Set in picturesque North-East, ‘Boats on Land’ is a debut short story collection by Janice Pariat. Janice strings tales on the lives of the ethnic people, and the bond they share with their scenic surroundings. Most stories negotiate emotions in the back drop of a political conflict, folklore and overwhelming atmospherics.
The opening story, ‘A Waterfall of Horses’, is a gripping tale, which begins in the middle of the nineteenth century – when the British ruled with their cannons, guns and horses.
In ‘Laitlum’, young Grace says, “Look what’s going on. Is there time for folktales when people are shooting each other across their own town roads?” Her boyfriend Chris replies, “Perhaps that’s when they need them the most.” Conversations like these underline the thin line separating the facts from the fables.
‘Pilgrimage’ is an intimate portrayal of a young woman who comes back to Shillong from Delhi, to refresh her roots. In the grip of childhood memories, she desperately seeks the house of her adolescent Assamese boyfriend. Unfortunately, the house seems to have disappeared, in the altered landscape over the years.
Another story titled ‘19/87’ symbolises the rift between the Khasis (locals) and the ‘Dkhars’ (the outsiders). Suleiman, whose father had come to settle in Shillong
when he was merely two, doesn’t know where to go when stones rain on his roof and he hears shrieks of “Dkhar liah, mih na Shillong (You bastard outsider, get out of Shillong).”
‘Boats on Land’ presents a sensuous texture of the North East, in mesmerising poetic-prose. And unlike traditional folklore, most stories are left unresolved - compelling the reader to ponder over them, long after the last page has been turned.