Title: Name Place Animal Thing
Author: Daribha Lyndem
Publisher: Zubaan Books
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction
On the surface what comes across as very simplistic coming-of-age narrative, and the writing also feels that way, however, a couple of interconnected stories into the book and you see the book for what it is. Name Place Animal Thing is refreshing, has nuance to it, is short in the sense to finish but lasts longer in memory and association, to some extent.
For me, reading this book was an eye-opener, because sadly or rather most unfortunately, we often tend to view the north eastern region of the country as similar when it is not so at all. Daribha Lyndem’s voice is unique, it is sharp and often meticulous, sometimes also jagged which lends it the much-needed authenticity, but mostly it is empathetic and observant.
Name Place Animal Thing is narrated through the eyes of a child, and subsequently a young woman as she comes of age in the city of Shillong. The book is rife with politics – sometimes too obvious and sometimes subtle, the differences and hostility between the Khasis and the Dkhars (term used for non-Khasi people in the region) and more than anything else I think the role it plays in the narrator D’s life.
D’s life as the book is as well – a collection of vignettes – the kind that shape her ideas, thoughts, opinions, and even emotions. D is constantly questioning the world around her – the differences, the inequalities, the experience of insurgency, the friendships we are allowed to form (the last chapter is particularly heartbreaking in my opinion), and the role memory plays in the entire narrative.
I could almost at some point feel Daribha talking to me face-to-face as I turned the pages. The cultural experiences are explained at length, while Lyndem has also chosen very consciously to not italicise the local words and rightly so. I think the place the book is set in matters so much – the lanes, the neighbours, the emotional state, the mental well-being and in all of this the larger themes of race, class, death, grief, and friendships are weaved in like a charm.