In the uneasy, purgatory-like time of ceasefire, could there be a sense of renewed optimism?

In the uneasy, purgatory-like time of ceasefire everywhere, stories rise to the surface. Parismita Singh charts gripping narratives where the rivers, forests, villages, and the many cultures of a small place – Rabha, Bodo, Santhal, Nepali, Koch-Rajbongshi, Muslim – come blazingly alive in her anthology of short stories Peace Has Come. With Singh’s illustrations too marking the pages, readers find themselves experiencing what the newspapers glossed over and what only a look into the lives of the people amidst ceasefire could give.

Set in Assam, on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra and along the foothills of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, to read these stories is to rewire our ideas of war, resolution, and the lives that are lived in between. SheThePeople.Tv converses with the author and graphic artist about Peace Has Come, the resonance of these stories today and writing in a politically charged contemporary time.

Whether in a region of conflict or in a nation beset by religious fundamentalism, our idea of peace seems to be poisoned. Stories come out of circumstances and times that they may not have been originally about, and Parismita Singh finds parallels between these very different kinds of peace that we live in.

The stories in Peace Has Come grew very organically — around a time when active conflict had ceased and an uneasy peace reigned. The words formed themselves around the strained resolution of problems of the past, and the people’s resilience and determination to work, love and live their lives despite being faced with difficult circumstances

“While the book is a work of fiction, the idea of ceasefire (a time of restive peace) is one that informs the stories,” notes the author.

Image Credit: Context, Amazon.in

Media needs to change approach

On being a writer from Northeast India, Parismita Singh maintains that “as a writer, one writes”. But at a personal level, she thinks that writing is an attempt to think through the dilemmas and hopelessness of the world around us, and what one sees and experiences does form a part of what one writes about. Such is the case with Parismita too. The manner in which her stories are perceived and what role her books play in the world is something that is beyond her power and control. On the media and its coverage of the Northeast with regard to the ceasefire, she thinks that a large part of the media needs to change its approach to covering events even in general. And when it comes to people and their perception, a person can never be informed about everything and every event. “Willful ignorance or prejudice is an altogether different matter,” reflects Parismita.

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Parismita’s comics, graphic novels and stories are set across the diversity and expanse of Northeast India and weave in the region’s folk tales and traditions, past and present. Her work is based on places that inform her, areas that she is concerned with and settings that she has some connection to — she leaves the answer of what difference such writing and representation makes to the readers. Parismita’s work spans genres but what makes the writer want to explore? Well, that could be chance, a particular time in life, interesting subjects or any one of these or none.

She thinks that all stereotypes should annoy us and must be contested in works of art and writing. And while it helps to inspect your own writing objectively and pry loose the stereotypes that have made their way into your work, it cannot be the sword that hangs over one’s head while writing.

What the author finds to be truly frightening is the prejudice that people unconsciously breathe or normalise

Parismita had been writing stories before graphic novels. Writing Peace Has Come as an anthology of short stories was an unintentional choice. Penning the stories led to them choosing their own form and it just so turned out to be that of prose — the short story! She thinks that most writers doing literary fiction or graphic novels do have to struggle to find a readership and hopes that this will change. With her first fiction work, it just might be too early for Parismita to be possibly categorised or boxed into a genre.

She thinks herself fortunate to have a publisher who has never questioned her choice to write short stories, despite her previous writing having been in other genres. “The emphasis was always on writing a good book that reads well,” she says. The author wants to see more of everything in Indian writing. More graphic novels, more speculative fiction, more fantasy and of course, more short stories! But she says that to look at writing only through the prism of the nation – Indian this and Indian that – at all times, can get tiresome.

Peace Has Come, written by Parismita Singh, has been published by Context. It is priced at Rs.499 and is available online and in bookstores.

Feature Image Credits: Context, The Print

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