‘Boats on Land’ by Janice Pariat

Janice Pariat is an observant and gifted writer, in particular of landscapes and the unique forms of loneliness evoked in them. ‘Boats on Land’ is set on a tea estate in Assam. Between the dragonflies, silver-grey birches, the fading evening light and fishermen’s boats on the Brahmaputra, a portrait emerges of two lonely women, who learn in their own ways the quiet devastations that are invariably cultivated by intimacy.

Between 2012 and 2013, which is probably when I first read this story, I spent many evenings reading on a thin, worn mattress in the living room of a flat I shared with two others in Delhi. I loved living there—our building didn’t have a door, and the balconies scratched up so close that we could easily climb into the neighbouring buildings. But the walls were painted an incredible aquamarine, there was always a kite fluttering if you looked skywards, and a steaming plate of momos was never far away. I read this story at least six years ago, and have done so several times since, but even just thinking about it now takes me instantly to the rose-hued skies of Delhi, and the driftwood and lanterns of Kaziranga from Pariat’s story. Somehow, all these landscapes seem to be inseparable, and a part of the same memory lining those slow Delhi evenings. 

First published in The Caravan, September 2012. Collected in Boats on Land, Random House India, 2012. It is available to be read online here