Coming-of-age Story Books

Clearing the fog: Review of Daribha Lyndem’s ‘Name Place Animal Thing’

For most of us, the name Meghalaya would conjure images of verdant hills and rain-soaked bridges. In Daribha Lyndem’s Name Place Animal Thing, though, the bird’s eye view of one of the wettest spots on earth sharpens into focus — rows of eucalyptus on the roadsides; the Wah Umkhrah river snaking through Shillong, Meghalaya’s capital; houses fenced by hollow bamboo sticks overgrown with creepers; women in pretty jaiñsems, the traditional dress of the Khasis; and occasionally, hailstones the size of football.

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Lyndem’s debut novel is a coming-of-age story of a young Khasi girl (referred to as D) in Shillong during the early 2000s. D tries to make sense of the intricacies of race, class, religion and politics of the region: “Except for the odd tussle between a non-tribal and the Khasis, in my young mind I felt hardly anything interesting went on in our town,” she says, referring to the hostility between the majority Khasis, one of the three indigenous ethnic tribes of Meghalaya, and the ‘Dkhars’, the colloquial (often derogatory) term for non-tribals.

As a narrator, D is a likeable, curious kid whose conflicts are largely internal, and easy to trivialise if it was not for their universality. Her life revolves around her family, teachers and school friends — the title is a hat-tip to one of their favourite games — and later, an aspiring pastor boyfriend. They communicate in a creolised version of Khasi and English, with bursts of Hindi; the choice to leave conversational Khasi and Hindi untranslated adds a layer of intimacy to the prose.

A civil servant who currently works with the Indian Revenue Service, Lyndem can be lyrical without being maudlin. Describing D’s parents’ tendency to make “ashtrays of things that weren’t meant to be ashtrays,” she says: “On windy days, the ash blew off the places my parents had stubbed cigarettes in, and I felt I was in a grey powdery snow globe.”

Though full of promise, Name Place Animal Thing is bogged down by editing errors and a few underdeveloped characters. However, this novella is a captivating addition to the dismally small list of English literary fiction set in the Northeast.

Name Place Animal Thing; Daribha Lyndem, Zubaan, ₹300

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 5:06:58 AM |

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