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You Beneath Your Skin by author Damyanti Biswas is a multi-faceted metaphor of dark and distressing themes, with characters that you cannot help but identify with.
The main characters of this Damayanti Biswas’s new book You Beneath Your Skin are flawed in their own ways, through the experiences that life threw at them.
The protagonist, Anjali Morgan (the name itself raises an eyebrow!) is a half-American, half-Indian psychological counsellor who lives in New Delhi with her special needs son, Nikhil.
Anjali has always had a troubled relationship with her mother, and fled from the US when her marriage with her husband broke up due to Nikhil’s autism.
When I read about parents taking care of special needs children, my heart always fills with respect for such people, because raising a child is difficult enough, and when it is someone with special needs, you must draw from hidden reserves of strength to do it. Most of Anjali’s energy is devoted to caring for Nikhil and ensuring his safety while she also works with her patients.
Anjali’s professor father had been mentor to Jatin Bhatt, who had studied law in the US but returned to India and joined the police force, becoming Special Commissioner of Crime. Unhappily married to his boss’s daughter, Drishti, he is the archetypical Indian male, protective of his family, with a blind spot for his son, and extremely career-minded, a fact that keeps him in the empty marriage with Drishti.
It is a complex setup. Anjali’s past holds clues to many of her life decisions. She finds an imperfect love with Jatin but suffers from guilt pangs about being involved in an affair with a married man from time to time. To top that, she is a tenant of Maya, Jatin’s sister, who has no clue of the affair.
As the story progresses, many hidden secrets come tumbling out and a tragic incident changes the lives of all these people in ways no one had accounted for.
The story delves into the criminal side of New Delhi, with Commissioner Bhatt trying to solve a series of horrific rapes and murders of women whose faces have been melted by acid. This brings me back to the title – You Beneath Your Skin – the skin that we take for granted is so very important, in physiological, mental, and emotional ways, and something as ugly as an acid attack can wreak havoc in ways that are almost impossible to imagine.
It is unbelievably cruel to throw acid on someone’s face to disfigure and scar them for life. And the scars are not just physical ones – they go much deeper. And apart from the target of the attack, it affects the lives of many people who are associated with the victim as well.
I wouldn’t want to reveal too much of the storyline here, but I must warn you that when you pick up this book to read it, you will find it difficult to put down. You will discover that you keep asking “What happens next?”
The ending does not fall into neat patterns, and while the characters move on with their lives, having resolved some of their issues, others remain. This is what I especially liked about the novel as it did not depict drastic reformations that rarely happen in real life.
As is my habit, I always read the Author’s Note or the Acknowledgments section to find out about the person behind the book. It is evident that an extensive amount of research and rewriting went into the making of You Beneath My Skin, and one thought that kept recurring while I read the book was that it would be great if it were made into a fast-paced movie or a mini series. Maybe that will happen, or maybe it won’t – either way, reading it is an enjoyable experience as you rise and fall with the characters in the book!
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Image source: header image a still from the movie Chhapaak, and book cover Amazon
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About Indrani Ghosh nee Chaudhuri
In the fourth decade of my life, I decided that
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