Friday, July 15, 2022

Rainy Daze: My essay on Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar’s “Skin over milk”

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an amazingly observant writer.  To paint a picture in broad strokes is one thing.  To knit a yarn with lovingly woven threads is another skill altogether.  No prizes for guessing where the author of the brilliant “Morsels of Purple” falls.  While “Morsels of Purple” was a delectable collection of flash fiction pieces, “Skin over milk” is a quietly powerful novella about three sisters. 

Why did I say, “quietly powerful?”  It is because I have read my share of pieces where the outward explosions and catharses of characters are captured in a raw, in-your-face and unflinching manner.  The tone of “Skin over milk” is different.  Characters implode under the weight of patriarchal entitlements.  There is a mix of gorgeous poetry and minute observation in the way Sara captures pain.  One of the most exquisite lines in this book is a case in point – “The clouds rumbled as they emptied their moisture with a plunk-plunk-plunk on the tin shed but we let ours flow in silence.”  In fact, rain, beyond being a metaphor, is almost a character in the proceedings.  And it is a testament to Sara’s dazzling skill as a writer that she does not use it in convenient, cliched ways.  Nowhere is this more evident in an astonishingly effective line where a character likens her unbearable pain to “why clouds groaned.”

Skin over Milk (image courtesy of

But lest you think that the book is gloomy, let me assure you that it is anything but.  It is a story of empathy and inner steel in the face of adversity.  It is about living life with hope despite feeling indignant and helpless at times.  It is about finding joy in the little pleasures of life, even if it means the occasional creation of imaginary worlds within the real one.  Sara, for major portions of the book, does a splendid tightrope walk between bringing out the pain experienced by the sisters and their mother while doing so in a matter-of-fact manner, never milking a moment in a superfluous or indulgent manner.  As a result, we marvel at the acute observations, we feel the pain, we smile and laugh with the characters, all along feeling like an active participant in the proceedings, not a remote observer.  When a girl receives physical blows coupled with verbal abuse, the “words cut deeper than the leather belt” not just for her but for us too.  And when the characters engage in some harmless mischief with a rickshawallah, we smile impishly as though we were in on the act.

“Skin over milk” is proof that one need not pack a story with twist after twist for a read to be gripping.  Sometimes, choosing a seemingly simple narrative and examining pivotal moments with a microscope can draw a reader into the writer’s world just as compellingly.  And that is exactly what Sara does with this delightful little book.  The rain might have featured prominently in the book, but it is the readers that will want to shower the author with lavish praise.


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