Book title: Boats on Land: A collection of Short Stories
Author: Janice Pariat
Publisher: Random House India
Price: Rs 399
Janice Pariat, a young writer from Shillong, worked in Delhi and is now pursuing higher studies in the School of Oriental And African Studies, London.
I first came across her writings as a poet on international e-zines and websites. The first thing that struck me in her very cadenced and sensuous verse was stamina in her poetic style, deep evocative images ranging from Shillong to London, to the baroque architecture of the West. She has now published her first collection of short stories in English — Boats on Land.
Reading Janice’s short fictions was gratifying on many counts.
I relate to these stories in many ways, as they are about an ethos that I intimately know and love — the pine-clad hills of Shillong. She infuses her stories with mysterious if not mystical elements of mantras, the Khasi belief in thlen, or some kind of ritualistic “snake worship” to propitiate the Gods, the story of fairies (puri), the colonial days, its arid hangover and ethnic demands in the eighties and nineties by local organisations, among others.
Distinct autobiographical elements are interwoven into the texture of these stories, such as the convent school she studied in and sudden forays into the tea gardens of Assam, where she lived for a considerable part of her life. Above all, a major thematic concern seems to be love and relationships, from the adolescent to the adult. Against this, the backdrop of animosity towards outsiders, which Shillong faced in the eighties and nineties. There is no historical twist to the stories, but each one is set against a realistic background: colonialism, post-colonialism, and Meghalaya after the inception of statehood facing troubled times because of recalcitrant voices, which seem to be ubiquitous. Inside this is the relationship between the local and the dkhar or outsider.
Boats on Land is a series of short stories with a metaphorical interest and significance. One obviously does not expect boats on land but on seas, and it is this paradox that is the culminating force of Janice’s stories. They are very well written and, at times, very poetic. I, for one, can adjust to the inexorable wonder of the short stories which are disfigured in terms of time, continuity and space, as I have lived in this part of the country all my life and have seen the small town syndromes from ravishing beauty and innocence to change for better or for worse.
There is more than a sprinkling of Khasi terms used in her stories, some of which she explains and translates for the benefit of the reader.
Having a distinct felicity of expression, which is poetic and which can capture natural beauty, Janice’s short stories are not only evocative but present a political situation which creates conflict or interests, between say the local and the outsiders. However, the political situation in the last two decades of the previous century when she was a young girl in the adolescent stage of her life evokes deep memories and sensitivities, which she looks at squarely and unabashedly.
Janice is a storyteller we have to watch out for, given her style, grace and finesse.