Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories by Janice Pariat
Fifteen short stories set in and around Shillong, stories of men, women, children, hills, rivers, rain, magic and change.
The stories are different in a way that I cannot quite put my finger on. They are almost poetry. The author writes of her land and people in intimate ways that do not exoticize; instead, she brings her world to us as though to make us think we have always made love to the beauty of the Northeast. Fantasy and reality walk hand in hand, you don’t know where they take leave of each other. What of the man who becomes a tiger to protect his daughter from being molested? You can only do it out of love, the narrator scoffs. Maybe you really can. The stories always seem to point to something beyond what is in front of us, that which cannot be seen, but which we constantly try to explain.
There are also bigger themes the author introduces, while detailing the lives of ordinary people. Stories follow a timeline of sorts – the colonial era, Christianity making inroads, the upheavals and the army, the Khasi people’s distrust of outsiders, and Development (bringing with it smart phones and ugly malls). None of these points are spelt out so much as touched upon. The stories have a dream like quality to them, you feel like the beautiful words may vanish if you don’t read them all at once.
She writes, “That morning the world had shrunk to the size of a mole.” I can’t get this line out of my head. But if I had to list all the exquisite lines I came across, I might have to type out the book. There was one thing I learnt though, that Shillong was a part of Assam not very long ago. Clearly, knowing the capitals of the seven sister states doesn’t amount to much.