Janice Pariat

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Janice Pariat. Photo: Luigi Russi
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Janice Pariat Good Reads

Janice Pariat

Janice is a writer based between London and New Delhi/Shillong (depending on the weather).

Studied English Literature at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

Pariat worked as the Arts Writer at Time Out Delhi, after which she spent time in Shillong writing prose and poetry.

She edited an online literary journal called Pyrta. Her short story collection, Boats on Land, was published by Random House in October 2012.

Janice Pariat is the author of Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories (Random House India, 2012). She was awarded the Yuva Puraskar (Young Writer Award) from the Sahitya Akademi (Indian National Academy of Letters) and the Crossword Book Award for fiction in 2013. Her work—including art reviews, cultural features, book reviews, fiction and poetry—has featured in a wide selection of national magazines & newspapers.

She writes a monthly literary column “Paperwallah” for The Hindu BL Ink. In 2014, she was the Charles Wallace Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Currently, she lives in Italy and India. Her first novel Seahorse was published by Vintage Books, Random House India in November 2014

Her work has featured in a wide number of national magazines & newspapers including OPEN, Art India, Tehelka, Caravan: A Journal of Culture & Politics, Outlook & Outlook Traveller, Motherland, and Biblio: A Review of Books, among others

Her books

“Seahorse: A Novel”

Nem is a student of English literature at Delhi University. He drifts between classes, weed-hazy parties, and the amorous complexities of campus life, until a chance encounter with an art historian steers him into a world of pleasure and artistic discovery. Nem’s life is irrevocably transformed. One day, without warning, his mentor disappears.

In the years that follow, Nem cocoons himself in South Delhi, writing for a chic cultural journal. When he is awarded a fellowship to London, a cryptic note plunges him into a search for the art historian—a search which turns into a reckoning with his past. Retelling the myth of Poseidon and his youthful male devotee Pelops, Seahorse transforms a simple coming-of-age story into an epic drama of loss, love, and healing.

Sanjay Sipahimalani/ India Today: Review

Mosaic of remembrance India Today December 19, 2014

Written in a folkloric style best described by the epigraph that referenced Alejo Carpentier's "marvellous real", Janice Pariat's collection of short stories, Boats on Land (2012), was notable for its evocation of lives past and present in Shillong and its environs. With Seahorse, her debut novel, Pariat extends her range to come up with a filigreed tale of disquiet and discontent, of longing and loss, based on the Greek myth of sea-god Poseidon and his young acolyte and lover, Pelops.

Much of Seahorse is about the inscription of desire on the slate of memory. "We are shaped by absence," thinks Nem. "The places that escape our travels, the things we choose not to do, the people we've lost." (A sentence that brings to mind the words of the recently deceased Mark Strand: "In a field/ I am the absence/of field. / This is/always the case./ Wherever I am/ I am what is missing.") This sentiment is matched by a mode of narration that, for the most part, shows incidents broken up into separate sequences of action and aftermath; a wholeness comprised of fragments, a mosaic of remembrance and yearning.

It is also the case, however, that the novel sags slightly in the middle, during the long episodes of Nem's life in London-despite the attempt to provide a harmonic resonance via the loops of longing and variations of sexual attraction that Nem's friends experience. Then, there are occasions when the poetic threatens to tip over to the portentous ("Prophecies are the most scientific of supernatural phenomena, for they, like science, invest in a single outcome. The one truth."). In addition, the accident in the English countryside at the end, though it continues the mythic parallelism, does come across as a trifle staged and out of place with Seahorse's otherwise wistful, gentle tone.

Leaving all of that aside, Pariat's prose is beguiling: take, for instance, her pithy descriptions of interiors and exteriors. It's a pleasure to read of the "pale fury" of the Red Fort; of rooms "as desolate as churches"; of the wings of a building "spread long and low, like a bird in flight"; of London being "filled with old light"; and of a "bigbellied sky" pressing against the tops of buildings. Appropriately enough, Seahorse is also shot through with images of water, be they in aquariums, swimming pools or the seaside.

