Culture

A Summer’s Tale

Our impressions of places we visit are shaped by the ones we leave behind. Sometimes, we delight in their similarities—driving through Wales, I am reminded of why Welsh missionaries, halfway across the world and almost two centuries ago, chose to settle down in Cherrapunjee… Read more

Ahom Fires

“Tenga and khar, people think that is all there is to it.” Atul Lahkar, in his black floral shirt and blue jeans, looks grim. “No wonder we Assamese had an inferiority complex about our food.” We’re sitting at a much too cheerful Café Coffee Day just off the traffic-inflamed Zoo Road… Read more

An Atlas of the Clouds

I started writing this in an airport. Appropriate, I suppose, for a rumination on belonging. We know airports are reservoirs of perennial landing and leaving, that they carry a certain nowhereness even vast amounts of ticket issuing and passport stamping cannot disperse… Read more

Clothes Tell Their Stories

There is a point in Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire when Dorothy, Renée Zellweger’s character, says to the protagonist, “You had me at ‘hello’.” A similar epiphanic moment took place when I walked into the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Hollywood Costume show, which… Read more

Everything but the Pizza

When we draw into Napoli Centrale, my thoughts are on pizza and Goethe. The first for obvious reasons. And the latter because I’ve spent the hour-long ride from Rome reading Italian Journey, a memoir of his travels from 1786–88. “I can forgive anyone for going off his head about Naples”… Read more

Graveyard Shift

In Peter Stanford’s book, the humane and delicate How to Read a Graveyard, he describes his visits to ten cemeteries around the world. These include a mix of the famous and surprising—from Père Lachaise in Paris, resting place of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, to the small and… Read more

Insider/Outsider

On an evening like many others, we are at my aunt’s home for dinner with the family. It’s a large house in an increasingly wealthy neighbourhood in Shillong, the hill-station capital of Meghalaya. The living room is a shrine to upper-middle-class aspirations. Wood-panelled and warmed by… Read more

Mughal Life and Letters

We had a teacher in school who tried her best to make our dry, crusty history books come alive. Page after page of uninspiring text, interspersed occasionally with black-and-white photographs showing a resolute khadi-clad Gandhi or unflattering line drawings of ancient… Read more

Of Home and Belonging

For someone who as a child was working ten-hour shifts to pay his board and help his family in debtor’s prison, Charles Dickens got it pretty right. ‘Home is a name,’ he said. ‘A word, it is a strong one; stronger than a magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest… Read more

On a Song

On a cold December afternoon, my friend Lal and I walked through Laitumkhrah, a busy locality of Shillong. In less than an hour, darkness would fall. In about two, the streets would be empty. I was back in my hometown after many years in Delhi and elsewhere. A variety of things… Read more

Piedmont on a Platter

When Cesare Pavese wrote, ‘We do not remember days, we remember moments,’ I’d like to imagine he had in mind one mild spring afternoon, travelling through Le Langhe, wind in his hair, sunlight sloping off the hills, his heart content with wine, food, and song. Pavese, one of Italy’s… Read more

Putting People in a Box

Years ago, when I moved to Delhi from Shillong to study and consequently work there, I had little notion of being a ‘Northeasterner.’ Until, of course, I was repeatedly reminded – by the couple who refused to rent me a flat in East of Kailash, by the lady who didn’t want… Read more

Shillong’s WWII Jeeps

She’s sixty-nine years old, and recently covered 329 km from Shillong in Meghalaya to Dimapur in Nagaland without a hitch. In fact, she was even part of the rally’s winning team. Meet Ashok Lyngdoh’s pristine 1942-model Willys jeep, which he lovingly refers to as part of the family… Read more

Sing Back in Anger

It’s fitting that I run into Andrew Lyndem and Ratul Hajong on the streets of Laitumkhrah. After dark. When the air is filled with the hurried bustle of after-office shoppers and the languid, restless torpor of youngsters. There isn’t much by way of entertainment in Shillong… Read more

Songs to Live By

What are the songs we live by? For some, fragments of lullabies, perhaps, sung by mothers, grandmothers, nannies, older siblings. Or the soundtrack of our youth, marking the passage of time, of changing tastes, of growing up. Relationships too may have their music, shared on rooftops… Read more

Sweet Meat

It would be difficult, I thought, to write about food from your hometown. After all, you know it too well. There is comfort and culinary insight, of course, but those come at a price—that of over-familiarity, of nothing quite surprising your palate anymore. Or so I imagined. To begin with, I visited… Read more

The Bard’s World

It begins and finishes with the word. Two texts bookend this exhibition—the first is a copy of First Folio, edited after Shakespeare’s death by his colleagues Heminge and Condell and published in 1623. In a stroke, they transformed the playwright from a conjuror of the spoken… Read more

The Ending of the World

I’m trekking the crest of a smoothly rolling slope in the South Downs of East Sussex on a rare sunny afternoon. I may be lost, but the sun is sliding warmly off the grass, the air is filled with the rich smells of the countryside, and I have company: a herd of solemn-eyed Sussex cattle… Read more

The Listeners

Often, if not always, I’m asked as a writer, who my literary influences are. Which authors shaped my written world. Which books stayed with me. Which ones I’ve reread time and time again. These aren’t the easiest of questions — how to pick from so many? And usually my replies tend to… Read more

The Long and Winding Road

I don’t pledge allegiances easily. I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘mountain person’ or that I only like beaches or rivers or jungles. For me, being outdoors, in the wilderness, at whatever altitude or distance from the sea, is exhilarating enough. I work as a doctor with the Indian Air Force, and am lucky… Read more

The Princess of Arts

Like many others, I encountered Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi only after her death. She succumbed to a brief illness on 17 January 2011. My quest to write a profile on her was made more difficult by the fact that I couldn’t access her writing, whether through the internet or friends… Read more

Wrapped in Twine

A two-hour drive southwest out of Shillong takes us to a village named after my favourite fruit, Sohïong. A black, fleshy cherry transformed by my mother every summer into juice, jam and wine. We’ve left the sprawl of town far behind, and the countryside is pleasingly open… Read more

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