The quickest way to review a book is perhaps to sneak out a few lines from it. That little trip from word to word and even the white spaces in between, are going to be your preview. An excerpt of Janice Pariat’s new book Seahorse had recently appeared in print. A few lines taken out of Nehemiah’s tale, from the days he went to the University of Delhi, the first time he met an art historian called Nicholas — who then becomes his mentor and changes his life.
Janice then puts her ‘Nem’ in South Delhi where he writes for a chic cultural journal, until a cryptic note sends him on a search for Nicholas. Janice’s Seahorse retells the myth of Poseidon and his youthful devotee Pelops.
“He was never still. A ripple here, a touch there, a step forward, a few back. With anyone else this might be a mark of anxiety, of nervous, undispelled energy, but his movements were — I can think of no better word — silent. Seamless. Precisely elegant, a tall, sinewy man on a wire, whose gestures swept gracefully through the air. I had never seen anyone like him.”
Nem thinks of these lines the first time he sees Nicholas taking a lecture. But these are not what Janice lists as her favourite. That, she says, is possibly this (small) section in the book where Nehemiah speaks about incompleteness, and how it gives meaning to our lives. “He uses the analogy of Michelangelo’s sculptures — ‘David’ and ‘The Prisoners’ — where one piece of art conjures silence and awe, while the other, forever incomplete, lies brimming with possibility,” says the author.
“We treasure the incomplete, for it lends us many lives — the one we lead and the million others we could have led. We are creatures of inconsistency. Passionately partial. Unexecuted. Unperformed. Undone. Unaccomplished. And un-concluded.” Those familiar with Janice’s first book Boats on Land, a bunch of short stories that won her the Yuva Puraskar from the Sahitya Akademi, would find their way through her writing a happy déja vu.
Asked about her journey while writing the book, she says that she has some of it in her head and the rest comes later. “It’s like driving at night; you’re on the right road, and the headlights show a little of the way at a time.” Seahorse grew from her interest in forms of story-telling. “This, I explored in Boats on Land where many stories echoed oral folk tales and the way they’re performed and narrated. This time, I started out wanting to write about a ménage a trois in Delhi, but the novel developed into an exploration of queerness, and the relationship between time, memory and art,” says Janice....