Souls on Paper – Review of “Boats on Land” by Janice Pariat

If souls can inhabit paper, I am sure there are many whispering from the pages of this short story collection. Sometimes, I would stop midway in a sentence, touching the words with my fingers, such was the eerie beauty of her prose.

I was born in Shillong, but my family moved to Guwahati following the unrest against migrants settled in this town. Growing up, I remember, every time I visited Shillong there was a strange feeling in me that I could not put into words. Reading this book made me go through the same feeling, all these years and miles away from those hills.

Janice writes about folklore, water fairies, ancient forests with spirits, in vivid time zones ranging from the Raj Era to the civil unrest in the region. In her stories, the town’s people grapple with change, and the hopeful youth who leave for greener pastures look back at the green of their childhood. Her prose is littered with Khasi and ethnic words, lending an authenticity and mystery to the stories rather than alienating the reader which some writers often end up with when they use too many native words. Some of her stories had the same quality of making you feel like you are looking down an endless well, that one associates with Murakami’s Norwegian WoodI was left smiling at her ability to pull off same-sex attraction in some of her stories without the use of any shock appeal.

It’s heartening to see a book set in North-East India that focusses on the beauty of the region rather than lamenting about how the mainstream India ignores it. If you have never been to North-East India, then grab this book because you will be carried off to a land where the spirits talk to you in dreams, while it’s physical isolation and beauty attacks your senses. If you are someone who has either visited or lived there, you should read Boats on Land – BPB to make a nostalgic trip filled with a renewed sense of wonder.

As for me, I am recovering from a dream.

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