About the author:
Janice Pariat is a writer from Shillong, India. Her work has featured in a wide number of national and online magazines and newspapers. She spends most of her time walking city streets in search of stories.
My thoughts on the book:
The power of a short story lies in its ability to keep the reader interested. That might mean delivering something that’s unique. I personally find the Indian readership of recent years to be romance addicted. I remember telling friends that I wish there was an author who could bring something new to the scene. I’m thankful to have found the collection Boats on Land by Janice Pariat.
Through the magic of her words, Pariat takes us to the lands of North East India, in the times of the British Raj. Fifteen stories of brilliance. Let me give you an inkling of what you can expect. If you close your eyes and let someone read the words to you, how good do the words have to be to turn your imagination wild and let the scene unfold? Pretty darn amazing… right? That’s what this book does, at least to me. I’ve found myself whispering the words as if I’m reading it to someone, got lost in their power.
Let me quote a line from the story “At Kut Madan”. Lucy, one of the characters says, “I used to dream of golden eggs. They fell all over like rain, whistling through the air, bursting when they touched the ground.” That the dream should be a premonition of something isn’t something that flashes, but the story is of that, of premonitions and how what we know we see and others believe we have seen varies, and how they even don’t believe.
The story “Secret Corridors” is of being different, yet somehow being just the same. It’s of a young girl trying to fit in with the “in-crowd”, and lying to do that. It’s about Natalie, who day dreams in her classroom that overlooks a serene setting, and is sent to sit next to Carmel, who is at the center of rumors at school, and in the town as well. Nat tries to fit in with Iba and her group, as they try to distance themselves from the less classy crowd, trying to find the secret passage that leads out to a boys’ school.
“19/87” talks of the rift between outsiders and locals. How in such times, the little things do seem to matter more. The little joy of flying a kite, or interpreting a dream… how they could help someone win money, or predict danger… yes, it does happen. Suleiman, the protagonist’s view is described as “he could see the town spread out before him, with its red tin roofed buildings, dark pine treetops and tangles of wires and kite strings stitching the sky.” It’s that nonchalant, sort of dreamy language that gets you into the story and makes you imagine it. That’s something present in these set of stories.
These aren’t romance stories, or horror stories or such set genre. The point of commonality is perhaps a sense of magic. Not literally of course, not always, but Pariat’s wordplay and language is such. I love the stories for that sense of place, the beauty of the North Eastern parts of India. The stories from third person point of view still is done from the view of a youth looking at the life of an elder person, or learning some little nugget of life and wisdom. From a poet’s perspective, the language is particularly poetic too, like words put to music.
Other than a wish that it was a paperback rather than a hard-cover, I don’t have any faults to say.
This book is a keeper. It was a revelation that Indian literature in English does have its brilliant points, and that the simplest ways can be the most beautiful.
Title: Boats on Land
Author: Janice Pariat
Genre: Fiction/Short Stories
Publishers: Random House India
Price: Rs. 399
(February 24th, 2013)