Janice Pariat’s first book Boats on Land comprises cross-currents of history and people and place. They are stories about telling stories and assembling worlds anew with words
They sprang from many places. Long, quiet evenings, as a child in Shillong, cloaked in load-shedding darkness. On my grandfather’s knee, with the candle throwing strange, distorted shadows on the wall. Mr and Mrs Rat, his school days in Goethal’s. While my dad’s father told me ghost stories, of his days camping in jungles when he came across more than just the animals he hunted. “I saw it at night,” he’d say, “it danced in a circle, singing a song in a language that didn’t belong to man.”
Then there was my childhood in Assam, where my father worked, managing vast tea plantations, and where we lived in magical old bungalows with space within them and outside, for my imagination to run wild. Even though this was the 1990s, it was still an isolated life – miles away from towns and cities, sometimes far away even from other tea estates. The libraries in the clubs were filled with books; there wasn’t much else for people to do. I devoured Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, Shel Silverstein and Beatrix Potter. At parties, as the drinks went down, stories were unearthed – usually about Assam in the past, when the tea plantation managers and assistants were eccentric and mostly British. The elephant-hunters and mad drinkers. My father, as with many in my family, is a natural storyteller – with the ability to pause at the right moment, to use the aptest phrase, to spin a yarn that wraps around the people in the room until they are all drawn in, and they sit and watch and listen like children.
The stories in Boats on Land have been carried around with me for years. They have been filched most faithfully, from snatches of conversation, from evenings of visiting friends and sitting around the fire eating oranges. They’re from here and there, and mostly everywhere, patched together with care. They revel in being unreal and unsure, where “truth” is happily, joyously elusive. They are not concerned too much with explaining things – what really happened, what he really said or saw. They slip between shadow and light like rumour, cruel as gossip, weightless as pine dust, flitting from one place to another. My stories, like me, are mongrels. Cross-currents of history and people and place. They are stories about telling stories and assembling worlds anew with words.
Janice Pariat is a writer from Shillong, India. Her work, including poetry, fiction and articles on art and culture, has featured in a wide number of magazines and newspapers. She edits Pyrta an online literary journal and spends most of her time wandering city streets in search of stories. Boats on Land is her first book. The publisher is Vintage Books, Random House. And the book (out in hardback) is priced at Rs 399.