Boats on Land – Janice Pariat


This book was sent  to me courtesy of Random House India for review purposes

I am a girl from the hills. It’s the thing that defines me. I know I say it often and that I am an ‘awful repeater’ but it’s as if I can’t stop myself from proclaiming again and again that I belong somewhere in the mountains. The plains don’t suit me as well. And I suppose they never will. There is a way of life and a way of looking at things which is unique to mountain folk, and you have to be one yourself to understand the nostalgia that I and so many other displaced pahari’s feel for home.

Let me be honest. It had been a long while since I read an Indian author that I absolutely loved. And then I received a copy of Boats on Land and the drought effectively ended.

To be sure, I picked it up because I was intrigued by the cover photo. It is such a breathtaking image, somehow symbolizing freedom, loneliness, safety and the vast unknown all at once, apart from of course the thin waist and lovely back. The image is courtesy of Neil Carver from North Carolina. Please ignore his astoundingly bad profile picture on his page, because he has these absolutely amazing photographs on his site at He manages to catch such utterly magical qualities in all his subjects that it fair blew my mind. Someday maybe I will manage to get one of his photographs for my home.

And then the stories. Oh the stories! Reminiscent of wood-burning ovens and long winter nights. Of fresh air and green-green trees. But no, they are not just stories that fuel my nostalgia, they are really good. Short, succinct and with this amazing insight into the human mind. I think someone said that the work was reminiscent of Alice Munro and when I think about it, it really is true. Although I thought Janice Pariat had a more fresh and not quite so world-weary a view as Munro’s writings. That is not to rule out the point that a few of her stories are pretty dark. I had thought I would write a short review of all her short stories but that would make this post too long and give away too much. Then I thought I would write about only the ones that I liked, but that was no help as well. That leaves me with the ones that I didn’t really like as much. That is definitely easy and short, but somehow seems unfair.

One-line Snippets seem to be the key. Lets plunge into it before I change my mind once again.

‘Waterfall of Horses’ was a wonderful story, heavy with the weight of the beliefs and the magic of the hills with love, innocence and sheer heartbreak all merged together.

‘At Kut Madan’ is the story of a girl who is declared to be out of her mind by her family, but is she really?

‘Echo words’ is about plain and simple village gossip and is sad but rings utterly deliciously true.

‘Dream of the Golden Mahaseer’ talks about the way people shut out the world in one all-consuming passion, a passion that helps forget hurts and keep at bay the ghosts that plague us – at least for a bit.

‘Secret Corridors’ was one that I thought may be building up to something more than what it actually turned out to be; the plot felt a bit forced.

 ’19/87′ is about the simple pleasures and the lite moments that one stumbles across even in the midst of extreme tension and worry.

‘Laitlum’ is about childhood loves, losses and sibling relationships that shape and mould us for the years to come.

‘Sky Graves’ is about beliefs that are so strong that sometimes they seem to leap out of our consciousness and manifest themselves as solid unbelievable truths.

‘Pilgrimage’ was alright and I did get what the author was talking about but it didn’t really hit the spot for me.

‘Boats on Land’ was baffling in its simplicity and seemed too short and without a proper ending, which was the author’s intention all along of course.

‘Embassy’ is really about storytellers and how sometimes their craft seems to change and distort reality into something more conducive to their mood or their audience.

 ‘The discovery of flight’ is so terribly sad, about how much we know and understand the ones we profess to know or love.

‘Hong Kong’ was about growing up and turning back to see how far you have come from those who at one time seemed so near and dear.

I simply loved ‘A keeper of souls’; it was so mixed with grim reality and uncorroborated beliefs.

‘Aerial view’ I loved for the little girl who got the lovely birthday present; a symbol of love and affection.

I know I have used the word ‘belief’ umpteen times in this post, but like I said, I am an awful repeater and the stories really are about the things people have believed for centuries, whether in the mountains or in the plains. Yet, the superstitions in the mountains have developed in a sort of insulated way from the rest of the world, with not much to add to them and so they are repeated over and over again till they seem to be passed through the blood lines themselves.


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