Book Review: Boats on Land
Entry no. #9 – Debut Indian Writers Month: October 2012
I call short stories rassi bombs, (the green colored diwali crackers, strawberry sized but deafeningly powerful). The greatest edge short stories have over other forms of story narrations is that they are like those crackers, powerful beyond their size. Janice Pariat mounts this power vehicle in her debut book riding on fifteen rassi bombs, which are as poignant as they are potent. At a time when there is simmering unrest in the country about people from the north-east, Janice could not have chosen a better time to bring us stories from places in and around Shillong, that are a world inside the world we inhibit.
The collection initiates the reader to the myths, legends, beliefs, superstitions, political, social and cultural flow for over a century and a half though some well narrated recollections. It starts off with A Waterfall of Horses, talking about the struggle between the British and the locals with a most unusual way deployed to drive the foreigners out. Janice takes us through superstitions and the social reactions, adherence and faith through Dream of the Golden Mahseer, which is about two brothers who have been through the World Wars and have different coping strategies, while one wastes away to drink the other is taken in by the ‘water fairies’. 19/87, stresses on the rift between the ‘Khasi’s’ and the ‘dkhars’, i.e. the locals and the outsiders. Suleiman, who remembers being in Shillong ever since he was two, doesn’t know where to go back to when stones start raining on his roof in the nights with abuses hurled at him collectively to go back from Shillong. The use of kites as a metaphor of dominance and freedom is superlative in this one. All this while Secret Corridor takes us to an altogether different world of adolescence, school, recognition and self-realizations partially shielded, partially affected by the political-social scene.
The two most beautiful aspects about Boats on Land are that, firstly the stories are firstly most of the stories are either narrated by young characters who are observers or as flash backs of the good old days gone by – they are either perceptive or retrospective. Secondly there are very few narrators of prose who are poetic as well in their approach; Janice takes us through her stories like being on poetic surf – they are as philosophical as they are factual. She takes us through the physical beauty of the landscape beautifully, all along initiating us to the beliefs, myths and legends of the land. Sometimes the unknown we find strange and hostile, these stories are the magical binoculars that turn the hostile into the host – a host to beauty, enigma and old world charm.
The book is prose poetry in a hard bound; a perfect getaway without getting away. My first book about the north east and I am already planning a trip sometime soon to this land wrapped in time.
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