Literary Review

Looking for landscapes

Retelling myths: Janice Pariat. Photo: K. Pichumani

Retelling myths: Janice Pariat. Photo: K. Pichumani

Tell me about the story, its conception, progress, the process of putting it together. How did you findSeahorse’s plot?

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. Mostly, though, Seahorse is the coming of age story of Nehemiah, who, like all of us, falls in love, suffers loss, and searches for stillness. The plot revealed itself through the structure of the myth, but since all myths are retellings, I tried to make this one my own. By claiming poetic licence to change and direct (and misdirect) as required.

In one of your previous interviews, you’ve talked about stumbling upon Robert Graves’The Greek Myths, and finding it fascinating. What appealed to you, to inspireyou to weave the story of Poseidon and Pelops intoSeahorse. Which came first? Their story, or that of Nem and Nicholas?

Like many Greek myths, this story too brims with blood and betrayal. Pelops is killed by his father Tantalus, and (quite literally) served up to the gods at a feast. (Tantalus wished to test their omniscience!) The gods bring him back to life in a cauldron, and when he emerges he’s so magnificently beautiful that Poseidon falls in love with him and whisks him away to his kingdom under the sea. These events are, naturally, treated metaphorically in Seahorse , but I think what drew me to the myth was the idea of a person falling apart, and being put back together. What happens to all of us in life. The notion of kintsukuroi , the Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold, and believing that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. The story of Nem and Nicholas swirled in my head for a long while before it was laid to rest and retold as a myth.

How was it, moving fromBoats on LandtoSeahorse? Both in terms of form and style, as well as the stories each form requires?

Moving between forms always requires recalibration — the tussle between canvas, ideas, paint. I enjoyed the expanse a novel afforded, of following characters through a longer narrative arc, of getting to know them as intimately as you do by the end. The structure of Seahorse was particularly challenging because it moved in circular time, constantly looping into the past, shape shifting between the present and future. Yet it needed to be so, to reflect one of its major concerns — fluidity. Of time, sexuality, memory.

It’s especially interesting how different the two books are. Was this deliberate?

Interestingly, it did start out as deliberate. After Boats on Land , I felt all my stories from home (at least for the moment) had been told, and I needed to seek sustenance elsewhere. I am always in search of fresh literary landscapes — travel, physically tangible or within, is a writer’s constant necessity.

Could you tell us more about the Seahorse OST?

In the book, music is one of the ways in which Nem is ‘initiated’ by Nicholas. He is mentored by the older man, much like many pederastic relationships in ancient Greek, in the ways of love, life, art. Music (mostly classical, and opera) forms the soundtrack to their time in the bungalow on Rajpur Road. And spills, like music tends to, into Nem’s life even when he’s elsewhere, remembering his old love.

You write about London and Delhi in a way that is beautiful, emotional, suggesting a kind of personal bond…

I’ve lived in, and loved, both cities. They are both intimate. Intimidating. I am drawn to them, repelled by them. Much like any relationship that’s tumultuous, yet ultimately rewarding.

After the kind of reception and recognition thatBoats on Landgot, your second book is doing just as well. How does being shortlisted feel?

On some days, I am thrilled. Mostly, grateful.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 10:53:22 pm |