by Jerry Waxler
I am mainly interested in full length memoirs, so when I clicked on a short life story about a woman in India, I only intended to glance at it. However, the style and subject matter drew me in and before I knew it, I reached the end. “Dispatch: Love in Hyderabad” by Bhaswati Ghosh expanded my horizons, extending my curiosity to the smaller art form and the larger world.
“Love in Hyderabad” is about the author’s move from the city where she grew up, Delhi, India, to a more picturesque location, Hyderabad, replete with joyful sensory input, cultural and culinary diversity, and a profusion of birds in a park near her urban apartment. The move coincides with her marriage, so she is adjusting to life as a married woman against this magnificent backdrop.
This short story sings to me. It’s an ode to India, to Hyderabad, to birds, food, and to love itself. Despite its brevity, this piece contains many components that I typically enjoy in a full length work.
Bhaswati transports me to a magical city of light and beauty. How much of the beauty does she create through the wide-eyed lens of her own delight, and how much is “real?” It doesn’t matter. As a memoir reader, I attune to her pleasure — she is my guide and I am happy to see the place the way she sees it.
Writing Prompt 1
Look for a location that played a key role in your story. In that place, sketch a scene or situation that filled you with emotion. Include what you saw, felt, heard, smelled, and tasted. Scan your memoir-in-progress to see if this portrayal of place might let readers feel closer to you and your story.
Writing Prompt 2
When you moved from one community or region to a new one, consider how this transition evoked a slew of emotions such as nostalgia, curiosity, adventure, disorientation, discomfort and fear. What new unfamiliar aspects of yourself were you able to feel and express in this new place?
Natural beauty as a story “character”
Birds seem to occupy all the empty spaces in the story, as if they are the glue that holds the world together. Birds play an important role in my life, too. As I write this, one of my three cockatiels sits on my shoulder nibbling on my ear. I glance out my window to see birds perched at seed-filled feeders. In addition to my passion for the creatures themselves, I am drawn to the uplifting language of their soaring and singing.
Writing Prompt 3
Look for pockets of natural beauty within your own memoir. Where do the birds display, fly, and sing? Plants also add life. Where do you walk through a stand of beautiful trees or admire the flowers in well-tended gardens? Try inserting some of these in your story to populate your place with life.
Writing Prompt 4
If your location lacks natural wonders, try highlighting those absences by focusing on the lonely tree, the single bird, the weed growing through the crevice. When I was in college in Madison, Wisconsin on winter days so cold it hurt to breathe, when the lake was frozen into a sheet of barren, stark white, I can’t recall a single living thing other than my fellow students.
In “Love in Hyderabad” the exotic setting and the sense of adventure provides a perfect backdrop for falling in love. However, this story does not center on whether the protagonist will “get the guy.” The couple are already married. Once I comprehend the situation, I relate to Bhaswati’s budding romance with just as much affection as I would if it took place in circumstances with which I am more familiar. Even though they were already married, I was enchanted by their progress, as their emotions caught up to their marital status.
The story provides variations and surprises that play with my expectations, demonstrating that even after a lifetime of reading and watching, new twists are possible. The constant that “Love in Hyderabad” shares with all good stories is that by the end, the protagonist has resolved the dramatic tension. Bhaswati’s love for her husband, for her circumstances, and for her life, give me that sense of goodness that makes her story worth reading, and by offering it to me, she makes my life more valuable as well.
Writing Prompt 5
When you write about your own life, you know the events and you know the feelings, but you don’t always know how to frame them into a story. Here are three suggestions for ways you can find the emotional arc.
1) Write a scene about a time when you wanted something. In memoirs, the desire is usually psychological. For example, you wanted emotional safety, or respect from other people, or the pride of achievement. Then scan through events, noting how you pursued that desire. How did you grow, and what did you learn during this pursuit?
2) Scan your major transitions and look for lessons. (eg: generosity pays, cynicism destroys, people need each other). Assume that this lesson is the conclusion of a story. Now that you have the end, look for the beginning. What events set this lesson in motion.
3) Read through your growing chronologically arranged file of events and scenes and look for patterns. (Eg: “I’m repeatedly drawn to partners that I intend to fix, and then discover they are not going to change.” Or, “art and creativity keep coming up as driving forces in my life. What’s that about?”) Use these repeating patterns, and look for compelling scenes to carry the reader through the body of the story. Now that you have the center of the story, look for the beginning — how do you want to first introduce the pattern, and then an end, what lesson or conclusion does it lead to?.
Writing Prompt 6
Review the way your story works, following this scheme. You started out pursuing some sublime or psychological goal. Life got in the way and you kept overcoming the obstacles. In the end, you learned something about yourself and your life. Now, with that synopsis in hand, write your beginning and ending paragraphs.
Click here for an essay about another newlywed couple moving to a different city, “Japan Took the JAP Out of Me” by Lisa Fineberg Cook.
Click here to read another essay about a short story about clowns by Sean Toner
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.