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We live in a world of unequal stories, says author Janice Pariat

The writer was speaking at the launch of her new novel, 'Everything the Light Touches'

Janice Pariat, author Janice Pariat, novel Everything the Light Touches, book, critic and writer Nilanjana Roy, indian express news“I was wandering in this garden in the United Kingdom almost 10 years ago, and saw a section on Victorian and Edwardian women botanists,” said Pariat, on the inception of the novel. (Picture credit: HarperCollins)

For an hour on Saturday evening (November 5), Rose Garden in India International Centre transformed into a sequestered oasis harbouring words on environmental conservation, fiction writing, the unsung hero(ines) of science, and indigenous community rights. Janice Pariat, author, poet and creative writing professor at Ashoka University, launched her latest novel, Everything the Light Touches, in conversation with critic and writer Nilanjana Roy, a form-malenge of prose, poetry, diary entries and letters that has told a story to underline one thesis above all: in nature, everything is connected.

“I was wandering in this garden in the United Kingdom almost 10 years ago, and saw a section on Victorian and Edwardian women botanists,” said Pariat, on the inception of the novel, “and was mesmerised by their wild and unruly lives.” That is how Evelyn, an English woman scientist protagonist of Everything the Light Touches, was born, and undertakes a journey of scientific discovery to North-Eastern India that touches the heart of the novel, her story intertwined with three others — of Shai, a Meghalayan woman; of Goethe, German poet and botanist; and Carl Linnaeus, Swedish taxonomist. Despite its lyrical ode to nature and preservation, the novel, in Roy’s words, “has a steely undercurrent… saying, ‘Everything about how you live in this world must change.’”

Author Janice Pariat (Picture credit: HarperCollins)

Pariat mentioned the convention of labelling and categorisation that governed the Enlightenment era, and how Goethe intervened by questioning why man must always be considered the top of the natural order. “He was written out of every science book ever, and was truly beyond his time,” said Pariat, adding that Shai’s character allowed her to counter the “hypermasculine” and unemotional scientific methodology of the time with respect and gratitude, especially towards indigenous communities.

“We live in a world of unequal stories,” she said, “where some stories take prominence, some are considered more important, decisive, authoritative, more worthy of discussion. Placing these stories side by side was an act of resistance to that.” Pariat wrote this novel during the lockdown and said that speculation about humanity’s incitement of the pandemic was one of the factors that made her dwell on our relationship to the environment. “I’d sit in my garden and think of how plants, even in their apparent immobility, are able to sense movements in sunlight, wind and season. They’re connected,” she said. “and I thought, maybe we don’t always need to keep moving to feel connected, changed or moved.”

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First published on: 14-11-2022 at 18:26 IST
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