, be sure to read it. Coffee-table reading this is not (there is plenty if that nowadays in our times), it is compelling reading if you’re any kind of a discerning fiction reader! The sometimes surrealistic magic weaving in and out of `Starfish Pickle’ story is mesmerising as it is memorable.
Tara Salgaonkar and her quintessential Hindu Saraswat Goan family stays in the mind long after you think you are done with them! She could well be any other young woman from Bombay or any other big metro holiday in Goa chasing dreamy, romantic highs but finding as many lows…life is not “karma sharma” she says rationally somewhere, but then again, perhaps it is considering the decision she finally takes.
After a long time, a devastating read. This is the Goa you want an insight into and here is Bina Nayak defining it so exquisitely to imbibe and think about and think it over…maybe there’s message going out somewhere in the reading of “Starfish Pickle” but all that is your reading take on it. This book should be taken up by Goa’s growing number of reading clubs and groups for reading and imbibing and moon mooning over!
—Reviewed by Tara Narayan

Excerpted from `A Goan Adventure, Starfish Pickle’ by Bina Nayak…

GEORGE Harrison was forgotten. They spent the entire day drinking beer and getting roasted in the sun. Taking a break in the afternoon, they had lunch on the balcao and headed right back to the beach. Even Pooja was coaxed out. Leslie told her that feni worked like a sun block when applied on bare skin. The pairs were formed by default that day: Pooja and Pravin. Leslie and Sukanya.
Rest of the week passed with the couples going their separate ways, and regrouping at night to discuss the day’s exploits. Everybody wholeheartedly agreed that George Harrison had unwittingly become a good excuse to have fun in Goa. Soon the last few days of their stay were around the corner. Two weeks had passed like two hours.
On their last day, Sukanya and Leslie packed their bags in the morning and decided ot give Mission George Harrison’ one last try. They found an empty spot beside a guitar-strumming hippie, and settled down spreading their beach mats. He was an over-friendly sort, regaling them with songs and stories of his exploits in the country. They were relieved that their journey, undertaken in search of a musical prodigy, was at least ending to the strains of his songs. So what if someone else was doing the singing. And doing a damn good job too! “Are a famous musician?” “Not yet.” “But you are so good!” Sukanya gushed. Graciously accepting her compliments, he continued serenading her. Playing two pieces in a loop, till Leslie got irritated and asked him to stop. “Please continue,” Sukanya said sweetly. “Be grateful he’s entertaining us,” she whispered to Leslie. “He’s making a pass at you,” Leslie remarked, loud enough for the hippie to hear. “Can’t you understand, he is playingRed Lady too’ and `Love Scene’ repeatedly.”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous. Just a coincidence, is it not?” she asked the hippie, who had heard the entire conversation.
“Pure coincidence!” he said, and winked at her.
Sukunya blushed, irritating Leslie further. He stood up, rolled his beach mat in a huff and stomped off, leaving her along with the hippie.
“Why are you in Goa?” the hippie asked Sukanya.
“We’re a group of four friends from Bombay. We’ve come here to meet George Harrison. Somebody told us he’s on Calangute beach,” she said sheepishly.
“So, did you meet him?”
“Is he really here?” Sukanya turned round and looked in all directions. “Where? We’ve looked everywhere!”
“Not on the beach at the moment. He’s staying in a villa with me and my friends.”
“He is staying with you!?” Sukanya could barely conceal her excitement.
“Yes,” said the hippie, “and he would have occupied the space your beautiful body is occupying right now. But he woke up this morning with a migraine – thank god for that.”
“No way!”
“This is his guitar. See, his signature’s on it.”
“Wow! Can I touch?”Sukanya asked excitedly.
“Strum it,” he said. “I won’t tell. Not that he’d mind…”
“Please, can I meet him?” she asked, “but only if he’s feeling fine.”
“He’d love to meet you, miss…er?”
