Interview with Janice Pariat by Michelle D’costaJanice Pariat is a North East Indian writer. She is the author of Boats on Land, a short story collection (Recipient of 2013 Sahitya Akademi Young Writer Award and the 2013 Crossword Book Award for fiction) and Seahorse, a novel.

This interview was conducted through e-mail. In this interview, we will discuss her short story Fish-eye (based on the theme of gender violence) which was published on the Out of Print blog in April 2015.

Summary of Fish Eye:

The ‘unnamed’ protagonist in the story lives in a paying guest accommodation in Delhi. She is an independent girl who lives life on her own terms. She lives in a single sharing room due to which she enjoys a certain degree of freedom in comparison to those who share rooms with another person. But this freedom is short-lived when she discovers she is being watched. Read it here.

Michelle D’costa: What inspired this story?

Janice Pariat: Unfortunately, a true event. I lived in a paying guest accommodation in Delhi many years ago and suffered the same voyeuristic attentions of male persons in the house. I’ll never forget that feeling: of being invaded and violated even though I hadn’t been “touched”. Even more, unfortunately, I’m not the only one. Many of my female friends have similar terrifying stories to share.

MD: Why didn’t you name your protagonist?

JP: I don’t name many of my protagonists. In fact, many of my characters in Boats on Land remain nameless. I only name them if I feel there is a need to, if their experience is in some way particular to them, and the name adds to their context in terms of place or ethnicity. The protagonist in Fish Eye is an every woman.

MD: How does voyeurism fall under the radar of gender violence? Do you think such violence is capable from females towards males?

JP: It springs from consent. If voyeurism is conducted under safe, consensual conditions, it doesn’t constitute a form of gender violence. If it isn’t, as in the case of the story, it is. Because it is a violation of a person’s privacy, of their body. It’s a visual “rape”. I think this kind of violence can be perpetrated by anyone who is in a position of power vis-à-vis the other, regardless of whether they’re men or women on either side of the equation. Living in a world that’s dominantly patriarchal though does mean that it is often perpetrated by men on women.

MD: Is one really safe from prying eyes… anywhere? In a shop’s changing room? In your lover’s apartment? Online? Your comments, please.

JP: I’m not quite sure how to answer this. As I said, it’s a question of consent. And in all of these spaces, real or virtual, there resides the danger of that consent being given or withheld not taken into account.

MD: Would the protagonist’s plight seemed greater to the reader had you included ‘filming’ to the voyeuristic act?

JP: Including the element of filming would have meant that there would have been a record. A record that could’ve (and probably would’ve) been shared online or via mobile phones so yes, it would have left more of a “mark”. But yet who are we to place any kind of trauma on some notion of hierarchy. That this trauma is worse than something else. How can we undermine someone’s suffering in that way?

MD: Any story that deals with this theme that comes to your mind?

JP: With voyeurism? Nothing I can think of immediately, I’m afraid, but I’m sure there are many.