The paradox of memory, writes Pariat, "is that it gives you back what you had on condition that you know it has been lost". To regain it, she continues, "you must remember it has gone; to remake the world, you need to first understand that it has ended". Seahorse, then, is a fine and estimable account of the refashioning of an interior world suffused by a pining for what has been lost.

“Our Names”

A collection of poems inspired by the poet’s hometown Shillong, by the Khasi language and its special orality. By travel. To Wales, Lisbon, London. And finding a sort of home everywhere. The poems revel in a sense of place, and also placelessness. In seeking and losing, in love and depletion. They are miniature windows with which to look into the world with disconcertion – yet also, wonder. Written at desks and airplanes, on residencies and cellphones, while travelling and moving, while being still. They are offerings.

Forthcoming December 2014 with a preface by Robin Ngangom

Boats on Land

Boats on Land (Random House, India; 2012) won the Sahitya Akademi Young Writer Award 2013 and the Crossword Book Award for Fiction. Set in India’s northeast—around Shillong, Cherrapunjee and pockets of Assam—these tales are shaped against a larger historical canvas of the British Raj, the World Wars, conversions to Christianity. This is a world where the everyday is infused with the folkloric and supernatural. Here, a girl dreams of being a firebird. An artist watches souls turn into trees. A man shape-shifts into a tiger. Another is bewitched by water fairies. Political struggles and social unrest interweave with fireside tales and age-old superstitions.

Pariat's online works

Read 'Boats on Land' here.

Read 'Hong Kong' here.

Reviews

Asian Review of Books Pariat’s stories excavate the mystical and the vulnerable with nuanced, intense text, furtively capturing moods of displacement and stillness. ”

India Today Perhaps the most frustrating thing about reading Boats on Land is seeing how good a book it could be. ”

The Sunday Guardian Janice deliciously underplays her settings and is adept at conveying both atmosphere and character. Even her ambiguities have a queer beauty. ”

People The beauty of Janice’s prose is a feast for the senses. ”

Biblio: A Review of Books Boats on Land is a masterful rendition of the shimmery and fleeting, the haunting and disappearing, the complex and yet simple nature of a people perhaps lost, perhaps gone forever, but caught, only transiently, in the stories. ”

Awards

Crossword Book Award 2013 for Fiction

Yuva Puraskar (Young Writer) Award 2013 from Sahitya Academy (Indian National Academy of Letters)

Shortlisted for Shakti Bhatt First Book Award 2013

Longlisted for Frank O’Connor Short Story Award 2013

Longlisted for Tata Literature Live! First Book Award 2013

2018

Sukant Deepak , Janice in wonderland “ India Today” 29/1/2018

Janice Pariat walks up fast to the first floor of the cafe-cum-bar in Delhi's Khan Market. It's evident from the sound of her boots. She is heaving. She is carrying many bags. She sits and orders her coffee. She likes it black. She does not stop smiling.

Fresh off the launch of her latest novel, The Nine Chambered Heart, the Sahitya Akademi Award winning author and poet says the idea for the book came to her on the streets of London. It was late evening. She was walking with someone who she thought she would have a long-term relationship with. "I wondered how would it be to look at the world through love," she says. Then she pauses.

In her book, characters remain unnamed, and so do the cities. There is a deliberate attempt to break away from geographical anchorage. What is offered is a glimpse into a young woman's life through those who have loved and lost her. And those she has loved and lost. Pariat says that it was important for her to write a "context-less book" because she does not see the world in neatly labelled boxes. "Compartmentalisation can be convenient. Limiting too."

As someone who comes from a mixed British, Portuguese and Khasi heritage, Pariat, originally from Meghalaya and now based in Delhi, is all too familiar with being categorised. Most often, she's called a "Northeastern writer".

"This really upsets me," she says. "Why does everyone, including a writer, have to be contained in her/ his geography, gender or sexual orientation?" Though she may be called poet too, Pariat thinks that's overstating the case. "I have friends who are poets. I might put down something that has the essence of verse. But the craft? Well, I do learn a lot from poetry, but take comfort and recourse in prose."

By now, the cafe is full. Waiters have got active. She says she should leave, that the many bags need to be filled. Janice Pariat descends the stairs. Soundlessly.

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