“I’m Richard, nice to meet you, Sukanya. By the way, my Indian friends call me Bhole, short for Bholenath. You can call me whatever you want.”
Sukanya was ecstatic with her serendipitous encounter. Richard-aka-Bholenath was so charming and mature in comparison to her friends. Rolling up their mats, they walked to a villa exactly three houses away from Leslie’s. Sukanya could not believe her friends and she had searched high and low for George Harrison, and all the while he was holed up right under their noses. Stepping inside Richard’s house, they learnt that George had gone to Panjim to see a doctor. She decided to wait. In any case, Leslie’s ancestral house was only a few metres away.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Richard asked her.
“I’m fine.”
“A smoke?”
“No, thanks. We’re leaving for Bombay in a few hours. I’ll be driving – we’ll drive in turns, but – okay, nothing too strong.”
She sat in the veranda, smoking weed and waiting. Richard lay in a hammock close by, chattering endlessly. He fell silent after a while.
“The mosquitoes are feasting on you, Sukanya.”
She had nodded off, dazed and tired by a whole day in the sun. All she wanted was to take off her sweaty bikini and stand under a cold shower. Richard stepped out of his hammock and walked towards her. “Would you like to inside and wait?” he asked.
She looked at him, feeling drained. “I’m so tired. I can barely stand.”
“Let me help you,” he said and lifted her in his arms.
Resting her head on his shoulders, she burrowed her face into his dreadlocks. He kissed her gently and took her to his room. All Sukanya could remember of their languid encounter as the way he devoured her with his piercing grey-green eyes. The feel of his coarse dreadlocks against her skin, and the fragrance of sandalwood that permeated through it all would remain with her for years to come. ****
SUKANYA woke up at 7.30 p.m. Her friends would be combing the beach by now, looking for her. She had to leave. Richard kissed her tenderly on her lips, apologising for being unable to introduce her to her idol.
“Actually, I don’t even like him,” she said. “You are a better musician, Richard.” Lingering a few seconds longer, she looked at him, and ran off to join her friends.
“There she is!” cried Pooja, loading luggage into the car “Where were you? We looked everywhere.”
“I was around…”
“You won’t believe what happened after I left you with that hippie,” said Leslie, no longer angry with her.
Pooja rolled her eyes. “He has repeated that story at least fifty times.”
“I was very pissed off, you know, with you and that guitar-playing bugger. So I went home, changed, and left for Panjim,” said Leslie to Sukanya. “I picked up wine and cashew packets, and then stopped at a chemist and guess who was standing beside me?”
‘GEORGE HARRISON!” screamed everyone.
“Thank goodness, at least one of us saw him,” said Sukanya. “Did you invite him for the college fest? Did he give you two hundred autographs?
“Mad or wot? He ‘s not my uncle.”
“Got one each for all of us.”
“Bas?” Sukanya asked.
“Arrey, at least I managed this much. What did you do? Bet you doped with that hippie bugger.”
“Long story short, the hippie, called Richard aka Bholenath, turned out to be friend of George Harrison who was staying at his place. I went to their villa – just three houses form here – and waited for Harrison to show up. How was I know that Leslie had detained him at a chemist shop, to sign autographs? I waited and waited, and finally gave up.”
“Just four autographs, Sukanya, and I’m not giving you yours. You’ve been very mean to me today.”
“Don’t want it; I got something better. I played his guitar.”
“I swear.”
“Fine, but no one will believe you. See, I have autographs – solid proof.”
“Girls and boys, stop fighting. Let’s go home,” said Pravin.
In a few days, Sukanya would start her first job at a bank. She would have to dress conservatively and be on her best behaviour. These last two weeks in Goa were pure freedom.
Driving through the palm-tree-lined winding roads, she felt and sad leaving it all behind. Especially Richard. She continued driving, lost in her thoughts. Not seeing the young man crossing at the crossroad near Mae de Deus Church, Saligao.

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