Boats on Land: Weaving Northeast's Real and Surreal

New Delhi
Boats on Land: Weaving Northeast's Real and Surreal
Janice Pariat often wanted to interweave the mundane and the surreal, the apparent reality of daily life with the folkloric and her debut book of stories attempts to portray the way in which many different "realities" co-exist in the northeast, from where she hails.

Boats on Land is a collection of 15 stories set in and around Shillong, Cherrapunjee and pockets of Assam. The tales span over the course of a century, beginning in the 1850s and ending in the contemporary, modern world.

They are historical, almost sociological re-imaginings of a region and its people, interweaving folklore, superstition with political and social events both local and international.

The writer from Shillong who is currently studying History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London started writing down these stories about two years ago.

"I wrote these stories with a view to somehow fill the space between the realistic and the folkloric, to re-imagine the places I've grown up in, and to paint a vivid picture of a stunningly poignant and troubled region," Pariat told PTI.

Boats on Land, published by Random House, is about the stories that have grown out of anecdotes that Pariat heard from family, friends and even strangers. It is a unique way of looking at the northeast and its people against a larger historical canvas – the early days of the British Raj, the World Wars, conversions to Christianity, and the missionaries.

"I wanted to interweave the mundane and the surreal, the apparent reality of our daily lives with the folkloric. The stories in Boats on Land attempt to portray the way in which many different 'realities' co-exist in the region where I come from... My stories, more than anything else, offer an alternate way of looking at the world, wherever the reader might be from," she says.

Pariat chose US photographer Neil Craver's shot of a nude girl under water for the cover.

"Craver's photograph was apt for a number of reasons - it's a striking, catchy image, with gorgeous colours. Water, especially rivers, features a great deal in my stories and works as a transformative, often magical space. The photo also picks up on the imagery from the title story, which features two young girls who take solace in a bath tub filled with warm water," she says.

According to Pariat, the stories her grandparents told her were as important as the stories that everyone else told me in her childhood while conceiving the book.

"We must remember that the Khasis were a largely oral culture until the mid-1800s, until the coming of the missionaries, and hence, we hold a great reverence for the power of the word. Songs, mantras and folklore form an important part of our social interactions – and all that has filtered into shaping the book," she says.
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