The Japanese art of recognising beauty in broken things and three drafts is what it took poet and writer Janice Pariat to author ‘Seahorse’. In city to speak about her second text as part of the Chandigarh Literature Festival 2016, the award-winning writer deliberated upon the art of telling a story about love and loss.
In conversation with writer-editor Rahul Soni, Janice’s session perhaps left a lot of persons in the audience thinking perhaps about their own broken relationships. Reading out excerpts from her book, Janice reflected how ‘Seahorse’ is steeped in art, music, literature, all of which require a certain involvement from her readers.
Seahorse is a contemporary retelling of a Greek myth concerning Poseidon, the god of the sea, and his relationship with a young beautiful male devotee named Pelops. It’s set between Delhi of the 1990s, and modern day London, and travels to the quietest reaches of the English countryside. “Seahorse is the coming of age story of Nehemiah, who, like all of us, falls in love, suffers loss, and searches for stillness,” said Janice.
As with their namesake, the characters in Janice Pariat’s tell us that Seahorse seem adrift with heartstrings grasping like tails for those around them. As she says, they too, move in an intricate, bizarre waltz, from lover to leaver, men to women, past to present, New Delhi to London. Having lived in both Delhi and London, she was as drawn to them as she was repelled by them. “It’s like any relationship that’s tumultuous, yet ultimately rewarding,” said the beautiful Janice herself.
Pariat initially wanted to write a novella after her first book, the collection of short stories, Boats on Land. “Seahorse was meant to be a novella but it just unfurled before me. There are some stories that cry out to be written longer, to have more space and to orchestrate the scenes on a more complicated scale. Some stories are quieter and are driven by fewer emotions,” she said.
The author has written a lot of poetry in the past but none recently. “I like to think there is a small poet’s voice that lives on in my prose,” she says. Pariat’s prose certainly bridges that gap. In the book, Michelangelo’s Prisoners makes Nem think about unfinished chapters in life. ‘We treasure the incomplete, for it lends us many lives - the one we lead and the million others we could have led,” she said.
Responding to a question from Rahul on how her text is usually overwritten, an honest Janice said, “I would end up picking up from stories I liked and rewrite them in my own way, initially. I wrote three very clean drafts for this text, A led to B which led to C, until I realised what am I doing. Then it was like taking a vase, and smashing it to the ground,” she laughed and added, “That’s how life is, about learning to pulling back together after you’ve fallen apart in pieces.”
Commenting on the extensive use of water, she said besides the influence of her native place Shillong in her life, it represented fluidity in life and in relationships..