Superstition and tales from the past effortlessly merge with everyday life in Janice Pariat’s debut collection of short stories.
Looking at the North-East through a fresh lens devoid of exoticisation, these 15 stories range across time from the early days of the British Raj to the 1990s. They’re mostly set in Pariat’s home state of Meghalaya, the writing peppered with Khasi words and references that aren’t painfully explained to the reader, but left as cultural markers to be absorbed.
While the themes and narrative voices of the stories vary, the book is infused with mystery and a subtle deference to the supernatural. Whether in the misty hills or the markets of Shillong, time and nature lull as well as punish. Ghosts of the past permeate the stories, the characters mistrustful of outsider, whether it’s the British officers or dkhar - outsiders from beyond the hills. Through deeply personal stories, Pariat paints a larger canvas of the history of the north east, from its folklore to its political and communal unrest.
“Our landscape was marked by folktales – why’s the mountain shaped in a certain way, why the cock crows in the morning…With Boats on Land, I’ve taken these folk stories and interwoven them with the Shillong, Assam and Cherrapunji of today,” Pariat said in an interview about the book.
The result is a book that throbs with confident prose and a quietness that stays with you well after you’ve put it down.
Published in 2012.