WRITING STYLE: 4/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 3/5
The beauty of the north-east lies in its culture, its people and its landscapes. The seven sisters, as these seven states are called, have their own culture, beliefs and language, and each one is more beautiful than the other. But these are in jeopardy due to unrestrained modernisation. I have recently come across many stories about the changing face of the north-east due to mass migration, uncontrolled urbanisation and increasing militarization. Most of these accounts and reports have been written in the extreme spectrum and have failed to compare the past and the present. Through Boats on Land, a vivid collection of short stories, Janice Pariat’s has tried to bring out the transformation of her home state, Meghalaya, over a period of the past two centuries.
‘Boats on Land’ is a collection of 15 short stories, all based in Meghalaya from the 19th century to the present day. These colourful stories narrate a wide range of human emotions, and in the process brings out the myths, legends and folklores, customs and traditions of the region. From one story to the next, you can visualise and feel the change in the landscapes due to modernisation, the change in beliefs due to westernisation, and change in the people due to prevailing circumstances.
The first story ‘A Waterfall of Horses’, set in the 1850s, is about class discrimination – skirmish between British plantation settlers and the locals, and brings out the firm belief of the people of those times in sorcery and black magic. ‘Kut Madan’, set during the Great War, is based on the taboo surrounding inter-racial relationships, in which a British girl falls in love with a local. ‘Dream of the Golden Mahseer’ is the story of a war torn man and brings out the myth of the Puris or water fairies. ‘19/87’ and ‘Laitlum’ bring out the ethnic war of the Khasis, or the locals, against the Dkhars, or the outsiders. ‘Boats on Land’ narrates the story of two teenage girls who find comfort and love in one another. There are stories about people who have migrated to distant cities, and stories of people who have returned from distant cities to the embrace of their land; there are stories of love and stories of loss of loved ones; there are stories of conflict and stories of harmony. There are stories of many other such contraries.
“I can measure our days together by the number of times we went to the river. Ten in fourteen days. Which by most accounts is not long, yet a dragonfly, you told me, may live for only twenty-four hours, and if we were dragonflies we would have spent ten lifetimes together.”
The best part of all these stories are its characters – vivid, nuanced, complex, yet enchantingly alluring. The emotions and sensations of the characters forms the basis of these stories. Janice’s writing style is ingenious and fresh. The clever intertwining of age old myths and superstitions with modern blights like social unrest and racial discrimination make an exciting blend.
Though the endings of the stories are a bit abrupt, and sometimes absurd and confusing, the characters make ‘Boats on Land’ worth reading. Do give it a try.
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