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Artistic Leanings
Text by Margaret Mascarenhas and Photographs by Assavri Kulkarni
Published: Volume 15, Issue 12, December, 2007
When she is not writing, she is usually penning a grant proposal for an artist or supervising the restoration of old colonial houses in Goa. Author Margaret Mascarenhas who has an eye for work of a slightly offbeat nature, explores the changing aesthetic scenario of the region

Ever since I decided to make Goa my permanent base over a decade ago, I have been mentally, emotionally and physically investing in two areas of endeavour: conservation of old Goan houses and support of artists working out of Goa. So, when Iím not writing fiction, I am usually penning a grant proposal for an artist or artists or supervising the restoration of old colonial houses, my most recent restoration projects being two village houses in North Goa.

I became addicted to Goa at an early age, though Iím pretty sure that wasnít my fatherís intention when he started travelling with me and my sister from Venezuela to India every two years; he just wanted us to know our Indian grandparents. At any rate, some of my best times growing up were during holidays at our ancestral home, a 350-plus-year-old colonial structure full of history and soul in the village of Anjuna, where often up to 30 people Ė aunts, uncles, cousins Ė would congregate on weekends to laugh, tell stories and dance in the big ballroom with the hand-painted crystal chandeliers. If our house withstood the test of time and termites during my grandmotherís tenure, it was largely due to her meticulous attentions. Each year in April or May she would remove the roof tiles and sun bake the heavy teak beams and the hardwood floors of the second storey. Over a 1,000 sq m in built-up area, that house felt to us children as big as a stadium. It is no wonder that I became spoiled for any dwelling that didnít have walls two feet thick and ceilings as high as a church. Till today I feel claustrophobic in flats.

When I take on the rescue of an old broken-down colonial, I try to restore its primary architectural features and also imbue it with a new and slightly quirky, but rustic personality that will make it an attractive modern-day residence option. If Iím living in it, I fill it with as much Goan art and artifacts as I can afford. I began to get serious about buying Goan art, especially drawings, when one of my artist friends presented me with three excellent renditions of a character from my novel, Skin in 2001.

My great aunt Maria was a spunky and accomplished self-taught figurative painter. Her best work, a sensitively executed ĎSacred Heartí, hung in the prayer room of our Anjuna home until one of my uncles decided to lease the place to Lady Hamlyn a few years ago. Maria had painted the eyes of Jesus in such a way that they followed you around the room, which might have been intrusive, had it not been for the haunting compassion captured in their expression. She died at an early age of juvenile diabetes, long before I was born. But I like to think that a little of her spunk, if not her talent, swam the familyís genetic pool to me. How else would I, at the age of 18, have had the audacity to try to extend my holiday in Paris by marching into the office of a fashionable coat-maker and offering my sketches to him in exchange for money? Without batting an eye, he directed me to a room with stacks of paper and told me to start drawing. I am certain that it was out of pure amusement and good-naturedness, that out of nearly a 100 sketches, he selected two and paid me enough to support myself for another month at the Hotel de LíAvenir (now a high-end boutique hotel, but at the time, a cheap but respectable place with lumpy beds in close proximity to the Jardin du Luxembourg).

Though I was not destined to be an artist, I did and do, have an eye for line, as well as for work of a slightly offbeat nature, a trait encouraged by a college professor who successfully turned me into a diehard Hundertwasser fan. My acquaintance with Indian contemporary art occurred after the age of 23, when I arrived in Mumbai to work with and train under Saryu Doshi. I lived at her house, which was full of contemporary and ancient Indian art and served as a regular hang-out for many artists who are today considered masters. It was a priceless learning experience.