Janice Pariat’s Seahorse Is a Literary Love Affair in Its Entirety

Seahorse by Janice Pariat is about the relationship and love that the alliterative protagonists, Nem and Nicholas shared. Rather the novel is about Nem’s memory of Nicholas and the void that Nicholas’ leaving created.

Nem’s aching for Nicholas is not one of bitterness or surfeit weeping but one of a thoughtful and sharp reverie.

Nem was a student of English Literature in Delhi University when he met Nicholas, who taught art history. He happened to drift into one of Nicholas’ classes and was immediately taken in by his suave mannerisms. What follows in the wake of this serendipitous meeting is a warm romance and a blossoming of a relationship; one in which not only love but also ideas about art, poetry and literature are mutually exchanged. That is, until Nicholas disappears, taking with him every trace of his existence.

The novel is suffused with an immeasurable ache and an indolent melancholy. This is brought out clearly through Nem, who carries his pain around. Yet, he still holds on to his love, a love that takes him all the way to London. He does not do it intentionally but only because subconsciously his search to fill this inexplicable absence becomes slowly a part of him, a part of whom he is.

Seahorse takes you, through Nim’s memories, to the physical spaces that the pair inhabited, shared and loved particularly the corridors of Delhi University and its surrounding areas. The leisurely walks and moments intermingled with the overpowering stench of decay in the neighbouring Hudson Lines described in the first part of the novel will evoke your own college days; especially for those who studied in Delhi University.

Reminiscent of the Greek myth of the love between Poseidon and Pelops, the narrative of Seahorse is abundantly dripping with the motif of water: the marine creature seahorse lends itself to endless interpretation and the existence of a curious aquarium heralds an infinite stock of memories and connections within Nem.

Seahorse brings out both the fragility and fluidity of love; of sexualities that stop, surrender, absorb and move on as well. The tenderness of Pariat’s writing is palpable: you feel and hear the protagonist so intensely as if nothing other than that exists. The literary references are etched out so beautifully that they linger on in your thoughts for long. They do not feel erudite or cumbersome. The novel is thus not only about the love affair of Nem and Nicholas but a literary love affair in its entirety.

You will fall in love with the writing, the atmosphere, and the pace of the story; slowly and surely.

It is as if the entire novel is one surreal and beautiful water colour, where lives, destinies, love, thoughts and literary metaphors fuse so seamlessly and smoothly into one another.

Lives of Girls and Women

The session ‘Lives of Girls & Women’ witnessed an interesting conversation between the author of the book ‘Rulebreakers’ – Preeti Shenoy and the author of the book ‘Nine chambered heart’ – Janice Pariat and was moderated by Kiran Manral. These two books and their plots, characters and narratives were discussed in a simple yet explicit detail. Kiran remarked that these two books were extremely lovely but brought out entirely different styles of writing.

Kiran opened the discussion by asking both the authors if they as female writers felt the need to focus on the feminine experience and write through the feminine gaze in their writing. Preeti responded by saying that people have never looked at books differently based on the gender of narration or considered her books as feminine literature. She went on to say that out of the 11 books she has written, some are also written from the male point of view. She said that people have never not taken her books seriously because of them being told from the feminine point of view and that all her female protagonists were strong.

Janice said that it’s really important for her to realize that many types of feminine experiences exist in the first place, to have and be had. She says that every writer has their own trajectory travelled through which they write what they write. She says that each of us has different ghosts inside us and these ghosts constantly tussle and that she writes about the ghosts which are at the surface.

Kiran then asked Preeti what she essentially wanted to say through her protagonist Veda who gets married early in her life and her journey. Preeti started off by stating statistics regarding the legal and average age for marriage in India and mentioned that the current average age for women to get married in India is 25. She then spoke of statistics from a poll she held in her Instagram account where she asked her followers if they would marry a person their parents suggested who ticked all their boxes and a high percentage of them responded positively. In the next poll, she asked them how many women who were married at an early age were now unhappy and 65% of them said that they were unhappy. She said that all she wanted Indian women to have was that one thing just for themselves apart from their husband and the kids, which would stay with them forever. It could be gardening, writing or anything else. She spoke of how there is power in financial independence.

Kiran then asked Janice the reason behind the kind of narrative in her book where the protagonist is only described through the gaze of the men who were in love with her. Janice started off by comparing her book to a galaxy where there’s sun which is the protagonist who is viewed in the eyes of all the planets which form are the other characters. She says that she chose this structure of narrative because it is the closest to life and went on to explain how we always can only view people through tiny slivers and moments but never know someone in their entirety. Many had even asked her if the protagonist of her book was a silent victim to all the male gaze and while she agreed that it could be one interpretation, she thought that silence is the most powerful narrative. As she said that, she revealed how she considered her narrative more of a whirlpool than a galaxy. She said that the book’s narrative talks about being able to exist between multiple perspectives.

Janice then spoke about how women have always had to create a room of one’s own in their mind to get away from the world. When Preeti was asked about what she would do if she were in Veda’s place and asked to marry early, she spoke of how women mostly never speak their mind and said that if she were in Veda’s place she would speak her mind and talk to her parents directly. The stage was opened to an enthusiastic audience for further questions.


About the Author: Bhargavi Komanduri is a final year student at BITS Pilani, Hyderabad. She has profound admiration for writing, reading, theatre, dance, movies, chocolates and chai. Being a seeker of good art in all shapes, and forms; Bhargavi also strives to be on the creators’ side of creation. Her journey has just begun as she unleashes her poems and thoughts every week. Find her foray into this new found creative spirit, on Medium, here – https://medium.com/@bhargavi2497. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.